I recently spent 3 days up at King Arthur Flour‘s Baking Education Center in Norwich, Vermont. The occasion? KAF’s 2nd annual Blog and Bake event.

When I received my invitation to visit KAF, I knew immediately that I wanted to go. You see, I don’t really consider myself a great baker. Sure I like to bake, but I’ve never really had any baking instruction. I stay in my comfort zone when it comes to baking and there are certain things I don’t ever make because I simply don’t know how, or because I think they’re too much work. I also think I’d be better at “healthy” baking if I knew more about baking in general.

So I talked my husband into changing his schedule so he could take care of the kids (he usually travels for work during the week), and off I went to Vermont. (Thank you Dan- you are the best!!!)

King Arthur Flour is America’s oldest flour company: it’s been around since 1790. Headquartered in Vermont since 1994, KAF is currently 100% employee owned. The Baking Education Center where we spent most of our time is brand new and absolutely beautiful, and our group of 13 bloggers from around the country had an excellent time there learning from KAF’s fun and talented instructors.

Though I’d love to share everything I learned at KAF with you, I don’t think that’s going to be possible. So instead, I am going to use my photos to show you the highlights of how we spent our time, and I’ll tell you my main takeaways from each class.

Upon our arrival on Sunday afternoon, we jumped right into Recipe Development, Testing, and Writing with Susan Purdy. Susan is a cookbook author, culinary instructor, and expert in high altitude baking.

We were divided into two groups, then each group was given a set of ingredients. Each group had to come up with a recipe featuring their ingredients, then we had to write up the recipe so that the other group could recreate it. We all soon realized that trying to do a project like this can bring up some “too many cooks in the kitchen”-type feelings, but I think we all learned a ton. I know I did.

My main takeaways from this class were:

1. Keep meticulous notes while you are recipe testing! Measure EVERYTHING (and use a tape measure to measure slices of bread, etc.); never discard a recipe draft.
2. You can not test a recipe too many times before publishing it.
3. Give multiple cues for what a recipe should look like when it’s finished.
4. Be very specific about the yield of the recipe (I need to work on this one).
5. Refine the language of your recipe when editing the 2nd or 3rd draft; aim for language to be as active and concise as possible.

After a nice hangout with everyone that evening and a restful sleep at The Norwich Inn, we gathered the next morning for a class on Basic Bread Baking. We also learned how to make whole grain scones in this session.

My main takeaways from this class were:

1. I have been measuring my flour wrong! To measure properly, you should fluff your flour first, then “sprinkle” it into your measuring cup with a big spoon, then level it off. 1 cup of flour should equal 4.25 ounces.
2. Water (and all liquids) should be measured at eye level (remember science class?).
3. A plastic bowl scraper is an excellent tool…perfect for mixing up bread dough.
4. Don’t be too heavy handed about adding flour and don’t “muscle it” too much when kneading bread dough. Use the “doorbell” test to see if you have kneaded your dough sufficiently.
5. To make flaky scones, make sure to leave some flattened pieces of butter in the dough. For cakey scones, work the butter in until the dough is like cornmeal.

We took a break for a delicious lunch, then reconvened to talk about choosing the right flour for your baking needs.

My main takeaways from this class were:

1. Not all brands of flours are the same. KAF has very high standards, and they rigorously test their products to ensure consumers get consistent results with their flours.
2. You can certainly try using alternative flours in a recipe that calls for all-purpose, but you will get very different results depending on the flour you use. See the photo above with all the muffins? That’s the exact same recipe (no adaptations) made with various KAF flours.
3. KAF makes many types of flour- way more than I was aware of before attending this event- and they have many gluten free items. They are not all available in stores, but you can find them in their online catalogue.

In the afternoon, we got to do something unexpected and really fun. Mary Ann Esposito arrived with her tv crew to film a segment of her show Ciao Italia and our group got to be part of the episode. It was so interesting to watch the making of a cooking show in action, plus Mary Ann is such a pro and could not have been sweeter. For the show, she demonstrated how to make Sweet Potato Gnocchi, Chicken Cutlets in White Wine, and Chiffon Cake with Lime Curd; afterwards, she signed a copy of her cookbook for each of us.


(Photo credit: Paul Lally)

Later on that night, we got to sample everything Mary Ann had made for the show at a celebrity dinner in her honor back at The Norwich Inn.

The next day, we gathered for our last two classes: Portable Pies and Hasty Pastry. I was really looking forward to this one because I am one of those people who’s always been afraid of pie crust. And puff pastry? I made it once and swore I’d never do it again- it’s a lot of work- so I was eager to see whether “Blitz Puff Pastry” would live up to its name.

