For years Kim Boyce, a pastry chef who sifted and stirred her way through some of Los Angeles' best kitchens, from Wolfgang Puck's Spago to Nancy Silverton's Campanile, only worked in white.
White flour, that is.
Curiously, she had her epiphany -- make that her whole-grain epiphany -- when she plopped some beet and apple purees into a bowl of 10-grain pancake mix and made pancakes on a plugged-in griddle on her dining room table.
"It was nutty and chewy and had a depth of flavor I'd never tasted before," says Boyce, whose aha! moment was born of desperation. She had a hungry 1-year-old on her hip, and, deep in house reconstruction, she didn't have a kitchen.
She'd roamed the grocery aisles that very morning, in search of the healthiest food she could cook for her baby, but given that she was working without a sink, it had to be something that would end with the fewest pots to scrub in the bathtub. She settled on that 10-grain sack.
What she discovered was deliciousness.
From that virgin bite, Boyce says, she set out to conquer the whole-grain world. And she was set on stirring up recipes more delicious than all the white-flour financiers and puff pastries she had prepared in her professional past.
"I had never in a professional kitchen come across a bin of whole-wheat flour, or a bag of rye flour," says Boyce, who shares her discoveries in "Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $29.95).
It wasn't the nutrition that led her to learn the fine points of baking with buckwheat, oat and spelt flour. It was the flavor, Boyce insists. Soon, her kitchen counters were lined with screw-top glass jars of flours she'd never heard of.
Baking with whole grains "is all about balance, about figuring out how to get the right combination of structure and flavor from flours that don't act the same way as regular white flour," she writes. "There is a reason whole-wheat pastry has a bad reputation."
If you're inclined to march down the whole-grain road, Boyce suggests you start slowly. Choose just one flour for your first experiments; she recommends barley or rye flours, which are milder than whole wheat. (She opts for storing it in the fridge, not the freezer, if you don't think you'll use the flour quickly.)
Finally, she adds this dash of courage: Don't be disappointed. And don't give up.
The whole-grain deliciousness is worth your time in the experimental pastry kitchen.
When first trying whole-wheat flours in your baking, swap out slowly, starting with just a half-cup of whole-grain flour for an equal measure of white flour. Eventually work up to a 1-cup ratio: 1 cup whole-grain flour to 1 cup white flour.
Also, remember, it's not a matter of simply swapping flours; whole-grain flour needs more moisture than white in a recipe. You might need to add a bit of yogurt, fruit or vegetable purees, or molasses or honey. Depends on the recipe. You'll have to trust yourself to correct course as needed, starting with half-tablespoons of moisture.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 4 minutes/batch
The multigrain flour mix gives these waffles their complex flavor. Two cups of cream make the batter delicate and keep the waffles moist. Serve with the best maple syrup you can find and a knob of good butter.
1 cup multigrain flour mix, see note
1 cup whole-grain pastry flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 cups whipping cream
1/2 stick ( 1/4 cup) butter, melted
Note: For multigrain flour mix, mix in a bowl 1 cup each whole-wheat flour, oat flour and barley flour; 1/2 cup each millet flour and rye flour. Whisk.
Turn waffle iron to highest setting. Sift all dry ingredients into a large bowl. Whisk eggs and cream together. Pour into dry ingredients. Gently fold mixtures together until batter is thick and pillowlike, with large pockets of deflated bubbles on surface. Brush waffle iron generously with butter. Ladle on 1/2 cup batter; close. Remove waffle with fork when indicator light shows it's done, 4-6 minutes. Repeat.
Nutrition information: Per serving: 274 calories, 67 percent of calories from fat, 20g fat, 12g saturated fat, 118mg cholesterol, 19g carbohydrates, 5g protein, 253mg sodium, 2g fiber.
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
With only four ingredients, this quick recipe, adapted from "Good to the Grain," highlights the flavor of its few components. Try this with different whole-grain flours; we liked it with regular whole-wheat flour.
Because butter is so central to the flavor of these cookies, you might want to try using a European-style butter such as Plugra.
1 3/4 cups whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 1/2 sticks ( 3/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Place two racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; heat to 350 degrees. Rub two baking sheets with butter. Sift dry ingredients onto board or countertop; mix. Add butter; rub in butter with the heel of your hand to make a crumbly dough. Knead dough together a few times.
Pinch off 1-tablespoon pieces of dough; roll into balls. Set each on countertop; gently flatten the ball into a circle, about 1/4-inch thick. Repeat with remaining dough.
Transfer cookies to buttered baking sheets, leaving 1 inch between them. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until edges are dark golden, 20 minutes. Cool briefly on pan; transfer to racks to cool completely.
Nutrition information: Per serving: 130 calories, 53 percent of calories from fat, 8g fat, 5g saturated fat, 20mg cholesterol, 14g carbohydrates, 2g protein, 82mg sodium, 1g fiber.