NORWICH, Vt. (AP) – P.J. Hamel has spent the past year undoing the damage of the 1970s.

That’s when the nascent natural foods movement embraced whole grains – and left everyone horrified. White bread America just wasn’t ready for cookies that tasted like cardboard and breads with the specific gravity of lead.

And they shouldn’t have to settle for them now, either, says Hamel, a recipe developer at King Arthur Flour and editor of that iconic culinary company’s latest cookbook, “Whole Grain Baking” (The Countryman Press, 2006, $35).

“We started out thinking as many people do: Whole grains? Eww! But our goal was to make them palatable,” she said during a recent interview at the 216-year-old company’s headquarters. “But not only did we make them palatable, we made them good.”

She’s being modest. They made them terrific.

At least, if the chewy chocolate chip cookies Hamel pulls from the oven are any indication. These are great cookies. Not “great as whole grain cookies go” (these sport whole wheat and barley). Just plain great.

The company’s timing is perfect. Recent years have seen health officials amplifying calls to eat more whole grains, which can help reduce the risks of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Food companies have responded by rolling out scores of products to make such grains more palatable to Americans raised on refined flour products, such as white bread, pasta and white rice.

If ever there was a time for a great whole-grain cookie, it’s now.

Watching Hamel toss together whole wheat blueberry pies and spelt flour focaccia, it looks easy. And it is, but only because Hamel and her staff suffered through many failures as they tested thousands of recipes to finally end up with the 400 they love. “We tried like crazy to make buckwheat palatable to our tasters, but everything was ‘Eww!” she said.

Doing the book was the publisher’s idea, but King Arthur already was well on its way to mainstreaming whole grains. The company has an extensive line of baking mixes (things like biscotti and scones that neither taste nor look whole grain), and sells dozens of flour varieties.

Launched in Boston in 1790, King Arthur has grown into the nations oldest flour company. And business is booming. In 1990, it had five employees. Today, its 200.

Though the goal of the book is to make it easier to eat more whole grains, no one at King Arthur pretends these recipes (which cover breads, cookies, cakes, pies and other baked treats) are health food.

“I wish it was health food, but there’s just no substitute for butter and sugar,” Hamel says. “People talk a good game with whole grains, but if it doesn’t taste good they’re not going to eat it. It’s better to have a little piece of something good.”

That’s what distinguishes these recipes from the whole- grain cooking that left Americans with such a bad impression. Many older recipes tried to do too much, eliminating sugar and fat as well as refined grains, Hamel says.

The folks at King Arthur believe there’s a middle ground. Not every recipe is 100 percent whole grain (though all are at least half) because not everything can be made that way and still taste good (eclairs, for example).

That middle ground creates plenty of options, from hot- cross buns and a lemon raspberry cake made with half whole wheat flour to an asparagus and scallion quiche with a half barley flour crust.

There also are plenty of grains that don’t appear in the book, which focuses on wheat (both traditional and the newly popular white whole wheat), barley and oats. Hamel says she tried to avoid any grain that isn’t readily available at mainstream grocers.

“We’re not out to change the world by making people eat quinoa,” she says. “That’s why the book may have some challengers. The whole wheat crowd may not like it because it doesn’t have all those other grains.”

What it does offer is plenty of advice to help people successfully add more whole grains to their baking.

Not thrilled with the whole grain flavor? Add a little orange juice to your recipe. Hamel says the juice eliminates the whole grain taste some people find unpleasant, but leaves behind little or no citrus flavor.

Still not thrilled? You might be storing your flour incorrectly. Whole grains, which contain the germ and bran stripped from refined flours, can go rancid within a month if stored at room temperature. Hamel suggests storing whole grain flours in the freezer, where they will remain fresh for up to six months.

And don’t do a one-for-one whole grain-for-all-purpose swap unless the recipe says you can. The fat and protein levels differ greatly among flour varieties (as does their ability to absorb liquids), and this can throw off your results.

One complaint: some of the yeast dough recipes require a short rest between adding the liquid ingredients and proceeding with the recipe. This is because whole grains can take longer to absorb liquids than refined flours. If you ignored this step, your dough will be soupy.

Trouble is, the book doesn’t spell this out in each recipe. Instead, it is discussed at the start of the chapter. That works if you read it like a novel. But most cooks will flip to the recipe they want and assume everything they need to know is in one place. The company is considering addressing this in subsequent editions.

On the net: King Arthur Flour: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

(Start to finish 30 minutes)

3/4 cup (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter

1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/3 cup light corn syrup or brown sugar corn syrup

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

2 large eggs

2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour, traditional or white whole wheat

3 cups semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 F. Lightly grease two baking sheets or line with parchment paper.

With a mixer, cream the butter, sugar, vanilla, salt, baking soda, espresso powder (if using) and baking powder in a large bowl. Beat in the corn syrup and vinegar, then the eggs, scraping the bowl as needed. Stir in the flour and chips.

Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake (rotating the pans top to bottom) until the cookies are lightly browned but still appear soft in the center, about 12 minutes. Remove cookies from the oven and allow to cool 5 minutes in the pans, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Makes 4 dozen cookies.

Nutrition information per cookie: 128 cal., 6 g fat, 16 mg chol., 48 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 2 g pro.

(Recipe from King Arthur Flour’s “Whole Grain Baking,” The Countryman Press, 2006, $35.)

Honey Cake

(Start to finish 11/2 hours)

1 cup sliced almonds

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour, traditional or white whole wheat

3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup honey

4 large eggs

1/4 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 325 F. Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan. Sprinkle 3/4 cup of the almonds over the bottom of the pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, honey and eggs. Stir in the flour mixture, then the sour cream and remaining almonds. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, then stir for an additional minute.

Gently pour the batter over the almonds in the prepared pan. Bake 50 to 55 minutes, or until the edge of the cake pulls away from the side of the pan. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool 15 minutes.

Invert the cake onto a serving plate. Allow to cool completely. If desired, dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Makes 16 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 255 cal., 14 g fat, 79 mg chol., 126 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 5 g pro.

(Recipe from King Arthur Flour’s “Whole Grain Baking,” The Countryman Press, 2006, $35.)

AP-ES-09-22-06 1103EDT


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