COVID-19 changed the restaurant industry as we knew it. And even as businesses begin to reopen across the country, there are countless challenges ahead. In this series, Restaurant Quality, we're checking in with a few of our favorite chef-slash–cookbook authors and seeing how they're holding up. Along the way, you'll get signature recipes to make at home—and find out how you can support the chefs and their staffs. Today, we're catching up with Joanne Chang.
Boston’s Flour Bakery, opened in 2000 by acclaimed pastry chef and cookbook author Joanne Chang, is popular for its sweets. You’ll find famous banana bread and sticky buns in their wheelhouse, and Chang is well-known for creating enticing desserts with less sugar like Honey-Cashew Morning Buns and Carrot-Pineapple Cake.
Yet one of the most popular items on her menu, and in her book Flour, Too: Indispensable Recipes for the Cafe's Most Loved Sweets & Savories, is an egg sandwich on salty focaccia slathered with tangy dijonaise.
Perhaps the best part about this sandwich is, while there are several steps, most of the work can be done in advance, then the sandwich can be assembled right before eating. This is actually how the dish was created.
“I wanted something we could prepare in advance because we did not have a cook manning a stove when we opened Flour,” Chang explained. “I knew that baking eggs low and long with some dairy would create a soft souffle-like texture, so we tried that. It worked!” The eggs are then reheated to order and layered with bacon, sharp cheddar, mustard-mayo sauce, and sliced tomato.
The best part, if you ask me, is the bun, which is made from Flour’s versatile focaccia dough. But for this recipe, instead of dimpling a pan of dough with olive oil, it’s divided into taut balls and baked into pillowy buns.
Chang loves making sandwiches at home when she can, recommending that home cooks plan ahead of time and cook the recipe in steps. After reheating the eggs in a low oven, everything comes together quite quickly. Sometimes, she’ll riff on the dish, trading mashed avocado for bacon, and adding sriracha and kimchi for heat and crunch.
When the pandemic first hit, Flour Bakery’s customers had to wait for their beloved treats and sandwiches. “We closed entirely for almost five weeks,” Chang told me. “We took time to figure out how to rework every single system and process, so it is as safe as possible. We also had to figure out what running and operating a bakery that is known for its overflowing pastry counter, long lines, and bustling dining room was going to look like with COVID.”
Thankfully, Chang and her team thought of a plan quickly. After the break, some of Flour’s locations opened for classic menu items via contactless pickup and delivery, and another was open for grocery staples, “make your own” recipe kits, and family-style dinners. Slowly, the restaurants have reopened for longer hours; as of July, all eight locations are functional in some capacity.
Though this time has been incredibly challenging for Chang as a restaurant owner (she also co-owns Boston’s Meyers+Chang), she’s enjoyed the opportunity to cook at home more often. Once a week she’ll make pizza with—what else?—Flour’s focaccia dough recipe (included in the sandwich recipe below), as well as plenty of homestyle Taiwanese food, “which is a lot of tofu and vegetables and fresh herbs.”
“We are also getting BBQ from the Smoke Shop in Boston once a week,” Chang added. “The chef, Andy [Husbands], and I are close, and he is doing amazing pop ups each Saturday that we participate in by making desserts. We trade a few dessert packages for a BBQ package and we enjoy that for a few nights each week too.”
Chang hopes that folks in the Boston area will continue to order from Flour, which is the most direct way she can keep her current employees working and continue to bring back others who’ve been furloughed. For those who aren’t local, she encourages checking out Flour’s merch, the most exciting of which is their weekly baking kit, which provides all dry ingredients needed to make Flour treats, like strawberry slab pie, double-chocolate rye cookies, and multigrain sourdough bread. And though she doesn’t have a famous egg sandwich kit at the moment, she was kind enough to share the recipe.