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Apr 20, 2010 07:07 PM

Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours, by Kim Boyce

Has anyone baked from this new book by a former pastry chef at Spago and Campanile in Los Angeles? I couldn't resist it: it is beautiful, and full of interesting and delicious-sounding recipes.

There are chapters on whole wheat, amaranth, barley, buckwheat, corn, kamut, oat, multigrain, quinoa, rye, spelt, and teff flours (the multigrain is one mixed from whole-wheat, oat, barley, millet, and rye flours). There are cookies, muffins, pancakes and waffles, biscuits and scones, other quick breads and simple cakes, cereals (including homemade Grape Nuts!), a few rustic tarts and galettes, and yeasted breads. Some savory recipes, and a chapter of preserves and compotes.

Most of the recipes use a combination of flours, usually the specialty grain plus whole-wheat or AP flour, but sometimes several kinds. I don't think any are gluten free. These recipes aren't necessarily low in fat or sugar (which is not to say they're all high in either); rather, their point is to play up the flavors of the grains. They're mostly rustic and homey.

Here are a few of the recipes that have caught my eye on first look:

Apple Graham Coffee Cake (made with graham flour)

Molasses Bran Muffins (with amaranth flour and a "jam" made from prunes cooked in OJ and pureed)

Honey Hazelnut Cookies (like a cross between shortbread and linzer dough, she says; made with amaranth and brushed while warm with hot honey infused with cardamom, orange zest, and orange flower water)

Chocolate Persimmon Muffins (with buckwheat, cocoa, and bittersweet chocolate - man, I wish I could get persimmons before late next fall!)

Corn and Gruyere Muffins (flavored with scallions and cumin seeds)

Ginger Peach Muffins (with oat flour, crystallized ginger, and fresh peach topping)

Quinoa and Beet Pancakes (made with quinoa flour)

Zucchini Bread (with rye, fresh basil, and fresh mint)

Olive Oil Cake (with spelt flour, rosemary, and bittersweet chocolate)

Date Nut Bread and Brown Butter Scones (both with teff flour)

Really, that's just a sample of the recipes that intrigue me. Lots of creative flavor combinations, and many recipes use brown sugar, honey, or molasses to highlight the flavor of the various grains.

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  1. First recipe tried: Molasses Bran Muffins, from the amaranth chapter. Great flavor, with the molasses/prunes/orange/cinnamon and whole grains, and nice and moist. They didn't bake up quite as they should, bu that was due to user error (detailed below).

    Last month, I made dixieday's Buzzing Bran Muffins ( ), which I liked a lot, and this recipe is somewhat similar, down to being generally healthful (all whole grains, not a lot of added sugars or fat). My local market didn't have amaranth flour, so I bought whole amaranth and easily ground it to flour in a coffee/spice grinder. Honestly, one could easily replace the amaranth flour with another 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour, though: there are lots of flavorful ingredients in the recipe, and I couldn't really taste amaranth among them.

    A prune "jam" is made by steeping pitted prunes in hot orange juice, then pureeing them. Wheat bran is mixed with warm buttermilk. Whole-wheat flour (I used WW pastry), amaranth flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt are sifted together. Melted butter, egg, molasses, brown sugar, and orange zest, and the prune puree are combined with the wheat bran, and all are stirred into the dry ingredients.

    Here's where user error kicked in. I put the batter in the oiled muffin tin (she wants you to slightly mound it above the tops of the cups and make 10 muffins; it was way too liquid for that, so I filled 12 to the top and had a bit left over). Only after having done so did I register the note in a box on the page saying that in order too give them enough space to rise and bake evenly, only alternate cups should be filled and two tins used. As a result, mine didn't rise much, the tops spread instead, and they took way longer than the specified time to bake. The extra batter baked in another pan rose nicely. Next time, I'll follow the spacing instructions, or perhaps make 18 smaller muffins.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

      OK miss, leading us addicts down the garden path again...the book sounds great.

      1. re: buttertart

        It does sound pretty interesting! I wish I were more of a baker.


        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          You're obviously a very good cook already, why not give baking more of a whirl? Nothing more satisfying. (Well, almost nothing.)

          1. re: buttertart

            I really should, I just never seem to have time for it.

            Actually, there are a lot of great baking recipes in many of the COTMs we've chosen. It wouldn't be so hard to make it a personal challenge to try to do at least one baking thing from every COTM or something, just to get the ball rolling.


            1. re: buttertart

              You know, I think I'm going to do an outside post on this.


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                V good idea. I was a baker long before I was a cook, and still lean that way. It seems to be one of those tomato tomahto things for people, doesn't it?

      2. It's been a good long while since she was at Spago, to be honest. I'm not bowled over by most whole grain goodness, and some of these strike me as pointless--sure, you can make Quinoa and Beet Pancakes, but why?

        Same with this one,

        "To a savory muffin made from kamut flour and wheat germ, Boyce adds sauteed red chard and Cotswold cheese, an aged cheddar flecked with chives."

