Monthly Archives: January 2013

Chocolate Dacquoise

Besides warming your tootsies and keeping your pipes from freezing, turning on the heat for the winter can have a great effect in your kitchen.

Bread dough rises well, cookies stay nice and warm, and the humidity disappears, making it a perfect time for meringues and their grownup cousins, dacquoise.

DA-what? DA-who?

Dacquoise. Da-qwah. Like a duck, but not a full quack.

Dacquoise are meringues made with nut flour, so they’re still sweet and crisp but a bit more chewy, with subtle nut flavors.

Like meringues, they begin with an egg white foam whipped with sugar. As you know, sugar is hygroscopic and it will pull moisture from the surrounding air. Sticky summer lollipop? Blame the sugar. Tacky tops on your muffins? Sugar and humidity strike again.

Think of meringue as being a castle made of blocks – except these blocks are made of sugar. As the sugar gets moist, it loses its structure and ability to support, and slowly your castle walls will begin to crumble apart and sink. Result? Puddles of goo instead of pinnacles of gloss.

But cue the dry heat of winter and you’re in meringue heaven. Add chocolate and a nut flour to that basic meringue, bake, stack the results, and you have dacquoise, a restaurant-fancy dessert perfect for ending a romantic dinner.

Let’s make Chocolate Dacquoise.

Preheat the oven to 225°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place 6 large egg whites and 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar in the bowl of your stand mixer. Whip on medium speed, to start with. You want to build up a base of small bubbles to make your foam nice and sturdy. Yes, you can use dried egg whites and water; the results are nearly identical.

Increase the speed to high, and whip until soft peaks form.

Gradually add 3/4 cup granulated sugar. If you can get superfine sugar, it will blend into the foam easier. If you only have household sugar, just plan on the sugar taking longer to dissolve fully.

Beat until you have stiff (but not dry) peaks. The mixture will still be glossy.

In a small bowl, combine 3/4 cup nut flour (I used almond), 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, and a pinch of salt. Sprinkle this over the meringue, and whisk on low speed for 30 seconds to combine.

Remove the bowl from the mixer, and use a spatula to fold the ingredients together. Remember to fold with a light touch, as you’re looking to keep as much air in the mix as possible.

There, a nice smooth batter without streaks of chocolate or nut flour.

Using a piping bag or spreading with a spatula, create small rounds on your paper.

You can see a little better in this picture, using white meringue. The circles in pencil are on the opposite side of the paper and can be helpful guidelines. Leave about an inch between circles for spreading during baking.

Bake the dacquoise discs for about 60 minutes, or until firm and dry to the touch. Turn off the oven and let the meringues cool in the oven with the door cracked open for about an hour, or up to overnight.

You can nibble the dacquoise plain, like a nutty meringue. Or you can make a dessert also known as dacquoise.

Stack two or three discs sandwiched with buttercream, ganache, jam, or the filling of your choice. When first assembled the dessert will be very crisp, layered with very soft filling. As the  stack sits, the meringue will absorb moisture from the filling and begin to soften.

When it’s just perfect, you’ll get bites with a touch of crunchy and a touch of smooth filling. In other words, the perfect bite. So weep no more, meringue fans, now’s the time to bake these beauties – while things are hot, hot, hot!

Please make, rate, and review our recipe for Chocolate Dacquoise.

Print just the recipe.

Check out other sweets for your sweetie: Chocolate Hearts, Lemon Love Buns, and Sam’s Pulled Pork Sandwich. (Hey, who says love has to be chocolate?)

Mocha Whoopie Pies

WHOOPIE!

Here’s to sheer indulgence: palm-sized rounds of espresso-scented devil’s food cake sandwiched around a subtly flavored coffee/marshmallow/cream filling.

Go on, take a virtual bite. Imagine the moist mocha cake yielding to a soft-yet-dense 3/4″-thick layer of smoooooth, rich filling.

And if I haven’t sold you on these Mocha Whoopie Pies yet, go ahead, click out of here; you’re just not a mocha maven.

This recipe is a great example of chacun à son goût, a.k.a. each to his own. The original recipe, as printed in our Baker’s Catalogue and on our recipe site, yields a very assertively flavored mocha cake with dark chocolate ganache filling.

I like mocha, but I like it subtle; I want to taste more chocolate than coffee. So here in the blog, I cut way back on the espresso powder in the cake – and exchanged a light-colored, mildly flavored coffee filling for the original recipe’s chocolate ganache.

Bottom line: different strokes for different folks. If you’re a coffee devotée, a fan of in-your-face flavors, you’ll love the original.

If you’re a mamby-pamby wuss person of more delicate tastes who likes to wake up and smell the coffee, but who doesn’t really want a coffee slap upside the head, then you’ll prefer the recipe below.

Starbucks Dark Komodo Dragon Blend vs. Folgers: you know who you are.

And if you find yourself humming “The best part of waking up…” right about now – read on.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two baking sheets, or line with parchment.

Let’s start by making the cakes. Beat together the following until smooth:

1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
2 to 3 teaspoons espresso powder, to taste*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt

*For plain chocolate whoopie pies, eliminate the espresso powder.

Though the original recipe doesn’t call for it, I like to add 1 teaspoon vanilla. Like a small amount of espresso powder, vanilla highlights chocolate’s flavor without adding any assertive taste of its own.

Add 1 large egg, again beating until smooth.

Stir in 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa. I’m using our King Arthur all-purpose baking cocoa, which I feel combines the best of both natural and Dutch-process cocoas. Which makes total sense – since it’s a blend of the two, plus black cocoa, as well.