My main takeaways from this class were:

1. When making pie crust, you are looking for the perfect balance of short/tender and flaky. It’s best to cut half the butter you’re using into small pieces, then work them into the flour with your hands until it looks like cornmeal. Next cut the other half larger, drop the pieces into the flour, and flatten them down between your thumb and forefinger. Visible butter is good, and delicious pie crust is not hard to make at all!
2. Proper hydration of pie crust dough is key. Water used should be very cold and should be added in 1 tablespoon increments; pie crust dough must be chilled- this relaxes the gluten and contributes to hydration.
3. Once again, a plastic bowl scraper is the perfect mixing tool.
4. A combination of butter and lard (leaf lard is best) is great for a savory dough (like for empanadas). Work the lard in first because it breaks down quicker than the butter.
5. Blitz puff pastry truly is easy to make…so much more so than regular puff pastry…and it has tons of applications.

Before Blog and Bake officially finished up, we got to take a tour of the KAF test kitchen, offices, and mail order fulfillment facilities. I was super impressed by the test kitchen. It’s not that big, but it’s super organized and very busy: the test kitchen team tested one of their gluten free bread recipes 700 times!

The vibe in the offices was so friendly; it looks like a great place to work. We met a couple of the folks who answer the baker’s hotline…did you know you can call them with a question about any recipe (not just those put out by KAF)? What an amazing resource.

The mail order center is HUGE. The folks at KAF fill A LOT of orders and are absolutely meticulous about the job…it was very cool to see how it all goes down.

As soon as the tour finished up, I raced through the new KAF shop before hitting the road to drive back home. To say that it is a baker’s paradise is a vast understatement: it’s the best baking shop I’ve personally ever visited. I picked up some of their harder to find flours, a new bread pan, a couple of the plastic bowl scrapers I mentioned above, and a few other baking “necessities”. My husband did not really agree that they were necessities but what does he know ;)

I enjoyed every minute of my time at KAF: if you are ever up near Norwich, VT. for any reason, you really must go visit (honestly, it’s worth making a trip just to go to the store), and if you want to learn about baking, they’ve got many classes and the instruction is top notch.

SO many thanks go to the team at KAF for making this event possible and for inviting me to attend. You will definitely be seeing lots of recipes inspired by my trip in the future!

For more glimpses into the Blog and Bake experience, please check out these posts from my fellow attendees:

Art and Lemons
The Professional Palate
Mommie Cooks
Stetted
Thyme In Our Kitchen
Whisk. Write. Repeat.
Bakeaholic Mama
Lunches Fit For A Kid
The Manly Housekeeper
Smells Like Home
Primlani Kitchen
Fork On The Road

Disclosure: King Arthur Flour provided accommodations, meals, and baking instruction for me during the Blog and Bake event. All opinions expressed in this post are 100% mine.

 

34 Comments

  1. 1

    Astrid — June 14, 2012 @ 6:55 pm

    It was great meeting you, Winnie!! Your recap is great – and you take such beautiful pictures! I went into a lot of detail and it took 6 blog posts to get through! I know I learned a lot, and it looks like you did, too. ;)

    (If you ever come up to Burlington, drop me a line!)

    • Winnie replied: — June 18th, 2012 @ 12:49 pm

      Great meeting you, too Astrid! I love your enthusiasm and hope to see you again sometime ;)

  2. 2

    Miss @ Miss in the Kitchen — June 14, 2012 @ 7:00 pm

    Looks like a wonderful experience, thanks for sharing it!

    • Winnie replied: — June 18th, 2012 @ 12:49 pm

      It really was great. I’d go back in a second!

  3. 3

    the wicked noodle — June 14, 2012 @ 8:23 pm

    Wow – looks like you had so much fun!!

    • Winnie replied: — June 18th, 2012 @ 12:50 pm

      Seriously so much fun. I heart KAF!

  4. 4

    art and lemons — June 14, 2012 @ 10:20 pm

    Terrific write up and pics, Winnie and yes, that recipe writing class was intense and necessarily so. My recipes will (thankfully) never be the same. Loved seeing you again and hope it happens again soon.

    • Winnie replied: — June 18th, 2012 @ 12:51 pm

      Thanks Nikki! A highlight of trip was being able to hang more with you!

  5. 5

    a visit to King Arthur Flour, part one (bread basics) — June 14, 2012 @ 10:54 pm

    [...] Regan — The Professional Palate Julie — Mommie Cooks Megan — Stetted Matt — Thyme In Our Kitchen Carolyn — Whisk. Write. Repeat. Carrie — Bakeaholic Mama Lisa – Fork On The Road Astrid – Lunches Fit For A Kid Mark – The Manly Housekeeper Rashmi – Primlani Kitchen Tara – Smells Like Home Winnie – Healthy Green Kitchen [...]

  6. 6

    Laura (Tutti Dolci) — June 15, 2012 @ 12:00 am

    What a fun and informative experience! Thanks for sharing some of the tips you learned with us. I’m a big KAF fan.

