Sunday, June 12, 2011

Blog & Bake: Two floury days with King Arthur and the Bloggers

Bread, bread, and more bread.
I don't always think of myself as a blogger. Most often, I think of myself as a writer (who likes to cook and bake) who happens to have a blog.

I mean, this blog is only about a year-and-a-half old, and I've been writing since before ... well ... before there was an Internet. I wrote for newspapers and magazines and trade journals and catalogs. And I wrote press releases and advertorials company newsletters and fiction. I even wrote two plays. I've spewed a lot of words into the universe.

I got around to the blogging thing a little bit late.

So when things happen because I'm a blogger, it strikes me as a little bit funny. People really read this stuff, huh? Who knew.

Apparently King Arthur Flour knew. The ever-friendly Allison Furbish, media guru from King Arthur Flour, invited a bunch of bloggers to visit the company and take some classes. How could I refuse? When the King invites, you attend, lest he send a dragon to fetch you.

And besides, I'm always interested in learning new things about floury things. And they have a store filled with all the cool stuff that's in the catalog. I love baking stuff. Even though I knew I couldn't haul 25-pound bags of flour back with me on the airplane, I figured it would be fun to see the 3-D version of one of my favorite catalogs.

Airport food. Not bad at all.
So I packed my bags and off I went to Vermont by way of Boston and New Hampshire. I left home at 10 a.m. and arrived at the Denver airport in time to grab some lunch before I boarded the plane to Boston.

I opted to go to the Denver Chophouse and Brewery where I had a burger and a beer. I figured that would tide me over.

It was going to be a long time before I reached my final destination, and I knew that airline snacks weren't going to be very exciting. What I didn't realize was that there was going to be a lot of food coming my way over the next few days.

Every seat was a window seat.
The interesting part of the outbound trip itself was the plane that took me from Boston to Lebanon/Hanover New Hampshire airport. When I booked my flight the online seat-choosing option asked if I wanted a window seat or an aisle, and the seating chart showed a plane with 20(ish) rows. In reality, the plane had 10 seats and one of those was the co-pilot's seat.

I landed a little early and called Allison, who very graciously picked me up at the airport. It was 9 p.m. on a Sunday night, and she even more graciously took me to a nearby restaurant, the Canoe Club, for some dinner.

Okay, honestly, I have no idea how close we were to anything. We were chatting like best friends and I was paying no attention to where we were going. Anyway, I had a local brew at the Canoe Club, but I was too tired to remember what the name of it was except that it was an oatmeal stout.

Great mussels. Pretty bad photo. Sorry.
For dinner, I got a huge plate of mussels topped with fries and drizzled with an aioli. The photos I took were pretty bad, but the mussels were really, really good and I was too hungry and too amazed at the mussels to be a good blogger and move around to get better lighting.

Besides, I was there for the baking, not the local cuisine. But did I mention that the mussels were plump and tender and really, really yummy? And the stout was great, too.

After dinner, Allison took me to the hotel - or actually the Norwich Inn, which was a lovely place. There was even a fireplace in my room. Not that I spent any time in the room, but it was cozy and comfortable, and I had enough pillows and blankets to make me a happy, sleepy blogger.

Because of my late arrival, I didn't get a chance to meet any of the other bloggers that night, but in the morning as we gathered in the inn's parlor, we started introducing ourselves. I'm terrible with names, and was pretty happy when we all got name tags when we arrive at King Arthur's Education Center.

We also were let loose on a big basket of pastries that were baked on the premises. I didn't think I was hungry, but it's hard to say no to fresh pastries. And really good coffee.

We did so much in those two days, I'm going to have to break this into a few posts. It was an amazing two days.

Meanwhile, meet my fellow bloggers and other writerly types who attended the event:
Maryellen Apelquist - Weathersfield, VT - Love & Scraps
Kelsey Banfield - Fairfield, CT - The Naptime Chef
Casey Barber - Clifton, NJ - Good. Food. Stories.
Amber Bracegirdle - Scotch Plains, NJ - Bluebonnets & Brownies
Fiona Coxe - Boston, MA - A Boston Food Diary
Glenda Embree - Seward, NE - Busy-at-Home
Corin Hirsch - Burlington, VT - Seven Days
Jean Kerr and Bonnie Cartwright - Kittery Point, ME - Northeast Flavor
Jennifer Leal - Westerly, RI - Savoring the Thyme
Aimee Seavey - Boston, MA - The Apron Archives

And here's a group photo:

What? You want a recipe? Okay, here's the bread we made on the first day:

Basic Bread
Recipe by King Arthur Flour

5 to 6 cups (20 to 24 ounces) King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup baker's special dry milk
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups (16 ounces) warm water

Robyn Sargent and the Shaggy Mass
Measure 3 cups of flour into a medium bowl and add the milk powder, sugar, yeast, and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and stir into the dry ingredients.