Add 2 1/3 cups (9 5/8 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour alternately with 1 cup milk. First some flour; mix it in; then some milk, mix it in. Maybe a heaping 1/2 cup flour and 1/3 cup milk at a time.

Once everything is added beat until smooth, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure any pasty ingredients are fully incorporated.

Drop the dough by the heaping tablespoonful onto the baking sheets. A tablespoon cookie scoop works very well here.

Leave about 1 1/2″ to 2″ between the rounds, as they’ll spread a bit.

You’ll need to bake the cakes in batches, as you can bake maybe 2 dozen at a time, and the recipe makes about 32 cakes (and therefore about 16 whoopie pies).

Bake the cakes for 10 to 12 minutes, until just firm to the touch.

See how they spread? Looks like I spaced them just about right.

Remove from the oven, and cool on the pans for 10 minutes.

Once you can move them without any breakage, transfer them to a rack to cool completely.

Next, the filling.

Now that I think of it, you could make this filling ahead of time if you like. It has to chill for awhile, so if you’re really into efficient use of time, consider making it before the cakes.

Mix the following in a microwave-safe bowl, or a saucepan:

2 cups (1 pint) heavy or whipping cream
1 bag (10 to 10 1/2 ounces) marshmallows; mini-marshmallows are easiest to use
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Next, decide your chosen level of coffee flavor. I opted for using 2 teaspoons of espresso powder; if you don’t have espresso powder, try instant coffee powder, or instant coffee granules dissolved in a tiny bit of water.

Heat gently, stirring frequently, until the marshmallows melt completely.

Remove from the heat, and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Pour the icing into the bowl of your stand mixer or another mixing bowl, and refrigerate until chilled.

Once the icing is thoroughly chilled, beat at high speed using your stand mixer or an electric hand mixer; it’s impossible to whip fully by hand, so please use a machine. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure you’re incorporating all of the chilled icing.

As you beat it the icing will warm up, expanding in volume and lightening in color. Be sure to beat long enough for this to happen, and for the icing to become very smooth.

Spread the flat side of half the cakes with the filling. It helps to dollop it on with your trusty tablespoon cookie scoop, then gently spread nearly to the edge of the cake.

Top with the remaining cakes, rounded side up; press down gently.

Oh, my…

I ended up with one cake round left over after all the sandwiches had been filled. Baker’s treat!

As I said earlier – WHOOPIE!

For a mocha-ier pie with dark chocolate filling, check out our recipe for Mocha Whoopie Pies.

For the light coffee filling shown here, use the coffee version of our Super-Easy Marshmallow Icing recipe.

Morning Glory Muffins

Have you noticed the days getting longer?

We’re 5 weeks past the shortest day of the year, and it shows – particularly in the morning, when the drive to work happens in broad daylight, rather than gray and gloomy almost-dawn.

Speaking of driving to work, what’s an easy, fast, filling, and tasty way to eat breakfast on the run (or more likely, on the drive)?

Big hint at the top of this page, right?

Back in the day, muffins were everyone’s favorite portable breakfast. Before scones, and Egg McMuffins, and breakfast burritos, there were muffins.

Tender, moist blueberry muffins, loaded with dark berries. Bright and tangy lemon-poppy seed.

Decadent chocolate chip; comforting banana.

And Morning Glory – which, if memory serves, were a darling of the ’60s and ’70s back-to-the-land movement. When seeds, nuts, dried fruit, and whole grains were suddenly on everyone’s lips – literally.

Still life with Mother Nature, right?

The venerable Morning Glory is an earthy, whole-grain muffin that, despite the description, manages to taste very good indeed. Moist and just sweet enough, it’s a great “eat in the car” treat – it needs the enhancement of neither butter nor jam (though either – or cream cheese – wouldn’t be out of place).

Are you ready for a throwback breakfast? Let’s make muffins.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin, or line it with papers and spray the insides of the papers.

In a small bowl, cover 1/2 cup raisins with hot water, and set them aside to soak.

Next up: grated apple and carrots.

The recipe calls for 1 large apple, peeled; I don’t bother to peel. The recipe is so full of seeds and nuts anyway, who cares about a bit of apple peel?

So, put one large, tart, firm apple (e.g., Granny Smith), cored and cut in chunks; and 3 medium carrots (about 7 to 8 ounces), peeled and cut in chunks, into your food processor. Process until pretty finely chopped, but not puréed.

Don’t have a food processor? You’ll need to chop by hand.

Next, stir together the following in a mixing bowl:

2 cups (8 ounces) King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour or Premium Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt

Drain the 1/2 cup raisins and add them to the bowl, along with the grated/chopped apple and carrots, plus the following:

1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or the nuts of your choice
1/3 cup sunflower seeds or wheat germ, optional

Beat gently to combine.

Whisk together the following:

3 large eggs
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup orange juice

Add to the flour mixture, and stir until evenly moistened. You’ll have a fairly loose (though chunky) batter.

Divide the batter among the wells of the prepared pan, filling them all the way to the top; a muffin scoop works well here.

You’ll probably have batter left over; that’s OK, we’ll deal with it later.

See how full these are? Not the usual 3/4 full, it’s true, but with this muffin it works.

Bake the muffins for 25 to 28 minutes, until they’re nicely domed and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove them from the oven, let them cool for 5 minutes in their pan, then turn them out onto a rack to finish cooling.

See? They didn’t overflow.

This is a muffin that domes very nicely, even with all that batter in the cup.

Speaking of all that batter, what do you do with the leftover?

Well, hope triumphed over reason for me. I thought, I can just put these paper muffin cups into a bread pan, fill ‘em up, and they’ll kinda support one another as the muffins bake…

They did – just not in the way I’d imagined! Hey, beauty is only crust-deep, right? They still tasted good. But next time, I’d use foil muffin cups, which would indeed hold their shape.

