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Book Review: Flavor Flours


3D COVER. Flavor Flours

Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Leigh Beisch

Whenever I need inspiration for a special dessert or a good cookie recipe, I reach for one of Alice Medrich’s books. When Flavor Flours came out I was excited to review it, but I had no idea how much I wanted and needed this book until I recently received a copy.

Alice Medrich is truly a culinary visionary and trend setter. As a young woman she lived in Paris and was given some chocolate truffles. Intrigued by the flavor and uniqueness of the confection, which was essentially unknown in the US at that time, she returned to Berkeley, California and made truffles for sale. The truffles she designed became known as “California Truffles.”

Alice’s passion for chocolate eventually led to the launch of Cocolat, a chain of high-end dessert shops. Her desserts impressed and inspired bakers and chocolatiers, and helped to trigger a renaissance of specialty desserts and confections. In the late 1980s Alice began writing award-winning culinary books, initially with a focus on chocolate, then later, expanding her repertoire.

With Flavor Flours Alice introduces readers to an entire class of flours used (until now) primarily in baking quick and yeasted breads. When writing Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy, an excellent compilation of cookies and confections, Alice experimented with oat flour and found that its specific flavor profile and characteristics enhanced the cookies she was making. This led to a serious exploration of rice, corn, oat, buckwheat, teff, chestnut, sorghum, nut and coconut flours. In the process, she and colleague Maya Klein, did the heavy lifting for all of us who use gluten-free flours because of allergies or intolerances.

There is a chapter dedicated to each category of flour, its flavor affinities and how to best use and store it. Each chapter contains a chiffon or sponge cake, followed by a selection of baked goods that accentuate or take best advantage of the flour.

During her research, Alice discovered that working with non-gluten flours often produced a lighter crumb than wheat as gluten can cause toughness. She also found that xanthum and guar gum aren’t necessary with some of the flours as they hold together well on their own.

More than just a treatise on flours and accompanying recipes, Alice provides fillings, toppings, frostings, glazes, an appendix on flour weights and conversions and a list of places where less common flours can be purchased. While I have baked with some of the flours covered in this book, I am excited to try chestnut flour and I’m equally excited to experiment with each of these flours individually following Alice’s instructions. The idea of new and enhanced flavors for baked goods we all love is very intriguing.

It was difficult to narrow the choices to two recipes to offer you. I finally settled on these:

Oat Flour Sponge Cake

Oat Flour Fruit Basket

Chestnut Jam Tart
I do hope that you’re intrigued enough to pick up a copy of Flavor Flours because this book is a portal to an entirely new baking category. How much fun is that!

Patricia Rain
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