Photo by Leela CydBy Charlotte Druckman, Bon Appétit
Just when you think a cookie couldn't get more sinful, you discover it carries a healthy secret.
It began with breakfast. Bob's Red Mill Organic 7 Grain Pancake/Waffle Mix, to be precise. Before Kim Boyce and her husband, Thomas, left Los Angeles--she was on pastry duty at Campanile, while he led the galley at Spago--and headed to Portland, Oregon, they found themselves dealing, simultaneously, with a new baby and a kitchen remodel. Unable to break the habit, Boyce took to baking at home to keep busy. "It was so much sugar and flour, I couldn't believe it," she recalled. This realization was particularly jarring as she looked for "convenient but healthy items" to feed her daughter. As the construction got under way, Boyce had to get creative with an electric hot plate; ergo, pancakes. As she was pulling her ingredients out of the fridge, she spied some beet-apple puree she'd made for the wee one and threw it into the batter. "They turned this beautiful, golden-brown rounded color a white flour pancake never would," she said, not to mention they "tasted great." As soon as her new kitchen was up and running, she bought whole grain flours and started experimenting. At first, she said, "things were terrible, and heavy and horrible. There was a point where I almost gave up." Thank Demeter, goddess of grain, she didn't.
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Once she hit her stride, the L.A. Times published a few of her muffin recipes. Then came the book deal, which she took "as an opportunity and challenge to dive into these whole grains." Why, she asked herself, was she cooking with these products? "The idea of baking for kids," she said, "had to do with the health aspect, but as a pastry chef, that wasn't so exciting." Roger that. "Healthy-tasting" isn't the most pleasant descriptive phrase. What she learned is that "you can use the amount of sugar a recipe calls for to give you the achieved texture or look, but the grains temper the sweetness, and can alter the flavors." And from there came the most exciting epiphany: "All my baking life, it was always shopping at the farmers' markets and using fruit, spices, or alcohol to define a recipe's flavor. I never thought you could change the flours--and what a huge world that opens up." It really does, as anyone who has used her cookbook, Good to the Grain, can tell you. The family touched down in Portland as the book debuted. As Kim points out, this gave them the publicity they needed to kick-start their lives there, and last year, on Christmas Eve, she opened Bakeshop. Depending on the season, you'll find a walnut coffee cake or ginger-peach muffin. If there's a figgy buckwheat scone left, grab it.
Before Boyce baked her first batch of whole-grain awesomeness out of her basement, Portlanders had already chosen sides in an ongoing double-chocolate-cookie rivalry. Some aligned themselves with the Nuvrei flourless, while others pledged allegiance to the Little T Stumptown mocha chew. Both are true to classic form; the sheen-y, crackled exterior and sticky-tacky (as though unbaked), meringue-ish center. But this town had never seen the likes of Boyce's heavy-duty chocolate cookie. First point of departure, hers are made with spelt. One of the effects this type of flour has on the cookie is to "take it away from that crackle direction." What you see, instead of fine lines etched in a shiny surface, are deep fissures and a matte finish. "The cracks at the top of that cookie were very, very important to me," she says and explains that she tested the amounts of sugar in the dough to see how to maximize the crevices. This is exactly what she hoped to achieve. "So many of my reference points still come back to Nancy [Silverton, of Campanile]," Boyce said. "There was something of hers that we would do ... a ginger molasses cookie that Nancy and I had discussed." It may look like a ginger-molasses number, but, taste-wise, there's no mistaking it for anything but a chocolate so-and-so.
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For a role model on the cocoa front, Boyce, who admitted that "in terms of pastry," she's not "a chocolate person," thought back to Sherry Yard's chocolate brownie, with its remarkable "gooey, meringue-y" texture. The Oregon transplant aspires to that consistency for her cookie--"I love that chewy edge, where it gets softer and brownie-like in the middle"--but to a point. Hers, as she describes it, is more "toothsome" than either a brownie or the traditional crackle cookie. This is due to a tweaking of the usual amount of sugar and, again, to the spelt. The latter's germ offsets the former. "It gets in there, and would interrupt the pure, chewy texture," Boyce assumes. The spelt serves yet another purpose. "Chocolate is such a strong flavor, it needs a strong flour to hold up to it," she contended. "You wouldn't use a barley flour, for example, because it's softer." The strength of these well-matched ingredients yields a heartier cookie and negates the need for adding an extra sweetening agent; "You don't want to offset that balance with more sugar." That's one reason why Boyce's over-the-top finish is not the powdered or granulated stuff. She opts for cacao nibs--she's a sucker for their bitterness and nubbiness. We are too, especially when they're garnishing this not-so-sweet that's as chocolatey as they come.
Boyce encourages you to substitute different flours and see if you like the results. Whole wheat would be a good one to start with and can be swapped in equal proportion. And as she writes in the cookbook, "Keep in mind that the cookies will need to chill for two hours before they are baked. Use good-quality chocolate, as it makes all the difference."
Chocolate Chocolate Cookies
From Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce
Makes 2 1/2 dozen
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (about 70 percent cacao), coarsely chopped
21/4 cups sugar
2 cups spelt flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70 to 75 percent cacao), coarsely chopped
1 cup cacao nibs
Parchment for the baking sheets
1. Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring until combined and thoroughly melted.
2. Add the eggs and the sugar to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Immediately turn the mixer to high speed and whip for 3 minutes. Using a spatula, scrape every bit of the warm chocolate mixture into the mixing bowl. Mix on low speed to combine.
3. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain or other ingredients that may remain in the sifter. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture and mix on low speed until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl. Add the remaining chopped chocolate and stir until evenly combined. Chill for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.
4. Place two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Although you can butter the sheets instead, parchment is very useful for these cookies because the large chunks of chocolate tend to stick to the pan.
5. Scoop balls of dough about 2 tablespoons in size. Roll the balls in cacao nibs, covering all but the bottom of the dough with the nibs. Place the balls onto the baking sheets, leaving about 3 inches between them, or about 6 to a sheet.
6. Bake the cookies for 17 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through. The cookies will still be soft in the centers but the edges will feel firm and the cacao nibs will be toasted a dark brown. Transfer the cookies, still on the parchment, to the counter to cool. Reline the baking sheets with parchment and repeat with the remaining dough. These cookies are best eaten warm from the oven or later that same day. They'll keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Note: This recipe was not tested by the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen.
Charlotte Druckman (@cettedrucks) is a journalist based in New York City and author of the recently published book Skirt Steak: Women Chefs On Standing the Heat & Staying in the Kitchen.
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Photo by Leela CydBy Charlotte Druckman, Bon Appétit