Now THAT’S a muffin with character! Look at all that good stuff…

As I mentioned above, these muffins are nicely moist, perfectly (but not overly) sweet, and don’t really need jam or butter. But maybe a dollop of fig-walnut preserves? I’m there.

Good morning, sunshine!

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Morning Glory Muffins.

Print just the recipe.

“The Baking Sheet” newsletter

A beginner baker in a world full of experts. That’s how I felt starting my first day working for “The Baking Sheet,” our print newsletter, last January. Little did I know I would spend most of my year getting up close and personal with all things cake.

This job has been a chance to combine my writing degree with my love and appreciation for all things baking. Sometimes I can’t help but believe in luck. As luck would have it, I found out Baking Sheet editor Susan Reid was looking for an intern. As luck would have it, she was more interested in writing ability than baking skills. And again, as luck would have it, she’s a skilled instructor. A win-win-win situation.

Susan is finishing the Cinnamon Roll Cake that will be in the upcoming Spring issue.

My first assignment, a premonition of things to come, was to assist in baking cakes for judging. These cakes came from state fair winners from all over the country and the winner of our judging would receive an all-expenses paid trip to King Arthur. A delicious assignment, wouldn’t you agree? This Raspberry Lemon Cake was last years winner.

Another hurdle to jump was recipe writing. Being able to not only bake up something magnificent, but to translate what I did so that someone else can get the same results. Coming from a household baking background, I truly appreciate a well-written recipe that I can follow exactly. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that not all recipes are created equal.

This was our first pass at the George Washington Cake that ran in the Holiday 2012 issue… before!

I think that’s the great thing about The Baking Sheet. Yes, the editor is a first-class baker and can make astounding baked goods practically from memory. But most of our readers are regular people like myself, learning as they go. They’re not shy about pointing out when things in a recipe don’t make sense. It’s a nice balance.

 

May and June were a blur of (you guessed it) cakes, buttercream, and more buttercream. We were in the process of preparing for filming our Cake Essentials DVD. My task was to make sure as much stuff as possible was baked and whipped up in advance, so the shoot would flow smoothly. We’re talking over 30 different types of cakes (in multiples) and vats and vats of buttercream.

Prior to this time, I had never made any frosting but the super-simple American version. I tend to err on the timid side and certainly never would have made this on my own. There’s nothing like whipping up a recipe dozens and dozens (and dozens) of times to really hone one’s buttercream skills. Needless to say, I can basically make this in my sleep now.
http://www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/2011/01/04/the-beautiful-side-of-baking-blissful-buttercream/

I’d have to say the best part was assisting in filming the cheesecake portion of the DVD. Stepping in front of a camera is a huge step for a timid, shy person, but you might as well go big when facing your fears! A terrific perk of my job is unlimited access to all things cream cheese. I looove cream cheese. Anytime you see a recipe in The Baking Sheet with a creamy, dreamy, cheesy focus, know that I was lobbying for it to make the cut. A nice reward for all the hard work was filling my freezer with those delectable cakes after the shoot was over, my favorite being the NY Cheesecake. Yum!

 

Not to say I spent the entire year waist deep in sweet confections (although it certainly felt like it). I was given the opportunity to help out at one of our Traveling Baking Demos, spreading the love for all things baking way down in North Carolina. We decided to skip out on lunch one day and take a leisurely drive up in the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was beautiful.

Once a month since September, I’ve traveled with Susan to New York City to assist her while she teaches seasonally themed baking at the Viking Test Kitchens as well as some segments filmed for Mike Colameco’s TV series.

An almost welcome break from baking occurred when our King Arthur test kitchen was receiving an expansion and renovation. As close as I have become with my fellow bakers as they have passed along to me their almost unlimited knowledge and skill, it was time for some elbow room. It was a nice chance to focus on honing my writing skills and to have some real desk time. As you can see… things were getting pretty crowded.

Walls came down, offices were overthrown, and the test kitchen was almost doubled in size (you’re actually looking at the new section of the kitchen where Sue Gray and Frank Tegethoff are now located). Happiness all around.

 

One of my largest projects was taking all of the Baking Sheet issues, from 1990 through present (we’re talking well over 125), categorizing each individual recipe, and formatting them in a massive index which will be used in our upcoming Baking Sheet app. Overwhelming, yes, but I felt like the luckiest girl to be able to trace King Arthur’s baking evolution from the beginning on. More often than I should admit, I got sucked in by the writing and completely forgot my intended task!

My lessons in the test kitchen weren’t all focusing on baking, either. The Baking Sheet likes to feature savory, meal-like items along with dessert for a more well-rounded feel. We made the Domatokeftedes (Greek Tomato Fritters) in the Summer 2012 issue and these babies have been haunting Susan and I ever since. They are overwhelmingly good paired with the Homemade Roasted Garlic Mayonnaise recipe that it is featured with and for some reason the issue on my desk keeps popping open to that page. If you don’t have this issue, you need to go online and get it!

Looking back, I’d be crazy not to admit that my baking skills have improved by a mile. Practice makes perfect, after all. I’m conquering my fear of long recipes full of ingredients and steps. Anything is possible as long as you’ve read and understood the recipe, and you have all of the ingredients on hand. If you ever have any hesitation, you can always do as I do and get hold of the Baker’s Hotline!

This past year has literally flown right by. I was given more opportunities to grow and learn than I have ever thought possible. It’s kind of funny that my job has come full circle and I was once again given the task of baking up the fair contest cake winners. This time with a much more trained and objective palate.

