The Dorset Foodie’s guide to flour

DORSET food writer and cookery school owner Christine McFadden – also known as The Dorset Foodie – has spent the past couple of years research and experimenting with a world of flours, from cassava to coffee, quinoa to crickets (yes, crickets … read on!)

The result is Flour: A Comprehensive Guide, which is being published in February. As more and more people search for alternatives to wheat – often because of gluten intolerance – the publication of this definitive guide is undoubtedly timely.

Christine, whose previous books include The Farm Shop Cookbook, Pepper: The Spice That Changed The World, and the inspirational Cool Green Leaves And Red Hot Peppers, has researched the many varieties of flour around the world. She explores the way in which flour has been a staple part of our diet for thousands of years, and provides a comprehensive look at the alternatives to traditional wheat flour.

With an increasing and at times bewildering choice of flours online and in shops, this book follows an A–Z format, covering plant source, gluten/protein content, flavour profile and how best to use each of the featured flours. Each is accompanied by suggested recipes from Christine’s kitchen.

Many are already familiar – amaranth, buckwheat, chickpea, potato, spelt. Some are more surprising – coffee, for instance, used in Christine’s mouth-watering Triple Chocolate Brownies (recipe below), or the endlessly versatile South American staple, quinoa.

And then there’s the crickets. Most of us in the west shudder at the idea of eating insects, yet they have been part of the human diet for thousands of years. and are an important source of protein in other parts of the world, including many African countries. Christine is always fascinated by new ingredients, so she conquered her instinctive reservations – and her recipe for a rich fruit cake incorporating cricket flour certainly sounds appealing.

It’s not all cakes – the recipes also include cheddar and chilli cornbread (using amaranth flour), spicy onion pancakes (using moong dal) and spring lamb pot pies (with tradition plain wheat flour). The recipes are accompanied by beautiful photography by Mike Cooper.

Christine McFadden is the author of 17 cookbooks. In 2010 she set up her successful cookery school at her cottage in an idyllic West Dorset valley. As a qualified home economist, she has a fundamental understanding of the chemistry of flour, dietetics and nutrition, and is eminently qualified to produce this definitive work. Flour is published by Absolute Press and will be available from 22nd February.

Triple Chocolate Brownies

Coffee flour adds significant depth of flavour to these chocolate-rich brownies. The batter may seem sloppy, but the coffee flour absorbs more liquid than other flours because of its unusually high fibre content.

Makes 16

60g (2¼oz) plain flour
10g (¼oz) coffee flour
2 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
140g (5oz) dark chocolate (at least 75 per cent cocoa solids), broken into small pieces
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, diced
2 eggs, organic or free-range
150g (5½oz) golden caster sugar
seeds from 1 split vanilla pod
pinch sea salt
4 tbs cacao nibs

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4, positioning the rack just below the middle of the oven. Grease the base and sides of a 20cm (8in) square cake tin. Line the tin with baking parchment and grease the paper too.

Put the flours, cocoa powder and black pepper in a sieve set over a bowl. Muddle with your fingers, then push through the sieve. Repeat once or twice more until the mixture is a uniform colour.

Place the chocolate and butter in a bowl, and melt in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water (see cook’s note below). Put the eggs, sugar, vanilla seeds and salt in a large bowl. Whisk lightly for about 20 seconds, then stir in the melted chocolate mixture. Using a wooden spoon, gently fold in the flour mixture and the cacao nibs until just combined – it’s important not to overmix.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, levelling the surface with a wet palette knife. Bake for 20–25 minutes, rotating the tin every 10 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out with a small amount of crumbs sticking to it, rather than completely clean. If there is wet mixture sticking to it, bake for another 3 minutes and check again.

When you take the tin out of the oven, tap it on the work surface to release air from under the crust. This helps the surface to dry and the mixture underneath to have the desired fudgy texture. Leave in the tin to cool completely before turning out on to a wire rack.

• Cook’s note – Melt the chocolate and butter by microwaving on medium for 3 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds. Alternatively, melt in a bowl set over boiling water.

Black Pepper and Potato Oatcakes

A combination of oatmeal flour, porridge oats, homely mashed potato and a generous grinding of black pepper makes particularly nutritious oatcakes with a subtle comforting flavour. Pleasantly chewy but crisp at the edges, they’re equally delicious slathered with butter or left unadorned. Enjoy them at their best soon after cooking.

Makes 9

2 floury potatoes (about 250g/9oz in total), preferably organic, cut into chunks (see Cook’s notes)
25g (1oz) unsalted butter, diced, plus extra for greasing
¼ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper (see Cook’s notes)
50g (1¾oz) oat flour (see Cook’s note)
25g (1oz) porridge oats
plain flour for dusting

Put the potato chunks into a large saucepan of salted water. Bring to a boil, then simmer briskly for 10 minutes, or until tender. Drain the potatoes, then put them back in the pan and cover with a clean tea towel. Leave for 5 minutes to absorb excess moisture.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Line a baking tray with a silicone sheet or well-greased baking parchment.

Mash the potatoes until smooth, then stir in the butter, salt, pepper, oat flour and porridge oats. Pack the dough together well and put on a well-floured board. Using a well-floured rolling pin, roll it out to a thickness of 5mm (¼in). Cut into rounds with a 7cm (2¾in) cutter. Lift carefully on to the baking tray using a spatula. Re-roll any leftover dough until it’s all used up.

Bake for 20 minutes, turning the tray halfway through, until golden at the edges. Remove from the oven and leave on the tray to firm up. Carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

• Cook’s notes – Mashed potato may seem mundane, but it’s well worth using good-quality organic potatoes for a good flavour. For the best flavour it is well worth looking for good-quality black peppercorns such as Wynad or Tellicherry. Don’t be tempted to use pre-ground pepper – it simply doesn’t have the appetizing aroma and flavour of freshly ground. If you can’t get hold of oat flour, it’s fine to use pinhead oatmeal.