Scanning through the local paper can prove to be a rewarding endeavor for the thrifty cook these days. I found myself lucky to see a tiny ad in the Chicago Tribune about the King Arthur Flour Company coming to Palatine, IL for a free baking class, one of their many free national classes!)
There were actually two classes taking place in the Hotel Indigo that day (Thursday, November 13)- one in the early afternoon called “Sweet & Savory Yeast Breads”, the one I attended; and another in the evening called “Festive Cookies & Pies”. I was fortunate to see the ad Wednesday night, sufficient time to plan my day around this opportunity.
I arrived at the Hotel Indigo early enough to get a good seat near the front where I could clearly see and hear our baking instructor. I didn’t want to miss a thing- sort of a deja vous of my college days attending lectures by famed authors or politicians.
I was kindly greeted by a friendly, slender young woman in a black fleece vest who handed me a booklet entitled “Baking with King Arthur Flour”. At my seat, I perused the book for a few minutes, skimming through the various bread recipes. There were tips and hints on baking and on the last page a valuable coupon towards the purchase of any variety of King Arthur Flour. I made a mental note to hit my local Shop ‘N Save on my way home, knowing full well they carried this brand of flour—and it was on sale this week.
Before the class started, an employee, baker and editor of King Arthur’s bimonthly baking newsletter, The Baking Sheet, Susan Reid, warmed up the crowd by testing our knowledge of baking and even telling a personal story about how she joined the 100% employee-owner company of King Arthur Flour, located in Norwich, VT. She also explained the interesting history behind this company, which dates back to Boston in 1790.
Once the actual program began, all eyes were on the instructor, Carolyn Hack. Her gentle and inviting presence seemed to make everyone comfortable. As planned, she began to introduce the Sweet Bread Dough recipe she was to prepare. Her witty humor about dough, baking and life garnered everyone’s attention, even the latecomers that filled up the back rows quietly. From Carolyn we all shared in the experience of learning valuable instructions about yeast, water temperature, flour and eventually kneading the dough. Here are just a few of the things I was surprised to learn:
- Water to proof the yeast should be like the temperature of warm bath water
- When putting water in your yeast, if it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your yeast
- Yeast is a living thing. You “proof it” in order to see if it’s viable
- Once the yeast is in water (proofing), you don’t have to get all the lumps out, just get everything wet
- If your yeast doesn’t proof properly, it could be due to one of the following reasons: the yeast was improperly stored; maybe there was soap left in the container you used to proof; there could be too many chemicals in your water; perhaps the water used was too hard or too soft.
- It’s very important to measure ingredients properly when baking.
- If you bake a lot it might be a good idea to get a kitchen scale, for accuracy.
- Sprinkle flour into your measuring cup- don’t pack it in, otherwise you’ll be using more flour than necessary
- Don’t sift flour unless your recipe calls for it.
- Cake yeast has a very short shelf life.
When the dough was finished but not yet baked, she explained some creative ways it could be used. One idea was to make an almond-filled braid out of the dough; another to make a batch of cinnamon swirls. Both ideas sounded delicious. Ms. Hack made these seem so easy to make, I thought even I (the lazy baker) would be willing to give a try to the braided dough recipe.
At the end of the program, the company gave out door prizes to many lucky winners- dough whisks, aprons, and gift cards among them. Although I wasn’t too disappointed that I didn’t win any of these, my heart broke when I didn’t win the only King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book given away. And then, just as if the employee-owners read my mind, they wouldn’t let us leave empty-handed. Everyone- yes, everyone- was given a $10 King Arthur Flour gift card, a ¼ oz. package of Red Star Active Dry Yeast and a King Arthur Flour labeled dough scraper. We even got free samples of whole grain bread on our way out.
A free program, door prizes and even more gifts upon leaving, made possible by the generous sponsorship of the Red Star Yeast company. I must say, not only was I impressed but it made me want to give my business to Red Star Yeast and of course to this quality company, King Arthur Flour, made up of nice people who love to bake, love to educate and are generous with their knowledge and time. Needless to say, I immediately used my gift card to purchase a King Arthur dough whisk, a tool Ms. Hack taught me was an important baking tool and one that would probably last me a lifetime.
Additional Resources and Information
Click here for a complete list of King Arthur’s free national baking classes.
To order the King Arthur Flour newsletter, click on The Baking Sheet.
More information about the King Arthur instructor at this program: Carolyn Hack