Appropriately beginning and ending this blog (and past year) with cake, the winner of this year’s fair cake contest is called Masquerade Cake (the yummy rectangular chocolate cake on the right). It will be featured in the Spring issue of The Baking Sheet. True to its name, it’s got a hidden secret ingredient that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy as much as I did. If you aren’t yet a subscriber, please become one and learn along with me! It’s a delicious ride.

English Muffins

Why would you ever choose to make your own English muffins?

Between Wolferman’s, Bays, Thomas’, and even some of the store brands, there are plenty of perfectly good English muffins out there, easy pickings for anyone with a few bucks.

So why make your own?

Well, there’s a secret many of us know; and if you’re in on it, you’re nodding your head right now, saying, “Yeah, that’s exactly why.”

The secret is something simple, really, and not baking-specific. Woodworkers know it. Fly fishermen do, too. Gardeners know it big time.

So what is it?

DIY.

A handy acronym for Do It Yourself.

If you love to bake, you’re always up for a challenge. That crusty raisin-pecan rye from the fancy bread bakery? “I can do that.” Lorna Doone shortbread cookies? “Those, too.”

Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets? Italian Scali bread? Classic whoopie pies?

Done, done, and deliciously done.

So, why make English muffins?

Because, as British climber George Mallory said about Everest, “Because it’s there.”

Once you’ve enjoyed a big, buxom, freshly made English muffin, full of flavor and the signature nooks and crannies this breakfast treat is known for, you won’t want to go back to store-bought. Even quality store-bought.

Because you’ve climbed the mountain and earned the view – which is wonderful.

The following recipe makes 16 large English muffins. If you’re paying $3 to $4 or more for half a dozen top-quality English muffins, you’ll definitely save money making your own.

Place the following into a mixing bowl, or into the pan of your bread machine:

1 3/4 cups lukewarm milk
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 1/2 cups (19 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast

This is going to be a very soft dough, so you’ll need to treat it a bit differently than most yeast doughs. If you have a stand mixer, beat the dough using the flat beater paddle until it starts coming away from the sides of the bowl, and is satin-smooth and shiny; this will take about 5 minutes at medium-high speed. When you lift up the beater, the dough will be very stretchy.

If you have a bread machine, simply use the dough cycle.

Scrape the dough into a rough ball, and cover the bowl. Let the dough rise until it’s nice and puffy…

…like this. It’ll take 1 to 2 hours or so.

Next, prepare your griddle(s).

I’m fortunate to have two large cast iron griddles; each one stretches over two burners on my stove.

To give the muffins their signature crunchy crust, I sprinkled one griddle with semolina, one with farina (e.g., Cream of Wheat). I wanted to see which, if either, became less charred as the muffins cooked. And the answer is – no difference, use either.

Using two griddles allows me to cook all the muffins at once; but most of you probably won’t have two griddles, so you’ll need to cook the muffins in shifts. Whatever you use – an electric griddle, stovetop griddle, frying pan, electric frying pan – sprinkle it heavily with semolina or farina.

If you’re using a griddle or frying pan that’s not well-seasoned (or non-stick), spray with non-stick vegetable oil spray first, before adding the semolina or farina.

Divide the dough into 16 pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth ball, then flatten the balls until they’re about 3″ to 3 1/2″ in diameter.

The easiest way to handle and cook these muffins is to lay them right onto the surface you’ll be frying them on – in my case, the two griddles. That way, you don’t have to move them once they’re risen.

If you can’t do this, sprinkle a baking sheet heavily with semolina or farina, and place the muffins on the sheet; they can be fairly close together.

Either way, sprinkle the tops of the muffins with additional semolina or farina.

Here are my two pans of muffins, already atop their (unlit) burners.

Cover the muffins (a piece of parchment works well), and let them rest for 20 minutes. They won’t rise like crazy, but will puff a bit.

Now comes the somewhat tricky part: cooking.

You need to find the exact amount of heat that’ll cook the muffins all the way through and brown them perfectly – simultaneously.

Cooking the muffins for about 15 minutes per side over VERY low heat worked well for me. But, unless you have two large griddles, this long cooking time may become problematic, as the muffins waiting to cook could over-rise and become fragile.

The solution? Slightly higher heat and a quicker cook on the stove (say, 7 minutes per side), followed by a short bake in the oven.

If you find your muffins are browning too quickly, turn the heat down. If they’re already as brown as you like, but still not cooked through, don’t panic; you’ll be able to finish them off in the oven.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Within a few minutes of when you’ve begun to cook the muffins, they’ll start to puff dramatically.

You want English muffins, not dinner rolls, so weigh them down gently to prevent further rising. A piece of parchment atop the muffins, and a baking sheet atop the parchment, works perfectly for me.

If they run into one another as they rise, simply use a sharp knife to gently cut them apart and separate them.

Bottom left, the muffins after they’ve been flipped over. Bottom right – I flipped them again, and it looks like they’re done.

Let’s see. REALLY nice crust, eh?

As you can see, the farina/semolina burned on the pan, but not on the muffins – score!

Let’s check the inside.

Hmmm, the edges look good, full of nooks and crannies; but the center is a bit doughy.

Into the oven they go – 350°F for about 10 minutes should do it.

You want the muffins’ centers to register right around 200°F on  your digital thermometer.

Let the muffins cool thoroughly before enjoying.

And remember: use a fork to split, not a knife to cut. Fork-split muffins will have wonderful nooks and crannies; knife-cut ones won’t.

Even easier – use an English muffin splitter. If you eat a lot of muffins, you’ll really appreciate this handy tool.

See? Is that one good-looking homemade English muffin, or what?

Move over, Thomas! Just like Jimi Hendrix did with Bob Dylan, we DIY-ers have got you covered.

