Baking buddies: come play with us

Most of us bake alone. Some of us bake with friends. But what an experience, to bake with a whole group of friends. Hands in dough, mixers whirring, sugar and flour and butter and vanilla and chocolate at your fingertips, lots of oven space…

That’s the Baking Education Center (BEC) at King Arthur Flour here in Norwich, Vermont.

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We have classes most days of the week. Classes for adults, for kids, for parents and kids together, for professionals…  King Arthur’s mission is to teach the world to bake. And so far, so good—we’re currently the largest educator of home bakers in the world.

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Hands-on classes vary in size from about 6 to 12 people. This bread, soup, and dessert class had 10 students—some of whom came with a friend, some of whom soon “buddied up” with the baker next to them. You never bake alone at King Arthur Flour.

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This class started with Sesame Semolina Lunettas. Side by side, friends measure ingredients into mixing bowls.

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Our BEC director, Susan Miller (l), offers encouragement.

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Kneading is a great way to get a feel for yeast dough.

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Perfect!

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Class instructor Robyn Sargent discusses the finer points of shaping.

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Looks like Amanda and John did a nice job forming a traditional Italian shape, the lunetta.

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Next, Shaker Chicken and Noodle Soup. Portable tabletop burners prevent congestion around the stoves. Once the soup is simmering, it’s time to make dessert.

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Quick Pots de Crème. Chocolate, egg, salt, vanilla, sugar, and cream, all mixed in a food processor, poured into muffin cups, and simply refrigerated—no baking necessary.

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Ready to take home, add whipped cream, and serve.

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Baked, cooled, bagged—the bread’s done. The soup has been ladled into jars, the chocolate “pots” are boxed, and class is over. Clearly, a good time was had by all!

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And the fun isn’t just for grownups: here are some proud young bakers with their monkey breads.

Planning a trip to Vermont? If not—maybe you should! Take a look at what we’re offering this spring at our Baking Education Center.

And if you can’t get to Vermont, find a baking buddy and bake some Sesame Semolina Lunettas.

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Yeast bread is basically, flour, yeast, salt, and water. But little ingredient tweaks along the way can change that basic bread in subtle by very appealing ways. Take semolina, for instance. This cornmeal lookalike is actually a coarsely ground “flour” made from high-protein durum wheat. When used to replace some (or all) of the all-purpose or bread flour in your recipe, it imparts creamy color to the finished loaf, plus the barest amount of added crunch in the crust.  I like to use it in pizza crust as well as bread.

And what about diastatic malt? Its active enzymes help yeast grow fully and efficiently throughout the fermentation period. Professional bakers use it to enhance bread’s texture and improve its shelf life. Again, it’s subtle… but you’ll see the results below. Rather surprising results, actually.

Oh, and one more thing: NON-diastatic malt is  a sweetener, particularly suited for pancakes and bagels. Don’t confuse it with diastatic malt, as it doesn’t have the same effect on yeast.

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We’ll start by putting semolina, King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, instant yeast, salt, and diastatic malt in a mixing bowl.

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Next, water and olive oil. Or, for added sesame flavor, toasted sesame oil.

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Mix till well combined. The dough will be rough looking.

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Switch to the dough hook, and knead for 6 minutes; this develops the gluten, allowing it to capture carbon dioxide from the growing yeast. Result? Dough that rises. Without the structure that gluten provides, the dough would leak CO2 like a sieve, and sit there like an inert blob rather than rising.

Oh, by the way: how do you like the way this dough shaped itself into a faux roasting chicken?

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I decided to test the diastatic malt by making two batches of dough side by side. The one on the left has malt; the one on the right doesn’t. Let’s see what happens.

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Ninety minutes later—holy mackerel, the dough with the malt certainly did rise higher.

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Every time I stop by our Baking Education Center, I learn some cool new thing.  This time, it was a simple “S” shape that makes a very pretty loaf—in Italian baking, a lunetta. So, I rolled the dough into an 18” log, and curled one end towards the center.

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Then I did the same with the other end, making a tucked-in “S.”

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Here are my two loaves side by side—the one with diastatic malt at the top of the picture.

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Once the bread is risen, you’ll brush it with egg white whisked with water. Why whisk it with water? To make it spreadable; without water, it’s awfully gluey.

