Book Club Tuesday: King Arthur Baking Company: Baking School

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: cookbooks are a great equalizer. Whether it’s because cookbooks allow us to experience so many ingredients and techniques, or cuisines and places, our kitchens become a place to culinarily try it all from the comforts of our own homes. Can I travel to Norwich, Vermont, to attend classes at the King Arthur Baking School? No (insert sad face here) BUT I can pick up a copy of their latest cookbook – King Arthur Baking Company Baking School: Lessons and Recipes for Every Baker – to access the KA community and curriculum! It’s exciting! As they tell home bakers in the introduction: “In these pages, we’re harnessing that power [of baking and community] by passing on the lessons and recipes we’ve taught for over 20 years.”(x) The KA bakers behind this book are looking “to empower [home bakers] with the knowledge and confidence to make baking their own.”(xiii)

Much thought was given to the organization and sequencing of the chapters so that the links between ingredients and techniques follow from one section to the next. Over 7 chapters (1. Yeasted Breads, 2. Sourdough, 3. Laminated Pastries, 4. Pies and Tarts, 5. Cookies, 6. Quick Breads, and 7. Cakes), home bakers can learn through the solid, reliable recipes used at the KA Baking School. The recipes are considered “learner” recipes, which are streamlined so that home bakers can focus on the concepts or techniques being taught. An aspect of building confidence is that a baker is to use precise measurements, so the ingredients are given by weight (microgram scales aren’t as common in home kitchens, so weights less than 5 grams are given in volume). As a side convo, when people comment on my baking, I tell them that the most crucial step I took to improve my results was to buy a kitchen scale. Seriously. If you do not have one, I would say that a digital scale is the most important piece of equipment for using this cookbook.

Throughout the section on ingredients, the authors discuss the importance of each ingredient – while we’re all familiar with butter, eggs, flour, sugar, etc., home bakers may not be aware of the function of each ingredient. So, for example, they tell us that: “Sugar binds with liquid in recipes and thereby keeps the products to which it’s added moist and tender” (xxi) which is why, when home bakers cut the sugar, their bakes can end up being dry with a poor texture. Aside from the section outlining ingredients, there is a short section on essential equipment as well as a brief explanation of the “Master Class” portions of each chapter, where baking professionals in each field offer guidance on a challenging recipe meant to stretch and build upon the skills learned in each chapter. Similar to the in-class experience of learning from the visiting instructors at the baking school, King Arthur is offering this experience to home bakers. So, for example, at the end of the chapter on Yeasted Breads, Jeffrey Hamelman shows home bakers how to make unkneaded six-fold French bread.

Cream Drop Biscuits, p. 298

While the book is meant as a cover-to-cover learning experience, I think the book offers wonderful single bake opportunities. I’ve chosen to bake a handful of recipes based on my interest/need. Since I am familiar with baking and the elements needed to create success, I felt comfortable enough going straight for the recipes. I was keen to try a coffeecake recipe, as it is the “Recipe of the Year” for KA this year, and so I decided to bake up a Cocoa Streusel Coffeecake for my friends. What caught my eye about this recipe is that it is baked in a Bundt pan (my favourite kind!), which meant that the cake I gifted was both beautiful and delicious!

Cocoa Streusel Coffeecake, p. 315

One of the recipes I gravitate towards in any baking book are the recipes for making scones. Scones are great because you never need to bring any of the ingredients to room temperature, and they can be made and baked quickly. They’re also endlessly customizable – sweet or savoury – sky’s the limit! I tried both the recipe for Cream Scones as well as the variation for Quick Maple Sticky Buns. In this variation, any biscuit or scone recipe can be baked in a pan lined with brown sugar, butter, and maple syrup. Once baked, the buns are cooled very slightly, then inverted onto a plate. The result is a scone topped like a sticky bun!  The Cream Scones turned out tender, and like the recipe for Cream Drop Biscuits, use cream rather than butter to “achieve tenderness without flake.” I appreciate that both recipes are much quicker to mix because of the use of cream.

Cream Scones, p. 305

Christmas morning wouldn’t be Christmas morning in my house without the appearance of cinnamon rolls but, I always find it tricky because cinnamon rolls are not quick to make and often require advanced planning. Just this past Christmas, I decided to give the KA recipe for Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls a try (while being in the book, it was also Recipe of the Year in 2021). This recipe illustrates the use of the tangzhong method (a technique rooted in Japan’s yukone or yudane, where a small amount of flour and milk is cooked briefly in a saucepan, then added to the dough ingredients in the mixer), which results in beautifully soft rolls. Even the next day when most rolls would begin to stale, these rolls retain their tenderness. I also appreciated the side note on advance prep which allowed me to bake them the day before, leaving me to only reheat and ice on Christmas morning.

Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls, p. 27

Baking is magic and, especially if you’re a kid, there is no greater magic than watching pitas puff up in the oven. One moment the dough rounds are flat as a pancake, then once they are in the hot oven, they puff up like a balloon. Both thrilling and satisfying to watch! When I tried the recipe for Spelt Pita, my daughter and I watched each one as they made their grand transformation in the oven. For my daughter, it was that moment when she realized how the pita “pocket” is formed and, that home bakers are capable of so much, given the right recipe and instructions.

With their updated Baker’s Companion (review here) and Cookie Companion (review here), and now the Baking School, King Arthur continues to set the standard for giving home bakers quality recipes with which to build their skills. Even though I live in Canada where there is no access to King Arthur products, I am still able to achieve wonderful results using their recipes. I appreciate that their books provide useful reference material as well as being repositories for delicious recipes that always turn out.

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.

Cream Scones variation: Quick Maple Sticky Buns, p. 305

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