Read, make, and review (please) our recipe for English Muffins.

Print just the recipe.

Pork and Shrimp Asian Dumplings

She winds up, she sends out her pitch and… SCORE!

No, I  haven’t taken up pitching for the Red Sox; I’m trying to say that I got a new-to-me freezer for my downstairs pantry. Here’s how the play went:

During King Arthur’s recent test kitchen remodel, the old standing freezer was headed to the metal dump unless a good home could be found – and soon. Susan sent me in search of James, and soon he and two others showed up at my desk.

It felt a bit like a late-night meeting of the Sopranos. Plans were made, meeting times arranged, and the guys melted back from whence they had come. Next day, my husband and I whisked the big white box home to our house and I began to fill and fill and fill it.

Two after-Thanksgiving sale turkeys? Check. Big batch of chocolate chip cookie dough? Check.

Mystery author Joanna Fluke has her character label frozen cookie dough “herring” or “lutefisk” to keep prying eyes out. I think I may try that next time.

As soon as a snowy Saturday afternoon hit, I knew it was time to make a batch of Pork and Shrimp Dumplings to add to my freezer stash. Having a stash of dumplings in the freezer is like having gold in the bank. Toss a few into a simple broth, add a few slivers of leftover veggies, and you have an amazing and fulfilling lunch in minutes.

Steam several different flavors and serve with a selection of dipping sauces from mild to palate-numbing, and you have a Friday night movie fest appetizer hit.

Dough for homemade dumplings could not be easier. Just flour and water, and a little time. Fillings are endlessly variable, and once you have the folding method down, you’ll sling out dozens of these little beauties in no time.

Let’s make Pork and Shrimp Asian Dumplings:

Prepare the filling first so the flavors have a chance to blend and marry.

When you choose your pork, look for a little extra fat around the edges. Pork fat in your filling will give it moisture and succulence.

The main flavors of this dumpling filling: pork, shrimp, scallion, garlic, and ginger.

Susan Reid was kind enough to share some of her homemade jarred ginger with me. What a time saver. You can also use our diced or sliced ginger with excellent results. Just avoid powdered ginger, it won’t give you the same depth of flavor.

Here we have:

½ pound boneless pork chops

6 large shrimp, uncooked

2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

3 large scallions (aka green onion)

Pulse in the food processor until you have a thick paste, with some visible chunks of meat. Add 1 tablespoon soy sauce, white pepper, and salt, and pulse to combine.

Cover well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight. Be sure to bring to room temperature before filling your wrappers.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine 9 ounces (2 cps + 2 tablespoons) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour and 6 ounces just-boiling water. Stir well with a wooden spoon or spatula. As soon as you can handle the heat, knead the dough until smooth and pliable, adding very little extra flour to keep from sticking.

Place the warm, soft dough into a plastic bag. Seal well and let stand for 20 to 30 minutes.

When you remove the dough from the bag, it will be smooth, barely warm, soft, and pliable. The best descriptor I’ve seen calls it “earlobe soft.” (Go ahead, squeeze your lobe, no one will look).

Divide the dough into 1″ balls and flatten them with your fingers into little circles. Keep the dough you’re not using under plastic wrap or a towel to keep it from drying out.

Using a short, thin dowel, roll the balls into thin wrappers. Keep the very center of the circle a little thicker, as this will be the bottom of your dumpling and it needs to be a bit stronger. Turn, roll, turn, roll, until the wrapper is about 3″ across.

Once all your wrappers are rolled, fill each with about 2 teaspoons filling. Play with the amount of filling until you have plump dumplings, but not over-stuffed, ripped ones. You’ll get the hang of it after just a few.

Bring the dumpling edges up over the filling. Pinch together well. You can stop here, and the dumplings will hold together during cooking, but not be very pretty. Adding folds to the dumpling edges will keep them sealed very well, and add to the finished look of your pouches of goodness.

Folding a dumpling is like folding a pleat in your hem when you’re nervous. Pinch the dough with the thumb and first finger of both hands. Move one hand up slightly and the other down slightly, almost like tearing a piece of paper in half.

Use your pointer finger (my left finger in the photo) to push a little beak of dough towards your opposite thumb. Pull your finger out and press the fold of dough together.

Repeat the fold and press across from the center to the edge. Turn the dumpling around and repeat from the center to the edge again. Sure, the first few you do will look a little wonky and lopsided, but keep practicing and you’ll get it.

To freeze the dumplings, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the dumplings in rows. They can be close together, but shouldn’t touch. Freeze until quite solid, then remove from the trays and store in zip-top bags or airtight containers for up to 2 months.

To cook the dumplings either fresh or frozen, you can use a veggie steamer, or rig one up in a wide-bottom pan with a good fitting lid. Here I used a 3″ deep pan with a round cake cooling rack in the bottom.

Add 1/2″ water to the bottom of the pot. It shouldn’t touch the bottom of the rack. Add your dumplings and bring the water to a quick boil. Reduce the heat so the water just simmers, and cook your dumplings for 8 to 10 minutes if fresh, up to 13 minutes if frozen. Sacrifice one during the cooking time to ensure the filling is completely cooked and very hot.

Come to Mama!

Serve the dumplings hot with your choice of dipping sauces, or just solo. My friend Ben said he loved the fact that you could bite these dumplings and the filling didn’t fall out like take-out dumplings. The wrapper and the filling stay together, so you can get bite after bite of both.

A dozen dumplings will serve 3 people as appetizers, or two as a main dish, with stir-fried veggies on the side. Store any leftovers (leftovers?) in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Please make, rate, and review our recipe for Pork and Shrimp Asian Dumplings.

