Success with a chance of sticky buns
I’d never set an alarm for an early morning coffee date, let alone a date with a sticky bun; but then again, I’d never had one from Flour Bakery + Café before. The sticky buns from the flagship bakery, owned by famed pastry chef, Joanne Chang, have literally become a hot commodity in Boston since Flour came to the South End in 2000. Ten years later, they still routinely sell out each morning.
Intent on seeing this sticky bun madness for myself, I woke up neurotically early this past Sunday to make it to Flour before they opened. Ten minutes to eight, a car pulled up and hovered in a metered space in front of Flour. A few minutes later, a small group formed by the still-closed door. Karen Fauman, a doctor from Tufts, was intent on buying breakfast for some co-workers. "I recently moved here," Fauman said, "I’m hoping this will help make friends at work." Pastries from Flour surely won’t hurt.
By the time the doors opened, a trail of about fifteen people trickled in. Within a minute, nine sticky buns were gone. My sticky bun-the first served of the day-didn’t survive much longer.
Candy Nartonis, a resident of the South End for over twenty years, has been coming to Flour since they opened and routinely eats half a sticky bun and half a multigrain roll. "It’s a treat in and of itself," she says of the roll, as she splits it open so that I can see inside. It looks light and heavenly.
It seems everything Chang touches turns to gold (or perhaps golden pastry). She opened the popular Myers + Chang, a funky Asian-inspired diner, in 2007 with her husband, Christopher Myers. She has since opened two other Flour locations - including one in Cambridge earlier this summer. She is also about to release her cookbook, Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Café, featuring many of the delicious treats served at Flour, as well as the recipes she has learned through her journey of becoming one of Boston’s most beloved pastry chefs.
All of this success has made Chang herself a hot commodity, but luckily I was able to catch up with her over e-mail. It turns out she never went to culinary school and taught herself a great deal through reading cookbooks. "Once I got to a point where I felt like I had something to say, I wanted to write my own [cookbook]. Books have inspired me my whole career," Chang says. Turns out, she finds inspiration for pastry everywhere. "I dream pastry," she says.
As for her favorite item from Flour, she names the pain aux raisins. It’s a brioche-based dough filled with pastry cream and golden raisins that she learned to make when she worked at Payard, a world-renowned patisserie in New York City. "I used to eat one every day," she says.
Chang has also worked in fine-dining establishments like Rialto and Mistral in Boston. Yet, when asked who she credits for helping her get her start she names the South End’s Rick Katz, owner of Picco, for instilling in her a perfectionist streak. "He was meticulous, demanding and single-minded in his pursuit to make great pastry and it showed in everything he did."
Katz was modest in his reply, "She needed no help from me," he says over the phone. "It’s hard to find anything bad to say about Joanne. She is extremely talented." Some of his favorites at Flour are classics like Chang’s oatmeal-raisin cookies and blueberry muffin cakes.
Devotees of Chang’s impeccable pastries take note: her cookbook comes out in early October and contains a recipe for every type of cook. "If you are a beginner there are recipes that are approachable and doable. If you are more experienced, there are also recipes that are more challenging and involved," Chang says. (Yes, the sticky bun recipe is in the book!)
At Flour there is a chalkboard on the wall with the day’s weather forecast and a quote of the week. The quote this past Sunday was from Mae West. It read: "I generally avoid temptation, unless I can’t resist it." When it comes to Chang’s creations, resistance is futile. As for the forecast, one could argue that it should also be updated with the likelihood of scoring a sticky bun. "Partly sunny with a chance of sticky bun" doesn’t sound half bad. One of the employees at Flour says they now make a second batch of sticky buns mid-afternoon, though how long they last is anyone’s guess. My advice: get there early.
As for Chang’s cookbook, if it’s anything like her sticky buns, you’d be wise to preorder it online. (You can find it on amazon.com.) As for me, I’ll be back for more sticky buns. Turns out, I dream pastry too, but-at least for now-I may have to rely on an alarm clock to actually get some.
Emily Gelsomin believes that thoughtful food and a well-lived life go hand in hand. A self-taught cook, a nutritionist, and a lover of all things food-related, Emily writes a food blog called A Plum By Any Other Name, which focuses on eating locally and eating well. Her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe as well. On a mission to discover the latest and greatest food-related news and events in the community, Emily hopes The Savored End will satisfy South Enders’ hunger pangs and - with any luck - inspire a little more savoring of both food and life.
A sneak peak of Joanne’s cookbook:
"Raspberry Rhubarb Muffins
Makes enough for 1 dozen muffins
After years of tweaking and adjusting, I think I’ve finally found the muffin recipe to end all muffin recipes. I’ve fine-tuned the ratio of butter to flour to liquid to fruit to a point where everything is in perfect balance. The batter couldn’t be easier to put together, it holds for several days, and it leads to endless variations such as Classic Blueberry, Almond Apricot, Ginger Peach, and others. Plus it’s all-out scrumptious! I hope it becomes a mainstay in your baking arsenal.
3½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
1 1/3 cups sugar
10 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
2 large egg
2 large egg yolk
1 cup whole milk
1 cup crème fraiche
1 cup raspberries, frozen or fresh
1 cup chopped fresh rhubarb
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a muffin tin with paper muffin holders.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
3. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, butter, egg, yolk, milk, and crème fraiche until well combined.
4. Pour the liquid into the dry and fold gently using a rubber spatula just until dry ingredients are combined. Batter will seem lumpy but don’t try to smooth it out.
5. Using a small ice cream scoop or spoon, spoon one scoop of batter into the bottom of each muffin tin.
6. Evenly distribute half of the raspberries and half of the rhubarb on top of the batter.
7. Spoon another scoop of batter on top of the fruit.
8. Add the rest of the fruit, distributing evenly among the muffin tins.
9. Top off with the last of the muffin batter
10. Bake at 350 degrees until muffins are golden brown and spring back lightly when you press the middle of the muffin, about 25-30 minutes.
11. Remove from oven and let cool for 15-20 minutes. Invert pan and pop out muffins
12. Muffins are best served same day. They can be stored in an airtight container for a day. Muffin batter can be made ahead and stored for up to two days in the refrigerator."