A Visit to the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center
Few places incorporate my love of New England, tradition, and baking like the King Arthur Flour Company in Norwich, Vermont. I recently spent two days there as a participant in their first official “Blog and Bake” retreat, and I left feeling reassured that bakers everywhere are, and will continue to be, well supplied and supported in their capable, floured hands.
I also left with my pants feeling a wee bit more snug around the waist, but that’s a price I will gladly pay for two solid days of baking with the best!
King Arthur Flour is America’s oldest flour company, founded in Boston in 1790. Its goal was to provide flour to bakers in the new United States that had until that point had limited access to it. By the mid-1800′s they (and the nation) had progressed to the point where all of their flour came from US grown and milled wheat. KAF’s enduring success can be credited to the superior quality of their product and the loyal, satisfied customers that have followed them for generations.
What sets King Arthur Flour apart are its rigid specifications regarding protein content in their flours. Because they are “the strictest in the industry,” bakers can be guaranteed that their results will be the same with every bag. Today KAF offers a dizzying variety of flours, from signature selections like all-purpose, white whole-wheat, and gluten free, to an enormous assortment of specialty selections like Irish wholemeal and whole wheat pastry flour.
In addition to their quality products, King Arthur goes after my heart with their passion for providing bakers with limitless ways to learn and grow in the kitchen. Their headquarters, which moved to Vermont in 1984, houses the Baker’s Store, with it shelves of KAF flours, mixes, seasonings, extracts, baking tools, and their line of award-winning cookbooks. It also includes the Baking Education Center, which offers hundred of hands-on classes each year for bakers of all levels in areas like whole grains, pies and pastries, wood-fired cooking, and breads.
During my time there this week, I was lucky enough to take classes with several of the talented KAF Baking Education Center staff. I learned the basics of bread (yeasted and quick), pie dough (traditional and sweet), and the joy of homemade pizza dough, which is surpassed only by the joy of homemade pizza itself that has been cooked in their onsite wood-fired brick oven. It wasn’t the first time I had made bread, pie, or pizza, but thanks to their careful explanation of the “science behind the scenes” and expert demonstrations, I found the experience to be completely new and remarkably effortless.
And as the saying goes, the proof was in the pudding. Or in this case, the bread, pie, tart, scones, and pizza! These were some seriously delicious treats!
Not content to just educate and encourage bakers on-site, King Arthur participates in many “Baking Outreach” programs nationwide each year. They offer free traveling baking demonstrations led by members of the KAF staff, providing tips, tricks and answers to any and all baking questions. Their Life Skills Bread Baking Program targets a younger audience by going into classrooms, teaching students how to make bread, then sending them home with the supplies they need to make 2 loaves – one for their family and one to donate to a community organization chosen by the school. KAF sponsors baking contests at over 50 fairs throughout the country, handing out blue, red, and yellow ribbons. And finally, their Baking Hotline is in operation every day to assist home bakers with information and advice on their many kitchen conundrums. Where else can you call and be assured that a capable and friendly baker will help you work out a substitution for your missing ingredient, or rework the measurements for a smaller pan size?
Everyone I met at King Arthur was friendly, knowledgeable, and visibly loved their job. KAF has been 100% employee-owned since 2000, which they credit with naturally creating a workforce where everyone is encouraged to “think like an owner” and help the company grow in the right direction.
As a baker that is delighted every single time the recipe works and my cake, pie, or loaf is pulled from the oven looking and tasting “like it’s supposed to,” I love King Arthur Flour for its commitment to quality. As an advocate for tradition and the preservation of the past, however, King Arthur deserves an equal (perhaps higher) level of commendation. They make it a main component of their mission to provide knowledge and inspiration to help nourish the baker in all of us, novice or expert. They are determined to keep the art of baking alive and well, and be there when the cookie crumbles.
Here’s to another few centuries of the best in baking!
For more information on King Arthur, their flours, the KAF Baking Center, recipes and more, please visit the King Arthur Flour website at www.kingarthurflour.com