    • Winnie replied: — June 18th, 2012 @ 12:51 pm

      Thanks Laura- glad you enjoyed the post ;)

  7. 7

    Kathryn — June 15, 2012 @ 4:33 am

    What a fabulous experience, I really loved hearing what you learnt and seeing all your pictures. The recipe writing tips were particularly helpful, lots of food for thought there.

    • Winnie replied: — June 18th, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

      Yes that session was really excellent. I am changing the way I do things for the blog based on what I learned.

  8. 8

    Paula — June 15, 2012 @ 8:20 am

    The folks at King Arthur Flour certainly provided you all with a jammed packed event that was both very fun and educational. I’m very impressed with what you took away from your time with them and the portion that you shared with us is wonderful in it’s detail and useful information. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    P.S. I did not know that KAF was wholly employee owned, how great is that?!
    P.P.S. I love my bowl scrapers and you will too.

    • Winnie replied: — June 18th, 2012 @ 12:53 pm

      Yes Paula- KAF is employee owned and I think this makes the company as excellent as it is. ps those bowl scrapers are THE BEST!

  9. 9

    brandi — June 15, 2012 @ 10:15 am

    this is basically my dream world. what a fun time!

    • Winnie replied: — June 18th, 2012 @ 12:54 pm

      Yes Brandi- it’s so dreamy there. Loved every minute!

  10. 10

    Megan — June 15, 2012 @ 5:08 pm

    Great recap Winnie! It makes me feel bad that so far all I’ve been able to do is put up a photo post.

    (I hope I don’t look that awkward in real life.)

    • Winnie replied: — June 18th, 2012 @ 12:54 pm

      Don’t feel bad! I love your photos. And you don’t look awkward…you’re HOT :)

  11. 11

    Suzanne — June 15, 2012 @ 5:40 pm

    I so envy that you went this is something I would really love to do. It sounds wonderful. I have been using KAF for many years as well as many of their other products. It’s absolutely the best. The re-cap was great, felt like I was there with you.

    • Winnie replied: — June 18th, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

      So glad you enjoyed the recap Suzanne. I feel so lucky I got to go so wanted to share some of what I learned :)

  12. 12

    Delishhh — June 16, 2012 @ 12:47 am

    Sounds like a fabulous time. I love KAF products i use them all the time.

    • Winnie replied: — June 18th, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

      Their products really are terrific. And their store? SWOON….

  13. 13

    Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite — June 16, 2012 @ 8:05 am

    This is a wonderful post Winnie – I actually learned a lot reading it (often, recap posts aren’t so instructional). What a wonderful opportunity. I can only dream of doing something like this one day. Thanks for letting us live vicariously :)

    • Winnie replied: — June 18th, 2012 @ 12:56 pm

      Hi Mardi,
      It was a great time and I learned so much. Happy to hear I was able to convey some of that here. xoxo

  14. 14

    Jamie — June 17, 2012 @ 11:08 am

    Wow!! What an incredible experience and class! Lucky! And thanks so much for sharing these tips, I am copying them down now! It looks like great fun and can I say again a fabulous experience for anyone who loves to bake!

    • Winnie replied: — June 18th, 2012 @ 12:56 pm

      Thanks Jamie- it really was a fabulous experience. I learned a ton and would go back in a heartbeat!

  15. 15

    Rachel Cooks — June 18, 2012 @ 9:27 am

    I was so disappointed that I couldn’t attend this. Thanks for sharing the recap! I can live vicariously through you ;)

    • Winnie replied: — June 18th, 2012 @ 12:57 pm

      Oh what a bummer Rachel! Maybe next year…?

  16. 16

    idiosyncratic eye — June 18, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

    That looks an amazing place to visit, what a great opportunity! Thanks for sharing your tips and photos. Your comment about measuring the flour wrong just reiterates how I feel about the whole volume, American cup thing – very suspicious! :)

  17. 17

    Danielle — June 18, 2012 @ 9:38 pm

    I’m soo jealous!!! I love KAF and all their products and have been wanting to visit their store and/or take one of their baking courses in person! Reading your blog makes me want to write a blog just to be able to go to that workshop :). (Mine would never be as good as yours– and I’m not actually going to start one– but I would still love the workshop!) Glad you had a good time!

  18. 18

    Matt~ Thyme In Our Kitchen — June 19, 2012 @ 9:32 am

    Great Post and it was so nice meeting you there!

  19. 19

    Mini Cheese "Pies" with Roasted Plum Jam (Gluten-Free) | Healthy Green Kitchen — June 20, 2012 @ 10:46 pm

    [...] crust is, right?!), all you need is your fingers and good technique. As I mentioned last week in my King Arthur Flour recap, you want to cut half of your COLD fat into small pieces (generally butter and/or lard, though [...]

  20. 20

    Liren — June 25, 2012 @ 2:03 am

    I was so sorry to miss this, but thank you, Winnie, for such an in-depth recap! The tips and all your takeaways were so helpful, I’ve already pinpointed some of my mistakes. It also makes me wonder if I should really start weighing my ingredients when baking.