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.
Five-grain cream waffles
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.
How to bake with whole grains
Kim Boyce set out to conquer the whole-grain world and shares her discoveries
Five-grain cream waffles (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)