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Share your filling and dipping ideas in the comments below. Seriously, my freezer needs a refill, and I need ideas!

Gluten-Free Banana Bread with Coconut and Flax

Got banana bread? I think the question really is: “Who doesn’t have a trusty old recipe up their sleeve?” Like china sets and pieces of fine jewelry, they’re handed down through family generations, but much more often used and appreciated.

I have to admit that I am one of the few that was left without granny’s heirloom banana bread recipe, but I DO have her zucchini bread formula which proved to be a great starting canvas for the gluten-free recipe I’m about to share with you.

And for those of us whose fingers love to help themselves to an online search search now and again, banana bread is the top-most searched BREAD recipe, and within the top 10 of ALL searched recipes online, according to Google Trends.

Can you blame them? Maybe there are more people out there like me who never received a full recipe inheritance. Or maybe it’s just because banana bread is a true crowd pleaser – even for some who don’t care for the tropical fruit itself.

It’s star of the bake sales, beloved loaf of the potluck, and the happy ending hiding in the lunchbox. Beyond winning many popularity contests, banana bread has some important health benefits thanks to its main ingredient – the banana, of course! Whatever fruit is good enough for our primate ancestors is certainly good enough for me!

The lovely yellow fruit is high in potassium, great for muscle-building; vitamin C, an always-welcome immunity boost and infection-fighting warrior; and finally, digestible carbohydrates that will provide an effective source of energy without the risk of weight gain.

Isn’t this so typical? Small, flowing manuscript with uniform letters on an old weathered index card. I think the many different grannies out there all had the same handwriting! If you look closely, you can see the grease spots on the paper, a smudge of cinnamon, and some red ink spots.

I think banana bread or not, we all have a few of these antique, weathered recipe cards stashed away in boxes of accumulated treasures or between pages of old cookbooks, often well-loved and almost illegible.

I polled some of my fellow glutenivore employee-owners to learn a little about where their favorite banana bread recipes came from, and if there was a story behind their tradition.

I was surprised to find that about half of my panel have a go-to right in their favorite modern cookbook, while the other half shared a wide range of recipe origins – everything from great-grandma and childhood friend’s mother, to the acclaimed favorite recipe of Lyndon B. Johnson which, apparently for this person, had been a family and church community favorite.

Let’s have a little chat about bananas. What to do with the old, brown, wilted monkey food in your fruit bowl?  That’s easy! You can freeze bananas for making into bread, muffins, and cake; or adding thickening power to a smoothie.

Bananas can add a lot of liquid to a batter, which is easily seen here in this post-thaw photo.

My four bananas gifted over 1/4 cup of liquid to the cause– easy to measure if you’re using previously frozen fruit.

Of course, sometimes you’ll be pulling them straight out of their skins at room temperature and mashing them with a fork. These contain liquid, too; but until there is a temperature change during the baking, the moisture will not be released.

After some recipe demolition and rebuilding, I found a great way to pack this quick bread full of moisture and banana flavor without using a lot of sugar. I hope you’ll join me to make it here in the King Arthur Flour test kitchen! Have I given you any reason not to?

Preheat your oven to 350°F and begin by measuring the following into a medium-sized mixing bowl:
1 3/4 cup King Arthur Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour

1/4 cup flax meal

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons Cake Enhancer

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Blend the dry ingredients together thoroughly and set them aside for now.

In your mixer’s bowl, combine 3/4 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup vegetable oil until well-blended.

Add 3 large eggs, one at a time, until incorporated.

Add the dry mixture and blend, then the 2 cups of bananas…

…1/2 cup unsweetened coconut and flavorings (1/2 teaspoon vanilla and optional 1/4 teaspoon banana flavor). Stir until blended.

Pour the fragrant batter into a greased 9″ x 5″ loaf pan and bake at 350°F for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 210°F.

Can you make this one into muffins? Absolutely, and please do! Bake at 350°F, but only for 18 to 20 minutes.

Allow the loaf to cool on a rack in the pan for about 10 minutes before turning it out…

…to cool completely BEFORE cutting!

So tempting it is to stray from the law, but worth the wait… I hope!

Butter? Yes!

Nutella? To die for!

Throw a scoop of vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce on top of a slice and get ready for heroism!

Wherever your banana bread recipe came from, I wish you a long future filled with good baking memories. I’m hoping that someday this recipe, too, will have its own special story, and many people who will begin a new tradition by passing it along to their gluten-free loved ones.

Please read, bake, and review our recipe for Gluten-Free Banana Bread with Coconut and Flax.

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Pittsburgh’s Finest Diner Pancakes

This is a story of the 2008 Presidential campaign, a diner in Pittsburgh, Google images, and a profound love of pancakes.

And if that doesn’t pique your interest – you’re just not the foodie I thought you were.

Back in 2008, when then-candidate Barack Obama was hitting the campaign trail hard and making all the requisite “meet and greet” visits – manufacturing plants, senior citizen homes, truck stops – he paid a visit to Pamela’s P&G Diner in Pittsburgh, where he enjoyed the specialty of the house: pancakes.

But these weren’t just any diner pancakes. Pamela’s pancakes have an almost cult-like following among foodies. Described as light and fluffy, but with a crackly-crisp crust around the edges, these pancakes have spawned blogs, attempted clones, and lots and lots of online photos from folks who’ve actually visited the “shrine” to enjoy the pancakes in person.

Including President Obama. While he didn’t pull out his Blackberry and snap a pancake picture to share on his Facebook page, the President did have this comment (courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette): “…’These really were maybe the best pancakes I’ve tasted in a very long time. Get some take-out,’ he directed the reporters. ‘You don’t even need syrup on them. They’ve got [these] crispy edges. Yea, they are really good.’ ”

Diner owners Pam Cohen and Gail Klingensmith were later invited to the White House to cook a Memorial Day pancake breakfast for the President, First Lady, and 80 military veterans – and their culinary star continued to rise.