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Brush on the risen loaves…

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…then sprinkle with sesame seeds.

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Why wait for the loaves to rise before adding the seeds? Because if you add them before the loaves rise, you’ll get a sparser effect; the rising dough pushes the seeds away from one another, allowing more crust to show through.

By the way, during rising the loaf with the malt had become a bit more puffy than the loaf without malt.

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And here they are, baked. The loaf without the malt (on the right) didn’t brown quite  as well, though the difference was slight. Which makes sense, since diastatic malt converts starch to sugar, and sugar promotes browning. And, the loaf without malt  didn’t rise quite as high. At the end of the day, the loaf with malt simply looked better.

My verdict? Diastatic malt isn’t critical, but if you’re a dedicated bread baker who likes a really nice-looking result, get some and fool around with it.

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Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Market Street Supermarket in-store bakery, Lubbock, Texas: Sesame Semolina Bread, 1-lb. loaf, $3.99

Bake at home: Sesame-Semolina Bread, 1-lb. loaf, $1.65

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Heidi

    I highly recommend that if you haven’t taken a class at BEC, that you do so. It’s a great experience. A group of us made a girls weekend out it last year. We took their pasta class and learned a lot. Plus you get to check out their store and buy all the stuff you see in their catalog.
    Hi Heidi,
    Thanks for sharing. Hope you’ll get back for a class soon. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  2. Mrs. Hittle

    Thanks so much for the visual on how diastatic malt affects bread. i’ve never used it, although i have a recipe for it in an old cookbook of my Mom’s. Sounds like i need to take that out and make myself some diastatic malt! Since i bake whenever possible with 100% whole wheat, i like finding little tips to help my bread rise better. Vital wheat gluten is also very helpful!
    Glad we could show how the malt really does make a difference. I have been out for a few months, but think I’ll be picking some up soon too!
    ~MaryJane

    Reply
  3. Rosa

    I’d love to attend these classes, but unfortunately, I live on the other side of the Atlantic ;-P… Once, I taught a few American friends how to make Swiss Zopf and we had lots of fun!

    What gorgeous Lunettas!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    Hi Rosa,
    Guess you’ll have to blog with us for now, and make plans for an ocean crossing some day! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  4. Lisa

    How does the texture inside compare? Do you have pictures of the two loaves cut so we can see the difference the malt might make?
    Thanks,
    Lisa

    No difference that I could see, Lisa, texture-wise. Of course, it’s a SLIGHT bit more “open” due to its slightly greater rise, but the end effect – mouth-feel, etc. – is about the same. PJH

    Reply
  5. Mary

    How about opening other baking schools across the country so we can all come and play? :)
    We do offer baking demonstrations in different states throughout the spring and fall. We have finished our spring 2009 tours and will be picking up again in the fall. Here is the link to the website for our National Baking Classes. ~MaryJane

    Reply
  6. Robin

    I wish you would take your cooking classes on the road and come to NW Indiana. For a week or two or three.

    But seriously…..my wheels are turning and this sound like a nice sister weekend road trip. I am putting it on the list.

    We do offer baking demonstrations in different states throughout the spring and fall. We have finished our spring 2009 tours and will be picking up again in the fall. Here is the link to the website for our National Baking Classes.

    Hope to see you before the summer is out! ~MaryJane

    Reply
  7. Caroline

    The bread looks great, but I am allergic to sesame! Is there any other topping that would work with the dough? Or would it be better to leave it bare on top?

    Hi Caroline,
    You could certainly leave the bread bare on top, or you could use another seed on top, even some fine cornmeal makes a nice topping. Experiment and enjoy!
    ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  8. Bridgett

    I am so jealous of those of you who live close enough for classes! Maybe it’s a good thing that I don’t live close though – I would be there all the time. :) You all would be sick of seeing me. I will look for your traveling classes near me.
    The bread is gorgeous – from the loaf’s shape to the air pockets inside. At first I scrolled right through it, thinking that I just don’t need another bread recipe… until I got to the end and saw the finished product!

    Reply
  9. Sarah

    Those pots de creme look yummy and easy but it looks like the egg doesn’t get cooked. What are your thoughts about that?