Pour the warm water into the mixture and beat to blend well. (We used a Danish dough whisk to do the beating. I love gadgets.)

Stir in the remaining flour (as much as you need - not necessarily all of it) until the dough forms a shaggy mass. See the photo there to the right? That's Robyn Sargent showing us what a shaggy mass of dough looks like.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it. (Here's the deal. I used about 5 cups to get my "shaggy mass" and another 1/2 cup during the kneading. Your dough might need more or less flour) You'll need to knead for 8-10 minutes, until the dough is soft and elastic.

Kneading technique.
Allow the dough to rise in a lightly greased bowl (we used a spray oil in class) covered with plastic wrap until the dough has doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

After the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and gently degas it by pressing down on the dough. Form it into a square/rectangular shape. Divide it in half, and form each half into a loaf of your desired shape. In class, we each made a standard loaf in a pan, and a braided loaf.

Cover the loaves with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Pretty, pretty braids.
Just before baking, slash the tops of the loaves if desired (and if required by the type of loaf.)

The braids didn't need slashing, and we didn't slash the ones in the loaf pans, although typically you would slash that shape.

Bake at 375 for 25-40 minutes (depending on the loaf shape) until the crust is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.

Let the cool completely before slicing.

So, this barely scratched the surface of the first day at King Arthur Flour. I've got more to come, including a few more recipes. Meanwhile, you might want to check out what the other bloggers are writing about the event. Maybe you'll find a few new blogs to follow. I know I have.

Disclosure: King Arthur Flour's classes were offered free of charge, and they covered our lodging and fed us. We paid for our own transport to and from the event. 

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.


Scrap Lover said...

Love your post and your point of view. I, too, make my living as a journalist (have done so for the last 16 years, actually) and only recently started a blog. ... You were a great partner at Blog & Bake, by the way. Sending bake love to Colorado ...

Jennifer (Savor) said...

Yay to Donna and King Arthur. SOOO happy that I met you all and had this awesome experience.

Anonymous said...

Writing AND cooking/baking is a combination worthy of great praise. You've got it and I love reading your work. Supporting a wonderful outfit like KAF is a very good thing and they are worthy of notice and praise. That said, one must still make the disclosure statement(s). Did KAF pay for your trip?

Donna Currie said...

Thanks for reminding me, anonymous. KAF offered the classes for free and covered lodging, but we paid our way to get there. I'll put that into the post.

Bonnie said...

I am so grateful for being invited to that stupendous event and psyched to have met you Donna, you were super fun to sit next to!

Just made myself biscuits out of our new KAF cookbook with KAF flour of course, and used my new KAF bowl scraper. ;)

Casey@Good. Food. Stories. said...

Thank you for not disclosing how many of those morning sticky buns and cinnamon rolls I devoured.

And I second the good review for the Canoe Club - Amber & I went for dinner and I paired my meal with the Whale's Tale Pale Ale (yes!) from Nantucket's Cisco Brewers.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Donna. You can bet that I'd pay the fare for such and opportunity. I've come to know a few of the KAF folks over a couple of years and heck yes! They are Very Fine folks! Glad that you had a good time - and learned. What an opportunity!
(sorry that the posts are anaon, but the proper ID strings are not working - for any of my regular blogs.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for adding the addresses of your blooging, baking colleagues. One cannot have too many baking blogs on ze list! What an experience!!

(FYIo If it matters, I have to hit POST three times before it registers. This is a common event with blogs using the same hosting software. I do not understand it.)

Tupper Cooks! said...

Nice looking loafs (or is it loaves?)! I can smell that bread!

Allison@KingArthurFlour said...

So glad you joined us, Donna! It was a pleasure to meet you - and I look forward to reading your posts!

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