More buzz online. More Yelp reviews. More Urbanspoon.

And, thankfully for me, lots of Google images.

I’m a pancake apprecianado (sic). Love pancakes; always have. So when Pamela’s pancakes appeared on my radar, I knew I had to clone them.

Unfortunately, the recipe is a closely held secret. This single quote from Pam herself (again, in the Post-Gazette): “…a secret process that included leavening and spices. You let the batter rise and sit for a couple hours, then you beat it down, let it rise again and beat it down” – is all I had to go on.

That, and Google images, which offers many, MANY shot-in-the-diner photos of these famous cakes.

So, between Pam’s quote; the review descriptions on Yelp and Urbanspoon; and the photos on Google, I pieced together a recipe that, if not absolutely true to the original, produces pancakes that are truly excellent: crisp edges; soft, tender centers; and marvelous buttery flavor.

If you’re picky about pancakes, Pamela’s are (apparently) pure bliss. And even if the cakes below don’t match Pamela’s exactly – Pittsburgh readers, let me know what needs to change – these Pamela’s wannabes are pretty darned good.

Click anywhere on this block of pictures to enlarge them to full size – this will work for any of the photos you see in this blog post.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the following:

1 cup lukewarm milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup (3 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
3/8 teaspoon salt (or a heaping 1/4 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

Stir until fairly smooth; a few small lumps can remain.

Tent the bowl lightly with plastic, and allow it to rest at room temperature for 3 hours; it’ll start to bubble just a bit (photo, upper right).

Refrigerate the batter overnight.

Next day, when you’re ready to cook pancakes, stir 1 large egg into the batter.

Heat a 9″ or 10″ skillet over medium heat; or heat a 9″ or 10″ electric skillet to 300°F; or heat a griddle that’s at least 9″ to 10″ wide, and easy to pick up and handle.

Place 1 teaspoon vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon butter into the skillet, swirling them around until the butter melts. Yes, use 1 teaspoon each; this is what will give the pancakes their signature crisp edges.

Pour a scant 1/2 cup batter into the pan, tilting the pan until the batter forms a circle about 8″ in diameter. It’s important that you do this quickly, before the pancake has a chance to set; the thin edges that result from tilting the pan to distribute the batter become wonderfully crispy.

Cook the pancake for about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes, or until its underside is golden brown. Flip it over, and cook about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes more, until golden.

See how the edges are sizzling and becoming crisp?

Transfer the pancake to a plate (or lightly greased baking sheet, if you want to keep the pancake warm in the oven while you cook the remainder). Repeat with the remaining batter; this amount of batter will make 4 large pancakes.

Want to double the recipe? Go for it; double all the ingredients except the yeast, which can remain at 1/2 teaspoon.

“Do I really have to use 2 teaspoons fat for each pancake,” you say?

Here’s what happens when you use the full amount of butter and oil for the first cake, then don’t re-grease the pan for the second.

And here’s what happens with 1/2 teaspoon each butter and oil; not a pretty picture. Or pancake.

I understand the need to cut calories and fat grams, but frankly, this isn’t the place to do it. Accept that these pancakes are an occasional treat, and enjoy them.

Serve the pancakes with syrup; they don’t actually need butter, as they’re already so buttery.

Or, do what they do at Pamela’s: stuff ‘em.

Pamela’s menu options include sour cream, brown sugar, and strawberries (or blueberries); bananas and walnuts, or bananas and chocolate chips. All come topped with whipped cream.

I’ve opted for low-fat vanilla yogurt and strawberries; no whipped cream.

Hey, just because I’m going whole hog with these cakes doesn’t mean I have to go WHOLE hog; discretion is still the better part of caloric valor.

Serve warm. And, unless you’re a Pittsburgh resident and Pamela’s regular, thank the magic of the Internet for introducing you to these pancakes!

Read, make, and review (please) our recipe for Pittsburgh’s Finest Diner Pancakes.

Print just the recipe.

Postscript: Pamela’s “hint” includes the use of spice, but I was uncertain what spice that might be… Cinnamon seems a natural choice, but cinnamon also inhibits yeast, so I was loathe to use it. My fellow baker and former restaurant chef Susan Reid says allspice is a fairly common choice for pancakes… Pamela’s habitués, any clue what the secret spice might be?

Buried Treasure Meringues

It’s estimated Americans will purchase 58 million pounds of chocolate in honor of Valentine’s Day this year.

And close to 200 million roses (the vast majority red) will join those millions of pounds of chocolate in the homes of lucky Valentine gift recipients around the nation.

Chocolate and red roses, the classic pairing.

Or, for the true foodies among you, chocolate and red cherries – an equally unbeatable combination.

Perhaps you’ve made meringues before. This whipped egg white and sugar confection, baked until dry and incredibly crunchy, is the doughty old lady of Candyland – think Cousin Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, during whose era meringues were considered quite elegant.

But if you’ve made meringues in the past, I’ll bet it hasn’t been very recently. They’re just SO simple that, like that mother of all butter cookies, shortbread, they sometimes get lost among their more aggressively flavored peers. Like mocha brownies. Or salty caramel pecan pie.

Then again, maybe you’ve never made meringues. Well, guess what? You’re about to see just how easy it is.

And to realize that meringues, when holding a hidden “treasure” of cherries or chocolate, are a perfect complement to the usual Valentine’s Day flowers and candy.

Preheat the oven to 200°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment (first choice), or lightly grease it.