    Would diastatic malt also make a difference in a sweeter bread, like challah?

    My thought is that you always take a chance with uncooked egg, but this does get heated by the cream. And if you trust your egg source, you should be fine. I imagine diastatic malt wouldn’t make a difference in sweeter breads, since there’s already plenty of sugar there. But I have to say, haven’t thought to try it yet – PJH

    Reply
  10. Maureen Hemphill

    Where can I find recipes using European-Style Artisan Flour?
    I can’t wait to try lunetta bread. Do you grease the container
    for the dough to rise in?

    Maureen, use the Euro. artisan flour in any bread recipe calling for all-purpose flour – it just provides a slightly different experience for the yeast, and a slightly different texture in the bread. And yes, I grease the container my dough rises in. Have fun – PJH

    Reply
  11. Kathryn Sincell-Corwell

    What is the difference between diastatic malt and vital wheat gluten? I use the vital wheat gluten to get a better rise. Could you use it with a little sugar added to get the same results as the diastatic malt?

    No, Kathryn – you can’t substitute sugar for diastatic malt. Vital wheat gluten is simply gluten, which creates the elasticity that lets dough rise and hold its shape. Diastatic malt actually converts starch to sugar in a way that’s very easy for the yeast to access. It’s like cutting a slice of pizza up into very small bites for your toddler to enjoy. Just go ahead with the vital wheat gluten, if you don’t want to purchase the diastatic malt… PJH

    Reply
  12. Michelle

    I loved the class I took at KAF and really can’t wait to take another one.

    I was also just wondering if I can substitute Durum Flour for the Semolina flour?

    Michelle, I think the absorption may be different – you may need to add a bit more water – but sure, give the durum a go – PJH

    Reply
  13. Barbara

    I’ll have to check that BEC calendar BEFORE planning our vacation to Vermont next year. This year we’ll be coming up the last week of July and while “Setting Up a Successful Bakery” isn’t quite the class for me, I’m looking forward to visiting your store!

    Reply
  14. Philip

    I’ll be trying this tomorrow! I read that you come to Des Moines often for your cookbooks and such. I think every time you come you should hold a class. I know you would have at least one student there.

    Reply
  15. Sue E. Conrad

    Ah, yes – when we first moved to FL in the early 90′s, KAF held at least two classes in the St. Pete area………………but nothing since then (boo-hoo). Any chance you’ll return to the Tampa-St. Pete area in the fall/winter 2009??? If so, you can be assured of at least one avid baker/fan!!!

    Reply
  16. Mike T.

    Hey all! I took the International Pastries class and it was a GREAT TIME! We had 11 in our class. It was 5 days and probably the best vacation I’ve had. I like to be productive and not just lay around sunning, and this was definitely more fun than home renovation! Tasted better too!

    I had put together a video of all of our work and sent a copy to everyone in the class. If you want to see it, you can go to: http://web.me.com/msttsm/KAF

    Yes, I *AM* the little overachiever! ;-)

    Reply
  17. Kathleen

    Since I cannot afford a trip to Vermont, I really, really wish that you would come to Florida, especially the Sarasota-Bradenton area with your free classes. I would love to attend one or two or more. Kathleen (who is
    very unhappy that your classes haven’t come to my area)

    Reply
  18. Joyce from NC

    I just signed up for two of your whole grain classes in May. I can’t wait to get to Vermont. I am sooooooooooo excited!!

    Joyce I know you will have sooo much fun! Mary@Kaf

    Reply
  19. Tom

    I don’t have a bag of flour in front of me right now (a retarded lean bread just went in the oven) but doesn’t flour already contain a touch of diastatic malt? Would you use different quantities of diastatic malt for different protein flours? Thanks!

    -Tom Most flour does contain a bit of malt. Sometimes a little bit more is suggested in recipes. Mary @ KAF

    Tom, enriched flour (all-purpose flour) includes barley malt, not diastatic malt. Not the same thing… I think maybe the bread flour has barley malt, too. It’s a bit of sugar to help the yeast grow, but it doesn’t convert starch to sugar like diastatic malt does. PJH

    Reply
  20. Lee

    Seeing that bread brings back memories of our trip to Turkey many years ago. There were little street vendors selling that bread everywhere but instead of the S shape it was a big circle, like a bagel on steroids. They would hang them on long poles to display. Crisp crust, delicious sesame flavor – I’ve been trying to reproduce it ever since!

