Sunday, September 15, 2019

Flour Lab by Adam Leonti

The Fall 2019 Cookbook Season has arrived! On 10 September 2019, Clarkson Potter released Flour Lab by Adam Leonti with Katie Parla. On 24 September we’ll see American Sfoglino by Evan Funke with—again—Katie Parla (Chronicle Books) and The Gaijin Cookbook by Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). In October the floodgates burst open. I look forward to reading: Alpine Cooking by Meredith Erickson (Ten Speed Press); South by Sean Brock (Artisan); Pasta Grannies by Vicky Bennison (Hardie Grant); Poilâne by Apollonia Poilâne (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and Lavash by Kate Leahy, John Lee and Ara Zada (Chronicle Books). I’ll hold back on my picks in November’s crop, but will note that November’s offerings look as exciting as October’s.

If you frequent this site, you know that I spend a lot of my energy exploring fresh pasta and home-milling flour for pasta making. When I heard about Flour Lab by Adam Leonti and its section on pasta, I became pretty excited. Few books meaningfully cover making pasta with freshly milled flour, the exception being Paul Bertolli’s 2003 classic Cooking by Hand. Leonti worked with Marc Vetri and both clearly know pasta.

Although Flour Lab contains a section on pasta, it is not and does not bill itself as a pasta-centric text. The book’s subtitle reads “[a]n at-home guide to baking with freshly milled grains.” Flour Lab divides into six chapters: The State of Grain; Cooking with Fresh Flour; Making Bread; Making Pasta; Making Pizza; and Making Pastry, Cookies, and Cakes.

Flour Lab’s Making Pasta chapter runs about 50 pages long.  It opens with this sentence: “If you’re a novice, I want you to forget about recipes for a moment and instead get acquainted with how dough feels beneath your fingertips.” Sound advice. 

The challenge of a book like Flour Lab lies with having something meaningful to offer beginning, intermediate and experienced pasta makers. Based upon my reading of the book’s milling overview and pasta section, Flour Lab will satisfy and best serve the motivated novice and, perhaps, a slightly more seasoned maker. Beginners should not expect to be spoon-fed, but rather will be exposed to milling basics and possibilities. The real teaching comes from experimentation and the lessons gleaned.

Flour Lab rewards the attentive reader. For example, when attempting Leonti’s pasta recipes take note of his recommendations regarding Extraction (on pages 119 and 120 of the US hardcover first edition). He writes “[y]ou can make all of the pasta recipes here with 100% bran inclusion, but I recommend sifting out the bran, then adding a percentage back to taste.” He continues: for a pasta paired with a “hearty Bolognese, I add 5% of the weight of the flour—for example, I add 25 grams of bran to 500 grams of flour.” Personally, I think this important information belongs on the same page as the pasta dough recipes or with the pasta sauce recipes found at the end of the chapter. I understand that the amount of bran that a pasta maker wants in a pasta dough is, in part, a matter of personal taste. However, I believe the beginning pasta maker working with whole-grain flour will benefit from more guidance. A pasta novice trying to make Leonti’s whole-egg dough with 100% bran inclusion Sonora wheat will certainly be in for a wild ride.

The more advanced pasta maker should appreciate the legwork that Leonti put into the book’s Resources section and review his grain recommendations.  However, I don’t believe the advanced maker is his intended audience. In my opinion, Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand will better serve the more experienced pasta maker interested in using home-milled flour. With this said, any book that propels the home-milling movement forward deserves praise. If you are a new or intermediate pasta maker with an interest in home-milling flour, definitely check out Flour Lab.