I was turning the pages of “Pastry Love: A Baker’s Journal of Favorite Recipes” and when I got to the chocolate chip cookies (“Not to brag, but Flour makes THE BEST chocolate chip cookies in the world,” writes the author in the header note), I grabbed the flour and sugar canisters, put out sticks of butter, chips I had stashed in the freezer for just such emergencies, and began baking.
That’s what “Pastry Love” will make you want to do: Bake things you’re already familiar with and also take on a few challenges. Joanne Chang, co-owner of the eight popular Flour Bakery + Cafe locations, tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the beautiful confections that line her cases. “Aren’t you worried about giving away all of your secrets?” her husband, co-owner Christopher Myers, asks her with each new book (this is her fifth). “I love to share the joy that amazing food brings to us all,” writes Chang. This isn’t New Age feel-good talk. The pastry chef is a genuinely thoughtful person; you only have to talk to her for five minutes to notice that. This book exudes her warmth.
Chang’s bio can make your head spin. She graduated from Harvard with honors in Applied Mathematics and Economics, became a management consultant, then worked with many celebrated pastry chefs. She took to French patisserie with the same vigor she applied to academia, then launched her first shop in 2000 in the South End, on a stretch of Washington Street where rents were still reasonable. Seven more locations followed so she could give talented bakers and staff more opportunities. In 2016 James Beard Awards made her Outstanding Baker in America.
“Pastry Love” has magnificent photographs of every recipe by Kristin Teig, all beautifully lit and unadorned, showing some step-by-step techniques, but mostly finished confections. They accompany recipes for Apple Cider Sticky Buns, a version of which won Chang a throwdown with Bobby Flay; Fresh Fig Danish looking golden and flaky, with a cream cheese filling under the fruit; Jam-n-Butter Biscuits made with buttermilk and heavy cream, with a recipe for Rhubarb-Strawberry Spoon Jam to go with it; Lemon-Polenta Cookies mixed with cornmeal, pressed into a loaf pan, coated on all sides with sugar, then sliced and baked; S’mores Pie with a milk chocolate graham cracker crust and a Marshmallow Meringue that’s been blowtorched until the peaks are charred; and Funfetti Angel Food Cake, with colorful rainbow sprinkles throughout, designed for Boston’s Pride Week.
I baked an Apple-Vanilla Pound Cake, which is more genoise then pound, with a lovely, light texture. But the apples arranged on top before baking fell to the middle of the loaf in the oven. Olive Oil Cake with Fresh Grapes, made with eggs and extra yolks, Greek yogurt, and almond flour, with halved green grapes in concentric circles on top, is beautiful as you’re making it, baking it, and eating it. It has a pleasing texture that tastes slightly of cheese (as yogurt cakes do). I can imagine spending the winter making it with all kinds of other fruits.
Flour Power Bars are mixed with toasted whole almonds, sunflower seeds, cashews, rolled oats, Medjool dates, raisins, chia seeds, cinnamon, and maple syrup. You pack this dense mixture into a loaf pan and refrigerate it overnight, then slice thickly, and bake. There’s a note in the recipe to say that one of the Flour bakers eats the bars without baking, drizzled with chocolate. It’s good unbaked, which you learn because the brick crumbles at the edges as you slice it. I like the idea that the fruits and syrup are the only sweeteners and there’s no added fat; you can taste the salt.
Mine refused to brown in a 325-degree oven, even adding 5 minutes to the baking temperature several times. As you flip them during baking; they want to crumble more. I finally turned the oven to 350 and they browned. They’re delightfully crisp, dense with nuts and seeds, and taste wonderful. Crumbs in a bowl of yogurt are splendid.
And now to those chocolate chip cookies: Are they the best in the world? Yes! They’re the chippers of my dreams. But the recipe introduction doesn’t let you know that each cookie uses 4 tablespoons of dough and they’re 5 inches across after baking. I made them twice, once the exact way the book instructs -- setting the mounds on the baking sheet 2 inches apart -- and the cookies baked together and lost their round shapes. Then I baked them very far apart and they were gorgeous giants.
Another time I shaped 3-tablespoon mounds and they were a big success, golden, crisp rounds that looked like the stack in the photo.
I don’t envy anyone having to scale down recipes from the huge quantities that a bakery like Flour is using. Kudos to this pastry chef for telling us everything she knows about a subject and offering her formulas. OK, so this book isn’t perfect, but it’s still great and very appealing. I’ll be baking more and more from it because I love the author’s aesthetic and stories, the confections are the sorts of things I most like to make, and I don’t even have to turn on the oven to learn a lot. I can just read and look at photographs.
Pastry Love: A Baker’s Journal of Favorite Recipes
By Joanne Chang
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 464 pp, $40
Joanne Chang will be signing books on Nov 6. at The Harvard Coop, 1400 Massachusetts Ave., Harvard Square, Cambridge, at 7 p.m.; on Nov. 7 at Wellesley Books, 82 Central St., Wellesley, at 7 p.m.; and other dates. For a complete list, go to www.flourbakery.com/pastrylove.