    Reply
  21. Mike T.

    Hey PJ, if you have a spring tour, how can it be over? Spring has only been here for 2 weeks???

    Signed, Confused. ;-)

    Well, Mike, I guess we should cal it our winter tour, huh? I’ll suggest that to our flour team, which organizes this program. PJH

    Reply
  22. Mark

    So, the diastatic malt makes bread rise more quickly–should I use it as a way to speed up the process, or should I let my dough rise for as long as I usually do (for more flavor, perhaps)?

    Mark, you could use a bit less yeast and let it rise the same amount of time you usually do, to develop flavor. Just bit less – maybe 1/4 teaspoon. A long rise is usually a very good thing, flavor-wise. PJH

    Reply
  23. Soupaddict Karen

    I’ve seen a couple references (here and elsewhere) to diastatic malt improving shelf life. Not to get all sciency and stuff, but, is there a guideline as to how much it improves it (by a day, by multiple days)? While there’s nothing like fresh baked bread (yeeuum), when I make it for others, I always tell them, slice it, put it in the freezer. It’d make it easier, though, on my elderly mom if it could last at room temperature (presliced by me) for an extra day or two. What do you think?

    No, no guidelines that I know of, Karen. It would depend a lot on the type of bread. Keeping bread fresh is problematic. I think her best bet for sandwich bread is to reheat it VERY briefly in the microwave (for sandwiches or untoasted bread), or, better, just toast it. For baguettes, etc. (somethining in chunks, not slices), heat, lightly covered with foil, in a 350°F oven for 5 minutes or so. PJH

    Reply
  24. kate

    Just another invite for y’all to come to FL…I live in S. E. FL; but, would gladly drive anywhere in the state for a class. If I lived way up north, I’d sure plan some classes in FL during the winter!! Blessings, K.

    Reply
  25. Susie M

    I just signed up for a whole grains class in July – I can’t wait!

    Welcome to our world! What a productive way to spend a Sunday in July! We’re looking forward to your visit and participation in the Whole class. Irene at KAF

    Reply
  26. A T

    Can either diastatic malt or vital wheat gluten be used interchangably when a recipe calls for one or the other? I have used used both in the past. The whole wheat recipe that I want to try calls for vital wheat gluten and I only have diastatic malt on hand.

    Hi – You can certainly use both in your bread, and they’ll both enhance it, but for different reasons. Vital wheat gluten improves rise by adding physical structure: gluten. Diastatic malt improves rise by making it easier for the yeast to digest starch and give off CO2 – more gas, a better rise. So use either or both (or neither), but don’t substitute one for the other, OK? Good luck – PJH

    Reply
  27. metabrown

    I’ve tried this recipe but haven’t been able to get the light texture that your bread has. I believe the ingredients were properly measured, and I used KA flour and diastatic malt (the semolina was from a local Italian market). The dough rose and looked quite puffy when it went into the oven, but the bread did not get much oven spring, and the texture was denser than the bread in your photos. The taste did not seem quite right, either. Nothing awful, but not quite right.

    Any suggestions on what to investigate? I’m already suspicious that perhaps the kneading was inadequate or the oven was not up to the proper temperature.
    It sounds like you had a good rise, but that it may have over-risen and collapsed a little in the oven, which would lead to a denser texture. Having a thermometer to monitor the accuracy of your oven is a great idea, because an oven that is too cool will affect the oven spring. ~Amy

    Reply
  28. metabrown

    Amy, I just got my self a new oven thermometer and did a little test. If the thermometer is correct, the oven is actually running quite hot, around 40 degrees (F) hotter than expected. That leads me to believe the loaf just didn’t get much time for oven spring before it set. Does that interpretation hold water?
    I have a feeling your dough was over-risen. Give us a call on the bakers hotline and we’ll be happy to share our tips on figuring out how well your dough is proofed (an easy test called the “punch in test.”) However, if your oven is baking that hot, it can definitely affect your baking overall. Glad you were able to take that equation out of the picture! ~Mel

    Reply

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