OK, so it’s still a double-chocolate cookie, but if you indulge in one from Flour Bakery, you can feel a little better about it. Joanne Chang’s classic Tcho double-chocolate cookie, now made with rye flour, is one of several items at her chain of cafes that is now made with whole-grain flours instead of all-purpose.
It’s part of the new WHOLEFlour initiative, a year-long effort to bolster the menu—the existing pastries and lunch items, as well as add new products—with more whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
“We wanted to introduce new pastries in January. We weren’t even thinking about grains or health or anything,” Chang says. But her team started working on a breakfast cookie full of pepitas, sunflower seeds, millet, flax seeds, coconut flakes, oats, bananas, and maple syrup.
“As we were looking at the collection of new pastries we were introducing, we were like, there’s kind of a theme here,” Chang says. “I started to do a little research… If you just introduce whole grains to your diet, it is tremendously beneficial to your well-being.”
Yes, Chang knows she’s a baker. A James Beard Award-winning one at that. Flour’s menu is still loaded with butter and a fair amount of sugar—sticky buns, anyone?—but this is not the first time she’s endeavored to offer some healthier options. Among her cookbooks is one about baking with less sugar.
“I don’t want to sound like a health food guru… It’s not health food. It’s definitely not healthy to eat a double chocolate cookie,” she says, with a little laugh. But “We’re constantly looking at our food and thinking, how can we make it something we want to continue to eat? I’ve been eating Flour food for 17 years. If there’s a way I can make it more delicious, more beneficial in every way, we’re going to try to do that.”
More delicious, you say? Chang says the substitutions, like rye flour in the double-chocolate cookie, and Khorasan wheat in the apple snacking spice cake, are undetectable to most people. The new chocolate cookie recipe is “a little bit chewier, a little less sweet, the flavor is more robust,” she says. The nuttier ancient grain now used in the apple cake is “softer than [regular] whole wheat [flour], so it’s easier to bake with, but it’s higher in protein and really delicious.”
“Some people’s palates might be so finely tuned that they’ll notice a little bit of a wheatier taste with the apple cake,” she continues. “The rye cookie, it’s a touch less sweet. But you have to be someone who is a real connoisseur of the chocolate cookie to notice.”
But the benefits are there. Whole grains have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes, and they are important sources of nutrients like fiber, and B vitamins. Some studies Chang looked into show reduced health risks with as few as one serving of whole grains a day.
But what about the cost? “All-purpose [flour] is the easy, least-expensive way to go. Overall, it will make everything a little more costly for us to produce. But overall the benefits are worth it,” Chang says. “I don’t think we’ll have to pass along the costs to the guests. It’s always been a part of Flour to be afforable for everyone to enjoy.”
And there’s a deal in it for you. For the rest of January, all WHOLEflour items are $1 off if ordered ahead of time with the new app. Plus, there’s an Instagram contest going on with the chance to win a dozen WHOLEflour pastries every month for the year.
The WHOLEFlour initiative—which is not linked to the trendy Whole 30 diet, though some items at Flour adhere to those guidelines, Chang says—brings new labels to the pastry case, so guests know which items are included. And more will come online in the coming weeks—the team is currently working on a whole-grain brioche dough, croissants, carrot and devil’s food cakes, and more. The goal is to replace at least 50 percent of all flour used with whole grains, Chang says.
“We’re taking a look at every item one-by-one and seeing how we can enhance and improve it,” she says. “I don’t know if we can get every single item to be made with whole grain—there are certain challenges with certain pastries—but looking at the pastry menu, I bet we can get at least 50 percent made with whole grain.”
1595 Washington St., South End, Boston, 617-267-4300, 90 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-225-2525, and other locations, flourbakery.com.
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