If you meander down the DIY road long enough, you will end up doing things that are far from easy or convenient. You stop thinking about the time it takes to complete a project and begin focusing on the value to the end result, liker the integrity in knowing that your entire dinner can be traced back to your own property. Part of the DIY thrill is that the steps encourage you to keep digging deeper. What starts one year as a nice gift to your neighbors of dried, home grown herbs might result in the decision to add salt crystals you harvested from local seawater to the next batch.
When it comes to baking, the next DIY frontier is grinding whole grains into flour. Nutritional value, freshness and traceability are all reasons to jump into this game. It is also a pretty hot topic right now, with bakeries installing grain mills and food world luminaries like Dan Barber exploring the complexities of wheat farming in his latest book and New York Times op-ed. Homemade flour also makes for some really delicious baked goods.
The author of The Homemade Flour Cookbook, Erin Alderson, is not new to delicious things. Her massively popular blog, Naturally Ella, has demystified whole food vegetarian cooking for thousands of people via her very approachable and heartfelt online presence. Her story is rooted in her personal desire to change her diet and she brings her readers along for the ride.
I thought my lack of technical equipment might limit my experience with The Homemade Flour Cookbook. But I do have a second rate, old model coffee grinder and it turns out that’s all I’ve needed to try out the recipes.
Alderson starts out with a very clear explanation of milling at home. She describes how to use recommended equipment, offers easy guidelines, and creates a point of entry for those of us with a limited kitchen arsenal. After the milling chapter, the book is broken into four sections based on ingredients: traditional grains; gluten-free grains; legumes; and nuts and seeds. These chapters include helpful ratio instructions, specific measurement tips, and interesting historic notes. I now know the difference between farro and spelt, that teff is a grass seed, and “Kamut” is the trademarked name for khorasan wheat.
The Homemade Flour Cookbook is also filled with beautiful photographs, which, in my opinion, are essential to any good cookbook (and one area where bloggers excel). But this subject matter also lends itself to particularly stunning visuals–the vibrant greens of pistachio and split pea meals, the bright yellow of cornmeal, the dusty brown of teff flour. Alderson’s approach to presenting images of each whole grain, nut, bean, and seed alongside its ground counterpart captures the overall intention of the book nicely. I also love her concept of “cooking with color,” which she mentions only briefly. It is evident in many of her unique recipes, such as the Green Pea Flour and Zucchini Fritters with Dill Yogurt Dip.
When I first received this book in the mail, I only intended to test out two or three recipes. But after leafing through it, I found so many things to try that I ended up making several more. And while I initially had my doubts about how much flour I would actually be able to grind myself, my coffee grinder was completely suitable. I stocked up on little bags of this and that from the bulk section, essentially creating a whole new pantry section for my household that helped me plug into Alderson’s vision.
What I didn’t end up grinding myself, like the sweet brown rice for the Chocolate Mochi Cake, I simply sourced from my local natural foods store. Alderson repeatedly encourages readers to experiment and substitute, which offered me some freedom to play. Everything I made straight from the book was delicious, like the Lentil “Meat” Balls or the Mini Chocolate (teff!) Bundt Cakes with Peanut Butter Frosting. But so were my own experiments, like a buttery plum cake made with emmer (farro) flour or my spiced barley, emmer, and rye zucchini bread, which is really the point, right?
After spending some quality time with a cookbook, it should move us to go beyond the page. The Homemade Flour Cookbook does just that. If you like DIY kitchen projects, you’ll find it well worth your time.
Top photo by Erin Alderson.