The King Arthur facility comprises a gift shop, cafe, kitchen, and the baking center, where classes are offered for both home and professional bakers. Before I got to the classroom, I took a peek at the kitchen, where visitors can watch King Arthur's bakers preparing that day's loaves and pizzas. Some of their more artistic (and probably petrified) creations are visible through the windows.
I then headed for the classroom, which was a baker's version of a high school chemistry lab, with long workspaces facing the instructor's table in front. Several ovens lined an adjacent wall, and a large video monitor hung over the instructor's work space.
I got there early, and chose a seat up front, the better to see what was going on. But it didn't matter much, as students were free to come up close to watch whenever the instructor was demonstrating any techniques.
Over the course of four days, we covered a wide range of breads: grissini (crunchy breadsticks), pissaladiere (a kind of southern-French pizza), roasted-potato bread, brioche, baguettes, sourdough bagels and bread, ciabatta, deli rye, and volkornbrot, a German sourdough bread made entirely from rye.
The disadvantage of covering such a broad range of breads, I suppose, is that the class was more broad than deep. I left with some gained knowledge, for sure, but we couldn't get too deeply into any one style.
Having said that, I did learn a lot. We did some breads, in the same style, using different pre-ferment starters, so we could compare the results. We also made baguettes using three different types of flour (interestingly, most of us agreed that the all-purpose flour yielded better results than the so-called European- and French-style flours). And the instructors were always on hand to watch us and offer helpful advice on our dough-handling technique.
One of our final assignments was to split up into teams of three to create our own bread recipes. With the help of our instructors, my team came up with a cinnamon raisin bread recipe. I guess we were successful, because my wife loved it and wants me to make it again. I'll post the recipe soon.
Despite the brevity of the course, the final day felt like graduation day. The mood was festive, and the class was capped off by the presentation of certificates of completion. Each of us was also given a brotform/banneton (bread proofing bowl), and a sourdough starter to take home with us. As a bonus, the staff prepared a to-die-for chocolate cake in honor of that day's birthday of one of my classmates.
The cake and banneton were not the only freebies, though. Every night, I returned to our condo with several loaves of bread, far more than we could possibly eat. of breadsticks. I was so overwhelmed that one night my daughter and I went around knocking on doors and giving bread away to our neighbors. We ran into one family a couple of nights later in Stowe who thanked me effusively for the bread, so that made me feel good. What we couldn't eat or give away, I mostly wrapped and froze. Some I gave away after we got home.
I'd be seriously remiss if I neglected to make special mention of our instructors, Amber, Jessica and Sharon (there were at least a couple of others assisting, but those were our primary instructors - my apologies to the others for not thanking them by name). They were terrific, and did remarkably well at imparting their knowledge, keeping the mood light, and answering frequent questions. I can't say enough about them. I was especially grateful to have them spend time with me, individually, to help me improve my bread-baking techniques, from kneading wet dough to shaping loaves, to the proper way to slash the top of a baguette. And without their assistance in formulating a recipe, I probably wouldn't want to pass on our cinnamon raisin bread recipe.
Finally, let me say a word or two about my classmates. We had quite an interesting mix, from my teammates, science-teacher Dave and car-dealer Frank, to the student who rode for hours on her bike each day back and forth to the ladies who came up from the deep South together. I haven't mentioned them all, and we covered quite a spectrum, but they were a great bunch. With all its various ingredients, a dough might make a good metaphor.
If you're interested in going yourself, know that baking classes at King Arthur aren't exactly cheap. This four-day class cost $475. But if you're really into baking, they're well worth it. You're getting intensive training, the use of their world-class facilities, the benefit of their instructors' expertise, a few freebies to take home, and some great memories. I'm not sure if or when the opportunity will again arise, but I'd love to go back.
King Arthur Baking Education Center
135 US Route 5 South
Norwich, Vermont 05055
phone: 802 649 3361
fax: 802 649 3365
Monday–Sunday 7:30am to 6:00pm
Closed New Year's Day, Easter Sunday, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day