        That's way too many ingredients for me:

        1 Reply
        1. re: Ideefixed

          Some of us unfortunately cannot eat wheat, barley or rye so must use alternatives such as quinoa, millet, teff and so on. I have many recipes that call for 4-7 kinds of grains/flours/starches per recipe to replace gluten. Very expensive but some of us have no choice.

        2. I made the olive oil cake, which was a great success. It is moist, tender, and the rosemary, bitterweet chocolate, and fruity olive oil flavors are very nice together.

          This is in the spelt chapter, and uses one part spelt flour to two parts AP flour. This is a simple cake to mix up by hand. Spelt and AP flours, salt, baking powder, and sugar are mixed with eggs, olive oil, milk, minced fresh rosemary, and bittersweet chocolate chunks. The one tweak I made was reducing the amount of olive oil; the recipe calls for a cup of olive oil and 3/4 cup of milk, and I reversed the proportions, because I knew a cake this size didn't need a full cup to still be luscious (I was right). The only glitch is that she calls for baking it in a fluted tart pan, which made for a very attractive cake, but isn't really big enough for the amount of batter, which pretty much filled it. A springform pan would be a better choice, and that is what I will use next time.

          I'm sure this would be good made with all AP flour, as well, even if it then wouldn't include any whole grains. She says the spelt flour gives the cake tenderness, and it is a nice, tender cake.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

            I really enjoyed the olive oil cake as well, although mine got a bit crumbly.

            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

              Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Chocolate

              I made this cake sometime within the last two months. I loved it. This dessert hit all of my loves, savory combined with sweet and a really delicious crumb. I used close to 2T of chopped rosemary but kept the other proportions the same. Next time, I'm going to try Caitlin's suggestion of switching the oil and milk proportions.

              I'm hoping to make this again in the summer when my own rosemary comes in. It did kill me a bit to buy rosemary when I have so much of it in the summer and fall months.

              Here is a link to the recipe.


              1. re: beetlebug

                I just picked up some spelt flour so I can make this. Going to do it this weekend.

                1. re: pistachio peas

                  Since you now have spelt flour, you may want to check out the Huckle Buckle recipe too. Quite good (though I have only made it with blueberries since I can't ever find huckleberries where I live).

              2. re: Caitlin McGrath

                Olive Oil Cake

                I really like the flavor of this. The rosemary is truly lovely and fragrant. I followed Caitlin's advice and swapped the milk and oil amounts, and baked it in a springform pan. I also used 4 oz. of 66% chocolate, instead of 5 oz of 70%.

              3. I'm eating one of the whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies right now. They're very, very good - great texture, slight nuttiness from the whole wheat, almost as if there were ground pecans in the batter. The whole wheat gives the cookie a more attractive color, as well. I baked half tonight, and am saving half for tomorrow, to see if a day of aging will make the same difference in this dough as it does with all-purpose flour.

                I also made the olive oil cake - I only had dried rosemary, and while I cut way back on the amount, the day I baked the cake, it was far too pungent. By day two, it had mellowed significantly, and married well with the rosemary and spelt.

                I noticed that the kamut, chard and Cotswald muffin recipe from the LA Times article didn't make it into the book, but I heard from another CH'er that it was really good. I think I'm going to try it next - my SO frequently doesn't have time to eat lunch at work, and I thought it could be a good meal substitute.

                I've noticed that with both the cookies and the cake, just one cookie (or just one slice of cake) are enough to satisfy me, while white flour versions seem to trigger more eating. Good news for those of us who still love pastry but don't have the metabolisms we once did...

                3 Replies
                1. re: daveena

                  Hey Daveena, glad to see another CH is baking from the book. In the olive oil cake, I actually used more fresh rosemary than was called for - closer to 2 T. than 1 1/2, because that's what I minced - and the rosemary is quite subtle, not at all pungent or piney.

                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                    I'm glad you started this thread - I didn't want to wait for it to come up as a COTM and was about to start one myself :)

                    I think fresh rosemary would have been less overpowering and will make sure I use it next time. Good to know you can cut back on the olive oil - my cake actually leaked a bit of oil during baking, although the final product didn't feel greasy at all.

                    Of note, the chocolate chip cookie texture definitely suffers after it cools - it's a little sandy and dry this morning, compared to the cookies I make with half-white, half-wheat flours, which retain their chewiness on day 2. The olive oil cake, on the other hand, holds up really well - I wrapped it in foil and cut slices from it for a week with very little noticeable change in texture (a little bit of dryness right at the edges, nothing else).

                    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                      Caitlin, I wish I'd seen your report on the olive oil rosemary cake, before I attempted it. As I measure out the cup of oil, it did seem like a lot of fat by proportion. I am sure the result was much better with your switched amounts for the oil and milk. Not that we complained, mind you. My husband and I polished it off in about 2-3 days. I was hoping my toddler would like it more than he did - because of the scant amount of sugar. But that may be precisely why he didn't give rave reviews.
                      Funny thing about the rosemary. I am a pretty avid baker, but given that rosemary can be a pretty assertive flavor, I went and confused myself about the implications of "1.5 T rosemary, chopped" vs. "1.5 T chopped rosemary". I convinced myself that author must have meant the former. Since I'd already chopped up the rosemary while I mulled all this over, I measured a scant tbsp and threw it in. If I'd seen your report, I'd have confidently added 1.5 T and maybe even 2T.
                      BTW, I don't have the book - just saw this pop up on Heidi's blog recently and it looked easy, novel and delicious.

