Book Club Tuesday: King Arthur Baking Company — The All-Purpose Baker’s Companion

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Apricot Cream Cheese Scones, p.73

How does a cookbook become a trusted and reliable partner in your culinary endeavors? When I first started to focus on improving my cooking almost a decade ago, I looked to cookbooks to be my teacher. While my mom is a great cook who makes delicious food, I found that I hadn’t paid that much attention to her when she cooked (hence the never-ending calls home to ask her myriad questions about how to cook “stuff”) and, finding myself as a new vegetarian (along with my husband, also a vegetarian), I had no clue where to start. So, I began with the best teachers available, who had un-ending amounts of patience: cookbooks. What I’ve found is that not all cookbooks are created equally, and the best cookbooks had well-tested recipes (success is crucial!) and the right amount of background information to elucidate upon techniques (and not just overwhelm). Over the years the cookbooks that give me culinary knowledge as well as excellent results are the reliable and trusted resources that I keep around and treasure.

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Apricot Cream Cheese Scones (pre-bake), p.73

Is it any surprise that a baking company that’s been around for over 200 years would write a cookbook that is beloved by home bakers for its reliable recipes and dependable information? (As a side note, I love King Arthur flour and baking products — on trips to the US, I would buy bags of flour to bring home as souvenirs! My husband would always remark: “I’m pretty sure we have flour back in Canada…” but between you and me, KA flour is such a great flour to bake with!) Before I became familiar with King Arthur baking products or their recipes (KA baking products aren’t available in Canada), I stumbled across their magazine, Sift, back in 2015. Full of excellent recipes and tips for bakers, I started to look forward to every issue (no longer in publication, I’ve held onto my old copies). It was clear to me that one of the things King Arthur Baking Company strived for was to support home bakers by developing solid recipes with amazing results. And it’s not always about techniques, the people at KA also offer in depth information on ingredients as well (it was from the Spring ’18 issue that I learned all about malted milk powder and then made some delicious Vanilla Malt Scones w/ Malted Glaze — the recipe was created by Susan Reid who was also involved in both versions of the Baker’s Companion).

All of this to say that I was eagerly awaiting the publication of the revised and updated version of their James Beard award-winning classic: The All-Purpose Baker’s Companion. First published back in 2003, what the Baker’s Companion offers is a comprehensive baking book with reliably perfect recipes (over 450 recipes!) and a wealth of information you can turn to when you need answers. While I have never owned the original, I’ve read that they’ve included gluten-free recipes along with updated ingredient guides. My family and I have been enjoying the recipes I’ve baked up from the Baker’s Companion, but my favourite parts of the book are the A Note on Measuring and the Ingredient Weight Chart. A crucial element to baking is getting the correct amount of ingredients into the mixing bowl and, what may surprise some people is that there’s a way to measure your flour so that your effort will yield excellent results. Is there a right way to fill a cup? You bet there is and, the bakers at King Arthur outline the best method for you in this opening section on measuring (by volume or by weight). And, if you’re ready for it, buy a scale and you’ll be amazed at how consistent your baking will be! Seriously, my neighbours think I’ve got some extra magic in me that allows me to get such perfect results, but I owe all my success to my kitchen scale.

Some other noteworthy aspects of this cookbook are the nutritional information and photos. Unlike most cookbooks, the recipes in the Baker’s Companion also give the baker the nutritional information per serving. I often notice in comments on social media that this is information that some people want, so I think that it’s nice that it’s given for each recipe. It’s impossible to provide a 1:1 recipe to photo ratio when there are over 450 recipes, so there is a small insert of beautiful photographs in the middle of the book. Beautifully styled, these pictures give you a small taste of what you’ll be able to bake from the Baker’s Companion.

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Simply Perfect Pancakes, p. 3

What I appreciate about the Baker’s Companion is that these recipes are meant to be family favourites. Tried-and-true recipes that you’ll want to make on repeat. One recipe that my daughter loves is the Simply Perfect Pancakes – as a certified pancake connoisseur, she is particular about her morning stack. I took the advice in the head note about adding malted milk powder to get that “diner” taste and now, these are the pancakes she requests. I really enjoyed the light and fluffy texture and, I found that they freeze well so that any extras can be enjoyed when I might not have time to make pancakes from scratch. In keeping with the breakfast theme here, I’ll let you in on one recipe that seems like magic: the Lemon Puff Pancake. After you pour the soupy batter into an oven-safe skillet, you’ll place the skillet into the hot oven. Slowly, but surely as the batter begins to bake, it creeps up the side of the pan and that puffed pancake looks like the most beautiful and magical thing to ever be put in an oven.

Can we even rejoice on a Friday if there’s no pizza in the oven?? One of the things that gives me great satisfaction to make at home is pizza (and it should be noted that it gives my family great satisfaction to eat said pizza). And, while I do have a few favourite pizza dough recipes I rely on, I’m not averse to finding a few more! Homemade pizza is the ultimate, but I think people tend to shy away from making it because mixing dough seems involved or difficult. With the recipe for The Easiest Pizza Dough You’ll Ever Make, the Baker’s Companion dispels that myth with, literally, the easiest dough you’ll make. The recipe is generous — four 12″ pizzas — enough so that you can have a thicker crust if you’d like. I appreciate this boon of dough because I can bake a few different pizzas to cater to my family’s favourite topping combos (also, is a little extra pizza left over ever a bad thing?).

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Fresh Blueberry Scones, p.74

The Baker’s Companion even taught me about making scones using cream cheese. By adding cream cheese to the dough, it gives the scone a little extra richness. The Apricot Cream Cheese Scones were delightful and after having baked them a few times, it’s a recipe that’s become popular with my daughter. While the recipe for Fresh Blueberry Scones doesn’t contain cream cheese, they are nonetheless delicious. These scones have a delicate, almost cake-like crumb and the fresh blueberries add a little burst of flavour. I found both scone recipes freeze well so that there’s always some on hand to enjoy with an afternoon coffee.

The King Arthur Baking Company’s Revised and Updated The All-Purpose Baker’s Companion offers the home baker the recipes and knowledge to excel at baking beautiful and delicious things for family and friends. Practical information and reliable recipes are the things I appreciate about this cookbook which is why I think the Baker’s Companion would make an excellent addition to any cookbook library.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Countryman Press for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
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