A useful new book for ‘every baker’

By TINKY WEISBLAT

For the Recorder 

Published: 05-09-2023 6:14 PM

About 20 years ago I attended a class at the King Arthur Baking School in Norwich, Vermont. I didn’t actually bake that day; instead, a group of other writers and I learned about food writing from cookbook author Nancy Baggett.

I obtained a lot of good information in the class about writing and baking, both from the instructor and students in attendance.

Food writing is a lot like other writing, so many of Baggett’s tips represented reminders to me more than new knowledge. She suggested that participants always use strong, active verbs (sometimes I even manage to do this) and above all write like themselves instead of trying to model themselves on someone else.

The day was a lot of fun, especially because my mother (who explored Norwich while I was in class) and I ended it with a shopping spree at King Arthur’s store. We stocked up on several different kinds of flour and flavorings, as well as a few kitchen gadgets we couldn’t resist.

I have always wanted to go back and take an actual baking class, but somehow I have never found the time or money to do so. Luckily, I can learn from the school by following the instructions in its new book, “The King Arthur Baking School: Lessons and Recipes for Every Baker.” The book was published by Countryman Press. It has 416 pages and retails for $45. One can order it at a lower price from several online sources, including King Arthur’s website.

If you’re looking to improve your baking skills, this book will come in handy. The first chapter revolves around yeast breads. This section, like all of those in the book, starts with the simplest recipe (a basic sandwich-y loaf) and works its way up to more complex ones.

The final recipe in that chapter is what the authors call a “master class” recipe. It walks the reader through the creation of an unkneaded six-fold French bread.

Subsequent chapters cover sourdough breads, laminated pastries like phyllo and puff pastry, pies and tarts, cookies, quick breads and cakes.

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The authors seem to think of every question a reader might ask about each baking process or piece of equipment. They offer useful tips about factors like temperature and moisture that may affect homemade baked goods. I plan to read through the book several times to familiarize myself with its wisdom.

I’m not sure I’ll ever make it to any of the master-class recipes that end the chapters. I’m a basic baker, and my hands are rather clumsy so my baked goods tend to look very, very homemade.

Moreover, I don’t necessarily have the patience to work my way through all the recipes. The authors at King Arthur frankly admit that many of the complicated ones require a fair amount of practice.

The book is ideal for someone like my sister-in-law, who bakes and bakes and bakes a recipe that intrigues her until she feels she has mastered it.

In general, if a recipe doesn’t come out right for me the second time I try it, I move on to another one. Nevertheless, I will hang onto this book and treasure it for its practical tips and descriptions of baking processes and products. The book may even convert me to the practice of weighing dry ingredients like flour and sugar instead of measuring them by volume.

Each recipe’s list of ingredients features both weight and volume. Nevertheless, King Arthur’s writers remind the reader that factors like temperature and humidity can affect the density of ingredients. Weight is therefore more reliable.

I know this, but I have been resisting the knowledge for years. It may be time for a change.

Here’s a relatively simple recipe from the book to get readers started. I have made it and found it very doable and delicious.

Cream Drop Biscuits

The authors write, “These drop biscuits are the fastest, simplest biscuit recipe, coming together in less time than it takes to preheat the oven. This is your go-to recipe for last-minute strawberry shortcake (double or triple the sugar for a sweeter biscuit) or for a quick breakfast.

“You can vary the recipe by snipping in such fresh herbs as chives or rosemary, or stirring in such add-ins as chopped jalapeño or candied ginger, but remember less is more with biscuits — they rise higher if you don’t weigh them down with add-ins ….

“Biscuits are probably the most challenging quick bread for students, partly because the characteristics of a great biscuit depend on the eye of the beholder. Everyone knows you want them to be tender (melt in your mouth) and flaky (lots of light layers), but those descriptions can vary from person to person.

“Another stumbling block is the term ‘high-rising’: Students imagine the biscuits will quadruple or more in the oven. They roll the dough out thin, thinking they’ll cut more biscuits that way, only to find the biscuits come out of the oven a disappointing ½-inch tall.

“When we talk about focusing on light handling and rolling thicker, it’s a revelation.”

Ingredients:

227 grams (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour

12 grams (1 tablespoon) baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

8 grams (2 teaspoons) granulated sugar

283 grams (1¼ cups) heavy cream, plus more as needed

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Stir in the cream, adding additional cream as necessary to make a soft dough.

Using a scoop or spoon, drop the dough by tablespoonsful, about 2 inches apart, onto the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the biscuits for 10 to 12 minutes, until they’re golden brown. Makes 14 to 16 2-inch biscuits.

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning author and singer. Her most recent book is “Pot Luck: Random Acts of Cooking.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com. (Cream Drop Biscuits recipe, copyright 2022, Countryman Press.)

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