We’re all experts at polishing off pies and scarfing down scones, but this holiday season, a special group of bakers will know how to create the perfect baked goods for their gatherings. What’s their secret? They attended one of King Arthur Flour’s traveling baking demonstrations.
Throughout the year, a team of King Arthur Flour employees travel across America, meeting the Vermont company’s customers and introducing people to the joy of baking. Free two-hour demonstrations feature useful tips for creating perfect pies and savory scones, as well as baking with yeast and whole grains. Last Saturday, they attracted hundreds of bakers of all skill levels to a demonstration at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
Spending a few hours at this swanky site was as exciting as attending this much-anticipated event. In 1915, Harvey Firestone, founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, purchased 1,000 acres of farmland south of the company’s factory. Then, he commissioned landscape architect Alling DeForest to design a community where his employees and their families could live, learn, worship and relax. A public park shaped like the original Firestone emblem was at the center of the community.
One of the community’s most enduring features is the Firestone Country Club. In 1929, Mr. Firestone opened the club by driving the first ball down the fairway of its first golf course. The club’s three challenging 18-hole courses with spectacular views have hosted PGA championships and other golf tournaments. Its landmark water tower resembles a golf ball atop a tee.
As we queued up to enter the room where the demonstration would be held, members of King Arthur Flour’s Traveling Baking Demo team gave us publications provided by partnering sponsors. Cabot Creamery Cooperative, another Vermont company, shared recipes for garlic-cheddar flatbread, cheddar green onion rolls and oatmeal cheddar blackberry bars, among other treats. Substitution guides and cooking tips from Cabot inspired us to try using Greek-style yogurt as a way to add protein to our diets, as well as to improve flavor and reduce calories in our favorite baking recipes. In the latest catalog from Dansko, the official footwear of choice for the Traveling Baking Demo team, we considered suggestions of how these comfortable, supportive shoes could fit into our fall wardrobe. We stashed away coupons for Cabot products and bags of King Arthur Flour to redeem during future trips to the grocery store.
We also received an added bonus – a copy of the Holiday 2013 issue of The Baking Sheet, King Arthur Flour’s subscription newsletter. It’s filled with tips about baking science and how-to illustrations so you can successfully turn out original, tested, seasonal recipes for treats like New England Thanksgiving bread, rum-glazed fruitcake baked doughnuts, pumpkin biscotti, cranberry pistachio quickbread and butterscotch fudge.
As we waited for the demonstration to begin, we watched a video about the history of King Arthur Flour. In 1790, Henry Wood of Boston began selling high-quality flour. By 1896, the company he founded — Sands, Taylor & Wood — introduced a new brand name to represent the flour’s purity and strength: King Arthur Flour. In 1984, the company moved its headquarters from Massachusetts to Norwich, Vermont. Today, King Arthur Flour’s kingdom is a 12-sided post-and-beam building named Camelot.
At last, Susan Reid, a King Arthur Flour professional baker and editor of The Baking Sheet, began the demonstration. Following along in our workbooks, we took note of how Susan executed a basic piecrust recipe.
Susan shared techniques like measuring flour the right way, how cutting fat into flour is what makes a piecrust tender, why cold butter makes a flaky crust, and how spraying the pie pan with cooking spray will make the first piece of pie slip right out.
Susan’s stage presence was as memorable as the information she imparted. “This is that fork in the road where you have magnificence over here and misery over there,” she proclaimed at one point, as she added ice water to the dough. “You’re going to Pittsburgh,” Susan said, as she patted a sandwich baggie filled with pie dough that she would use at the next day’s baking demonstration in that city.
Filling the pie shell with a heaping mound of slices of Gala, Granny Smith, and Honeycrisp apples, Susan suggested adding a couple of tablespoons of boiled cider, a New England specialty, to enhance the pie’s flavor. She topped the pie with pastry cutouts of autumn leaves and apples, brushed it with heavy cream, sprinkled it with coarse sugar, and showed us an unbelievably perfect pie, ready for baking in the Firestone Country Club’s oven.
Then, Susan moved on to creating rich, tender cheddar, bacon and scallion scones. If you’ve ever been interrupted during baking and lost track of your place in executing a recipe, consider Susan’s suggestion of adding each dry ingredient in a separate pile of your mixing bowl, so you can see where you are.
After Susan wrapped up her demonstration by taking a few questions from the audience, her four traveling companions joined her in front of a table loaded with King Arthur Flour products for the next item on the agenda. It was time for the door prizes!
The giveaways started with a bang, as a young man was awarded a pair of Dansko shoes. Next came dozens of five-pound bags of flour, packages of flax seed, and boxes of unbleached cake flour. Those were followed by an oven mitt; a bench knife for dividing dough and scraping work surfaces clean; a dough whisk, ideal for mixing batters and fruit pie fillings; a “Perfect Pie” pastry blender; and a package of 100 baking parchment paper sheets, just the right size for most cookie sheets and half-sheet cake pans. Other lucky winners took home a Pie Essentials DVD featuring Susan demonstrating several pie-making techniques and crust recipes; a canvas tote with the King Arthur Flour logo; an apron screened with the authentic trademark from King Arthur’s first 100-pound flour sack; and a $50 gift card for the Baker’s Catalogue, its online mail-order shop that offers top-quality baking tools, ingredients, mixes, utensils and books. Cabot also contributed a picnic set containing a portable cutting board, a cheese knife and a mug.
Another prizewinner added a copy of The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion to her bookshelves. This collection of over 450 recipes was the James Beard Foundation’s 2004 KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year. Easy-to-follow tutorials, step-by-step illustrations, color photographs, and comprehensive sections on ingredients and tools provide helpful information for making quick breads; buckles, cobblers and crisps; crackers and flatbreads; yeast breads; sourdough; cookies and bars; pastry; cakes; and pies, tarts and quiches.
Susan also reminded us that if we completed a quick online survey when we got home, we would be entered to win the grand prize — a KitchenAid Pro Line stand mixer plus a $500 gift card to the Baker’s Catalogue.
Everyone is a winner at a Traveling Baking Demo. As we parted company, we took home a King Arthur Flour dough scraper, a sample of Cabot cheese, and a package of Red Star active dry yeast.
During the afternoon demonstration, another audience watched Susan cover techniques for baking with yeast and whole grains. She shared recipes for basic white and whole wheat breads, whole grain double fudge brownies, easy self-rising biscuits and pancakes, banana bread, whole grain muffins, and oatmeal and flax cranberry cookies.
This 100-percent employee-owned company offers several resources for the baking enthusiast. Its website offers over 2,500 tested recipes. Through its Baker’s Hotline telephone number, experienced bakers offer advice when baking emergences strike. A new retail store at its headquarters carries ingredients and tools offered in the catalogue and a café that serves cakes, pastries and sandwiches on fresh-baked breads, all made in the state-of-the-art King Arthur Flour Bakery. At its Baking Education Center, instructors offer demonstrations, introductory classes for adults and children, and intensive week-long professional courses.
Since 1992, King Arthur Flour’s free Life Skills Bread Baking Program has taught over 200,000 fourth- through seventh-graders how to bake bread from scratch. After a King Arthur Flour instructor and two student assistants give a 50-minute demonstration on bread-baking, youngsters take home the necessary materials and bake two loaves of bread – one to enjoy at home, and the other to give to a community organization chosen by the school.
King Arthur Flour’s free baking demos continue in Missouri and Illinois (November 14-16, 2013); Arizona (January 23-25, 2014); Utah and Boise, Idaho (February 20-24, 2014); and northern New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (March 20-22, 2014). Click here for details.