Walking into Boston's Flour Bakery is a bit like walking into an inner room at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Homemade doughnuts sparkling with sugar beckon from beside the chalkboard. Cookies the size of your hand are perfectly fanned on a cake stand nearby. The display counter is covered with plate after plate of pop-tarts oozing jam, croissants stuffed with chocolate, pillowy mounds of lemon cake, sticky buns that leave puddles of sugar when they’re lifted away - it’s completely and wonderfully overwhelming.
And this cookbook? This long-awaited compendium of all that is sugary and good? This cookbook is like winning the Golden Ticket.
If it weren’t already evident that Flour Bakery is all about encouraging the consumption of delicious baked goods, their motto leaves no question: “Make life sweeter...eat dessert first!” Chef and owner Joanne Chang opened Flour after years in professional pastry kitchens - some of the best and most respected in New York and Boston. For her, Flour was a return to the kinds of special treats and desserts she coveted as a child but was never allowed to eat. Hence, the homemade oreos and pop-tarts alongside the lemon marshmallow meringue pies.
The Flour cookbook is broken into six chapters, representing the diversity of goodies made at the bakery: Breakfast Treats, Cookies, Cakes, Pies and Tarts, Other Sweets (think: ice cream and pudding), and Breads. Chef Chang has really held nothing back here. There are recipes for the things she’s become famous for, like her Sticky Sticky Buns (which beat Bobby Flay’s in a throwdown!) and her cream-filled doughnuts (made only on Sundays and much-coveted), as well as personal favorites, like her Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding and Brown Sugar Popovers.
The co-author for the Flour cookbook is another one of our favorite authorities on delicious baked goods, Christie Matheson (author of Salty Sweets). Her work is evident in the precise yet down-to-earth tone of the recipes, as well as the degree of detail with which they’re written. We feel completely confident heading into the kitchen with any one of these recipes.
It’s honestly hard to find anything to criticize about this cookbook! The photography is stunning and can be blamed for much indecisiveness about which recipe to try first. The layout makes it easy to follow a recipe, and we love love love that ingredient amounts are given in both volume and weight measurements. There are lots of tips sprinkled throughout the book, along with ideas for recipe variations. Chang and Matheson have done an excellent job of giving us a solid bunch of recipes, but still allowing lots of room for play.
We’re sharing this recipe for Flour Bakery’s pop-tarts because they're one of our absolute favorite things at the bakery. Imagine pulling out a plate of these at your next brunch! They're the embodiment of everything we love about the bakery: elegant, whimsical, and above all else, tasty. It sandwiches a layer of jam between two slabs of pâte brisée, a.k.a. pie crust. The daub of frosting and sprinkles on top make it perfect.
Keep this recipe for Flour’s pâte brisée in your files! It’s made half in the mixer and half on the counter top, making it an interesting mix of modern convenience and classic pastry techniques. We’ve made it a few times, like with our Old-Fashioned Pecan Pie, and have really come to love it.
• Find the Book: Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe, by Joanne Chang with Christie Matheson. Published by Chronicle Books 2010. ($19 on Amazon.com)
Makes 8 pastries
I took the bus to elementary school every day with Linda, my best childhood friend and next-door neighbor. We always sat together in the third row and shared our breakfasts-on-the-go. Most of the time I had buttered toast or a traditional bao (Chinese white steamed bun)—pretty boring. Linda’s mom often sent her with foil-wrapped packets of Pop-Tarts, which I could never get her to trade with me. She shared bites with me occasionally, but I longed to have my own, and I could never convince my mom to buy them. When I started baking professionally, I dreamed of all the things I would offer at my own bakery. Those childhood tarts were high on my list, and I thought if I made them from scratch, they could surpass the packaged supermarket version I remembered. I was right.
The tarts we make at Flour get steady attention from both our customers and the press. Making them is similar to making ravioli, but even if you’ve never done that, you’ll find the process quite straightforward: First, you roll out flaky, buttery dough into a big sheet and score it into rectangles. Then, you spoon jam into the rectangles, lay another sheet of pastry dough on top, and press down to make little jam pockets. Finally, you cut the pockets apart and bake them to golden brown yumminess.
Pâte Brisée (please see recipe below)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup (340 grams) raspberry jam
Simple Vanilla Glaze
1 cup (140 grams) confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 to 3 tablespoons water
Rainbow sprinkles for sprinkling (optional)
Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it in half. Press each half into a rectangle. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each half into a 14-by-11-inch rectangle. Using a paring knife, lightly score 1 rectangle into eight 3 1/2-by-5 1/2-inch rectangles (about the size of an index card).
Brush the top surface of the entire scored rectangle with the egg. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the jam in a mound in the center of each scored rectangle. Lay the second large dough rectangle directly on top of the first. Using fingertips, carefully press down all around each jam mound, so the pastry sheets adhere to each other.
Using a knife, a pizza roller (easier), or a fluted roller (easier and prettier), and following the scored lines, cut the layered dough into 8 rectangles. Place the rectangles, well spaced, on a baking sheet.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the tops of the pastries are evenly golden brown. Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for about 30 minutes.
To make the glaze: While the pastries are cooling, in a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and enough of the water to make a smooth, pourable glaze. You should have about 1/2 cup. (The glaze can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.)
When the pastries have cooled for 30 minutes, brush the tops evenly with the glaze, then sprinkle with the rainbow sprinkles (if using). Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the glaze to set before serving.
The pastries can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Makes about 18 ounces dough, enough for 8 pop-tarts or one 9-inch double-crust or lattice-top pie
1 3/4 cups (245 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks / 228 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons cold milk
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), mix together the flour, sugar, and salt for 10 to 15 seconds, or until combined. Scatter the butter over the top. Mix on low speed for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, or just until the flour is no longer bright white and holds together when you clump it and lumps of butter the size of pecans are visible throughout.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and milk until blended. Add to the flour mixture all at once. Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until the dough just barely comes together. It will look really shaggy and more like a mess than a dough.
Dump the dough out onto an unfloured work surface, then gather it together into a tight mound. Using your palm and starting on one side of the mound, smear the dough bit by bit, starting at the top of the mound and then sliding your palm down the side and along the work surface (at Flour we call this “going down the mountain”), until most of the butter chunks are smeared into the dough and the dough comes together. Do this once or twice on each part of the dough, moving through the mound until the whole mess has been smeared into a cohesive dough with streaks of butter.
Gather up the dough, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and press down to flatten into a disk about 1 inch thick. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before using. The dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.
(Images courtesy of Chronicle Books, copyright Keller + Keller)