Does the cookbook world need another baking book? Probably not. Do we? Maybe, depending on how much chocolate and pastry cream are stuffed into that Flour Bakery breakfast brioche.
The just-released book, Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe, by Boston bakeshop owner Joanne Chang is pretty hard to resist with its 100+ recipes for double-corn corn bread with crème fraîche and thyme, lemon marshmallow meringue pie, craqueline (a French breakfast pastry with candied oranges and almonds). OK, maybe one more book.
The charm of this book is Chang's democratic reverence for both the humble peanut butter cookie and that delicate hazelnut-almond dacquoise she learned to make under the tutelage of François Payard at Payard Patisserie in New York. Our only criticisms are relatively minor in the cookbook scheme of things. Annoyances, really, like when those cookies you let cool just a little too long require a little extra muscle to scrape off the baking sheet.
For starters, the font used in the “Baker's Bite” sidebar tips doesn't quite feel like a Harvard applied mathematics major turned well respected Boston pastry chef. Cutesy cursive with a perky whisk emblem? This is hardly a children's baking book. Nit-picky, yes, and something we blame fully on the publisher, not the author. Fortunately, the rest of the book design (and the gorgeous photographs) do justice to the quality of that dacquoise.
The other minor annoyance lies buried in the recipe introductions. Many read as though they skipped the editor's desk. Sporadic thoughts can be fun, but here they lack a cohesive point and tend to run long and dry, despite brimming with potential at their offset. Consider this header for vanilla cream-filled doughnuts that begins: “For years before I opened Flour, I had a notebook where I kept menu ideas for when I finally had my own dream bakery.” We were hooked, anticipating a list of Chang's wildest Willy Wonka bakery case dreams that didn't make the final cut. But instead of getting a peek inside the pastry chef's mind (marshmallow tarte tatins?), we're steered down a different path involving a Dunkin' Donuts that was a few doors down the block when the first bakery (she now owns three) opened in the fall of 2000. And why the doughnuts Chang learned to make at Payards were worlds above those of her competitor. And the irony of a French pastry chef teaching an American baker how to make the best doughnuts. And that the bakery only makes these vanilla cream doughnuts on Sundays. Huh? We're still wondering about that dream bakery case filler.
But who really reads recipe headers anyway, right? There are plenty of recipes in Flour worth putting on the to-bake list, like that roasted pear and cranberry crostata with homemade frangipane filling, toasted coconut cream pie with lime whipped cream, or the Milky Way inspired tart (a tart shell lined with caramel and topped with milk chocolate mousse that's topped with more caramel and milk chocolate curls). Those peanut butter cookies are here, too. Chang's favorite soft, chewy version. But first, we'll be trying that homemade Nutella tart, here with a chunkier version of the commercial chocolate-hazelnut paste as the filling, though Chang admits she prefers the spread simply slathered on a baguette. Now that's our kind of pastry chef.