Book Review: Good to the Grain

| May 24, 2010 | 2 Comments
  • 2 Comments

Good to the Grain
It all started with pancakes. As many great things do. Kim Boyce, former pastry chef at Spago and Campanile, left the industry to settle down and have a family. At home, she was inspired to bake but wanted to create healthy options for her kids without spending all day in the kitchen. While shopping at the market, Boyce picked up a small sack of Bob’s Red Mill 10 Grain Pancake Mix. Later in the day, her young daughter was hungry and there wasn’t an immediate plan for meal-time, so Boyce grabbed the flour and added in apples, pureed beets, milk, eggs and butter and had some darn fine (and unique) pancakes on her hands. This began her interest in cooking with whole grains. And I’m so, so thankful that this interest turned into a minor obsession and a very real talent, yielding her special cookbook, Good to the Grain.

I’m much more of a baker than a cook, and I often experiment with whole wheat flours in certain recipes–thinking I’m making a cake or cookie recipe that much healthier. It makes me feel somehow o.k. when I go back for a second (or third) portion. But Boyce makes a point that this book isn’t just about substituting a whole grain flour in place of white flour. She’s spent time getting to know the flavor profile of each type of grain and the texture that each lends to baked goods. In her Introduction, Boyce notes:

“Baking with whole-grain flours is about balance, about figuring out how to get the right combination of structure and flavor from flours that don’t act the same way as regular white flour.”

And the recipes are truly original and insanely appealing. From strawberry barley scones to muscovado sugar cake to ginger peach muffins — morning and evening treats are included and photographed beautifully by Quentin Bacon. Bacon knows how to photograph rustic desserts, capturing the simplicity of a scene, the slight dimness of morning light, and evocative shots of half-eaten desserts. This book has been on my bedside for the past two weeks and I look forward to crawling into bed and climbing into Boyce and Bacon’s world each night. Actually, it’s a world I’d prefer never to leave.

Good to the Grain
The book itself is organized logically, with twelve different grains/flours covered and each chapter donated to one of them. For example, Boyce begins with a chapter on whole wheat flour and ends with spelt. Somewhere in between you’ll find recipes that include amaranth, teff, rye, kamut, buckwheat–and so on. There are 74 recipes total, and Boyce gives a great list of online sources to order some of the grains (page 200). After all, not all of us are lucky enough to have Rainbow Grocery or other natural foods stores with great bulk sections in our backyard.

Now generally with a book review worth its weight, the author will have cooked or baked from the book and will perhaps include a recipe for readers to try. I have done neither of those things. You see, this interesting thing has happened where a few friends and a coworkers have brought me treats made from Boyce’s book. That’s actually how I first learned of it. So while I haven’t exactly baked from it myself, I’ve tried her chocolate chip cookies (and they’re absolutely fantastic: chewy yet sturdy and studded with hand-chopped chocolate), the gingersnaps and the chocolate babka. We’re not talking healthy deprivation here. We’re talking pure joy and indulgence. That being said, I understand some of you may be seeking out a bit more information and authority on Boyce’s recipes. So here are a few of my food-blogging colleagues and friends who have detailed their hands-on experiences with the book:

To close, I’m moving again. More on that later. But as you all know, moving has a way of forcing you to purge things you’re not using and packing up the things you want to hold onto. I have trouble letting go of cookbooks, but I did donate a few this time around to make room for some new ones and to make life just a little easier come moving day. But I know for a fact that Good to the Grain isn’t going anywhere. I’ve never been so excited to read, absorb each word and tip, and bake and bake and bake from a book. While I hope this move will be almost the last for a very long time, I know that Boyce’s book will make it into any U-Haul that crosses my path for many years to come.

In the forward to the book, Nancy Silverton notes,

My first impulse when I’m tasting a dish or a baked good I’ve never had before is to think about how I would do it differently, how I would improve upon it. I love it when I come across something and think ‘This is perfect! I wouldn’t change a thing!’”

I agree. Wholeheartedly.

We’re all fortunate here in the Bay Area because Kim Boyce is speaking at Omnivore Books tonight. Come and pick up a book and meet my new baking legend in person. Here are the details:

Monday, May 24th at Omnivore Books: 6-7 p.m.
3885 Cesar Chavez Street
San Francisco, CA 94131
(415) 282-4712

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Category: baking and bakeries, books, magazines, newspapers, cookbooks

About the Author ()

Megan Gordon is originally from Eureka, CA although she's lived in numerous college towns around the country (another story altogether). A freelance food and travel writer, Megan has written for publications like Ready Made Magazine, The San Francisco Examiner, Edible SF and Edible Marin & Wine Country, Olive Oil Times and The San Francisco Bay Guardian. She writes regularly for Apartment Therapy's The Kitchn and maintains her own local food blog, A Sweet Spoonful. Yes, Megan even tweets @meganjanesf. In addition to writing and photographing food, Megan is the founder (and head baker) of Marge, a Bay Area baking company specializing in classic American pies and nostalgic desserts.
  • http://marcsala.blogspot.com/ Marc

    I bought the book a few weeks ago and have baked a handful of recipes from it — and at this moment have the Rustic Rye Dough in the refrigerator waiting for its appearance tonight as crust for a mushroom tart and an apricot tart. So far, so good, but I really wish Boyce and her editor(s) had included weights for ingredients. I find it much easier to work in weights, especially when making a recipe with several different flours. Boyce makes note of the absence in a preliminary section: “A note on scales: they are the most accurate way to bake, as they yield precise measurements each time. However, since many people don’t own scales, myself included, in this book you will find measurements using cups and spoons.” OK, but not a very good excuse for me. A lot of people don’t have many of the specialized baking instruments in the book.

  • http://marcsala.blogspot.com/ Marc

    As an update to my previous comment: the Rustic Rye Dough that I mention in the comment turned out great. It’s truly an incredible crust — the use of rye flour (with its low gluten content) and the triple-folding are brilliant ideas. I used Bob’s Red Mill “dark rye flour” and its coarseness brings an interesting texture to the crust.