                  2. The blue cheese and onion scones are really good. There's a tiny bit of sweetness (the onions are deeply caramelized, and there's a bit of honey and an even tinier bit of sugar) that just rounds out the flavor. I used regular whole wheat flour (the original calls for graham) and found that the little bit of sweetness really amped up the flavor of the whole wheat.

                    Addendum to my chocolate chip cookie notes above - they rest of the dough sat in the fridge for about 5 days before I finally baked them. The aged cookies had a much better texture, and they held up on day 2 way better than cookies that were baked the day of.

                    I had to cut back on baking a little bit... had to admit some of my recent weight gain was from testing recipes. Low-cal, these are not.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: daveena

                      I feel you on your final paragraph. The book is full of interesting recipes, but despite the presence of whole-grain flours, they're definitely not health food.

                      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                        I suppose, as a cookbook author, it's hard to find the perfect balance between "healthful" and "delicious". I understand that Boyce feels like she has something to prove, that whole grains can be delicious. But, if these recipes are only marginally more healthful than conventional recipes, then it seems kind of silly (unless you believe that the whole grains are actually MORE delicious than conventional, in which case, go for it). I wish cookbook authors would give additional tips for modification to make these recipes even more healthful.


                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          I think you may have misunderstood the premise of this book, TDQ. Boyce's point in writing the book wasn't at all to try to create the super-healthful recipes. Her intention was to create recipes that highlight the interesting flavors and textures that these "alternative" grains lend to baked goods. As I said in my OP, "These recipes aren't necessarily low in fat or sugar (which is not to say they're all high in either); rather, their point is to play up the flavors of the grains."

                          She says in her introduction, of playing with whole grains (often in combination with plain old AP flour, for structure), "The flavor was fantastic. There were hints of dry grass or toasted nuts, an earthy or milky flavor, or the surprisingly sweet taste of malt or even caramel. There were so many dimensions to the flavors, and so many new ways I could explore them in baking. I realized that I was thinking differently about the way I baked. Instead of relying on traditional sugars or spice and fruit, I was now using flour to add greater flavor to my recipes."

                          So I think you've set up a dialogue in your post above that doesn't really have much to do with this book or its premise at all. I'm sure that it is, indeed, hard for cookbook authors who are trying to write books of specifically healthful recipes to find a balance between that aspect and the delicious, but that is not Boyce's mission. From my reading of the book, I also disagree that "Boyce feels like she has something to prove, that whole grains can be delicious." She's not coming at this at all from the perspective of trying to convince or prove a point, and certainly not with regard to virtue; rather, she begins from the point of view that these grains *are* delicious, and proceeds with the best ways she knows to highlight the particular qualities she finds in each grain.

                          This isn't a book that's about replacing white flour with whole wheat, setting up a "conventional" vs. "whole grain" dichotomy, it's about exploring the flavors and individual qualities of a whole variety of less-common grains (see list in my OP). It isn't that Boyce has failed in a mission to create "more healthful than 'conventional' recipes," but that that never was her mission at all. If that is the criterion by which you judge the book, it is likely not the one you want.

                          All that said, while there is no deficit of butter or cream in some of the recipes in Good to the Grain, there are a number of recipes that are all or a greater majority whole grain and have low amounts of added fat (for instance, there are several muffin and quick bread recipes which call for only 2 or 3 tablespoons of butter or oil - used in combination with buttermilk, yogurt, applesauce and the like), and all her recipes are reasonably restrained in sweeteners. In the case of the molasses bran muffins I posted about above, the recipe calls for wheat bran and whole wheat flour, prunes, orange juice, 1/2 cup molasses, 2 T. brown sugar, and 3 T. melted butter (for which one could obviously substitute an oil).

                          I share your interest in healthful recipes (at least some of the time!), TDQ, and am also perfectly willing to make substitutions and modifications where I think they'll work out well, and comfortable making those determinations. If I can offer assistance on that front, or if you'd like to know which recipes in Good to the Grain are on the healthful side, etc., just let me know.

                          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                            Thanks for this, Caitlin. Now that it's officially summer, I don't feel like turning on my oven. However, when fall comes, I would really like to throw myself into baking with various whole grain flours (which is a completely new thing for me).

                            I already own "Super Natural Cooking" and have my eye on Medrich's "Pure Dessert " And, I have been watching this "Good to the Grain" thread with great interest. When the time comes, I would absolutely love your tips on making modifications and/or your opinion about which recipes in GTTG are more healthful.

                            I am not a very experienced baker so, I don't always make very good choices about making substitutions. My results often suffer as a result. But, as with many things in life, the best way to learn is to do!