You know how some people are obsessed with stamp collections or fantasy football teams? Well, we're obsessed with cookbooks. Here, in Books We Love, we'll talk about our favorites. This article is brought to you by Ten Speed Press. Head here to pick up a copy of Plenty More.
We have come to rely on Alice Medrich for superlative desserts: the chewiest cookies, the darkest chocolate, the purest flavors. She is an obsessive baker and a diligent student, whose recipes are smartly written and quick to become classics. (See also: her macaroons, her peanut butter pavlova, her cocoa brownies.) In her latest book, Flavor Flours, Medrich has taken on eight "alternative" flours -- from teff to oat to rice -- and found the ways to get the best out of each one -- the best texture, the best taste, the most complementary spices and sidekicks.
Where Kim Boyce’s ever-popular Good to the Grain taught us that -- gasp! -- baking with whole grains can lead to deeper flavor (and not leaden disappointment), Flavor Flours takes this discovery one step further and shows us that wheat doesn’t even need to be a part of the equation at all. Medrich has tested and toiled and mastered eight types of “flavor flours,” turning them into crackers and cookies and cakes and pies that feel like new discoveries rather than an exercise in substitution. It is a quietly gluten-free book, more focused on flavor and innovation than on diet (Medrich herself isn't gluten-free).
Medrich is nothing if not exacting. As such, she won’t just drop you into the deep end without first teaching you to swim. You’ll follow her for 50 pages before you get to the first recipe -- by that point, you’re spouting off facts about teff flour and hydration levels to your friends at the bar, and you have a few extra rogue baking tips up your sleeve.
For those looking to avoid wheat, Flavor Flours is a happy alternative to the world of gums and boxed mixes, a refreshing primer on how to use natural ingredients to their highest calling. It avoids the temptation to simply replace the wheat flour in traditional recipes -- everything in here feels wholly new (and wholesome, too).
It’s also an exciting new set of ideas for those of us who have fallen into baking ruts, calling on the same quickbreads and blondies whenever we feel the urge to mix and measure. Medrich has an innate ability to write recipes that are both unshakably appealing and precise, wooing you and then snapping you to attention. And even when they call for exotic ingredients, they rarely feel fussy. As a baker and a writer, Medrich seems to strike the perfect balance between intuition and scientific zeal.
So serve her Chocolate Chestnut Soufflé cake at your next dinner party, or give a box of Walnut Alfajores as a holiday gift, or tuck some walnut and buckwheat crackers into your lunchbox. (Your gluten-free friends will start dropping by more frequently, just to say hello.) You’ll need to buy a bag or two that might be foreign to your pantry, but not much else. At the end of the day, you'll feel like you've begun to learn a new language -- or at least mastered the most exciting words.
To get you started, here are a few of our favorite Rogue Baking Tips for using flavor flours:
Photos by Mark Weinberg and James Ransom