Click anywhere on this block of pictures to enlarge them to full size – this will work for any of the photos you see in this blog post.

Place the following in a large bowl:

2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
dash of salt

Beat, preferably with a whisk attachment, until soft peaks form. At first the whites will be foamy, with lots of bubbles (upper left); but gradually the bubbles will shrink and the whites will stiffen (upper right).

With the mixer going, sprinkle in 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (4 ounces) granulated sugar, continuing to beat until the meringue is thick and glossy.

When you lift the whisk, the meringue will form a fairly stiff (but not dry) peak.

Pipe a base of meringue onto the prepared baking sheet, using a pastry bag and star tip.

Place a candied cherry, or a couple of chunks of chocolate, atop the base. I like Peter’s Burgundy chunks; to me, their flavor strikes a tasty balance between semisweet and bittersweet chocolate.

Pipe meringue to cover the cherry or chocolate.

If you don’t want to pipe meringues, simply drop by tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheet. A tablespoon cookie scoop works well here.

Place a cherry or chocolate in the center of each meringue; cover or leave exposed, your choice.

Bake the meringues for 1 1/2 hours. They’ll expand VERY slightly, and will lose their wet look, taking on a dry, satiny sheen.

Turn the oven off, and leave them in the turned-off oven until they’re completely cool, 3 hours or more. This is a good cookie to make in the evening; they can be left in the oven (with the heat turned off) overnight

Here are the meringues after 12 hours (overnight) in the turned-off oven. They’re not brown; but their matte finish has a slight sheen, making them quite handsome.

Store airtight at room temperature; don’t refrigerate or freeze. As long as the weather’s dry, they’ll stay nice and crisp fairly indefinitely (within reason).

Final note: What to do with those two leftover egg yolks?

•Add to the dog’s or cat’s food; they’ll be happy. (Note to pet owners worried about high cholesterol, fat, bacterial contamination, or any other possible downside to feeding your pet raw egg yolks: don’t do it.)
•Enjoy at breakfast: add along with whole eggs to a scramble; or pancake, waffle, or French toast batter.
•Add to most any baked good calling for eggs; yolks are high in fat, so they’ll add tenderness to whatever you’re making.

And remember: bookmark this blog for your Valentine’s Day baking!

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Buried Treasure Meringues.

Print just the recipe.

Asiago Bagels

You like dense, chewy bagels, right?

How about bread stuffed and topped with melted cheese?

Ahhhhhhhsiago bagels! Wouldn’t you just love to pop one of these babies in your toaster oven sometime soon?

You can – and it’s easier than you think.

Back in the day, bagels were plain, poppy seed, onion, or sesame seed – with maybe a marble rye thrown in for special occasions.

Today, we have blueberry, chocolate chip, cranberry-walnut, “everything”… as you well know if you’re an habitué of Panera Bread, the now-ubiquitous bakery/sandwich chain that offers all of the aforementioned flavors, and more – including what might be Panera’s most popular bagel, Asiago cheese.

With chunks of Asiago inside and shreds of the cheese on top, this particular bagel is totally cheesy – in the best of ways.

Yes, due diligence forced me to eat a Panera Asiago bagel, and boy, was it good!

As any self-respecting baker would do, I said to myself, “Self, I can make this at home.”

I visited Panera’s Web site to check the ingredients, as I often do when trying to mimic a restaurant recipe. And here’s what I found:

Unbleached enriched wheat flour (flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, Asiago cheese (pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes), bagel base (sugar, salt, malted barley flour, calcium sulfate, calcium carbonate, molasses powder [molasses, wheat starch], yeast, soybean oil, ascorbic acid, enzymes [wheat]), brown sugar, yeast, Asiago cheese (pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes).

If you can get past all the parentheses, it’s really not a bad ingredient list. Still, we can do without the “bagel base” and added enzymes; in fact, I know I can make a wonderfully chewy Asiago cheese bagel, packed with flavor, using just five ingredients: flour, water, salt, yeast, and Asiago cheese.

And if I can do it, so can you. After all, that’s what we at King Arthur Flour are here for – to take you by the hand, and to show you, in detail, how to create something wonderful from simple, pure ingredients.

And to be there for you whenever you have a question – 802-649-3717 is our baker’s hotline number; keep it handy.

Want to make bagels? Let’s do it.

To make the starter: Measure the following ingredients into a medium-sized bowl –

1/2 cup (2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1/4 cup cool water
pinch of instant yeast (about 1/16 teaspoon)

Stir thoroughly, making sure any dry flour in the bottom of the bowl is integrated (photo, upper right).

Cover the bowl, and let the starter rest at room temperature overnight.

Want to use all-purpose instead of bread flour in this recipe? You can do that. Your bagels won’t be as chewy or have that distinctive bagel texture (which comes from bread flour’s higher protein), but they’ll still taste good. Cut the water in the dough (below) back by 2 to 3 tablespoons.

Next day, ready your Asiago cheese. You’ll need 3/4 cup diced Asiago (about 1/2″ chunks are a good size), and 3/4 cup shredded.

I’ve used a vegetable peeler to get these nice, wide shreds. About 7 to 8 ounces of cheese will do it.

To make the dough: Mix together the following in a large bowl (or the bucket of your bread machine) –

all of the starter
4 cups (17 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1 1/4 cups cool water
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
3/4 cup diced Asiago cheese

Knead — by hand, electric mixer, or bread machine — to form a stiff but not dry dough. Since we’re using a high-protein bread flour here, you might notice it takes a bit more effort and time to develop the gluten.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or large (at least 8-cup) measuring cup, cover, and set it aside to rise for 1 hour.

Gently deflate the dough, and let it rise for another 30 minutes.

While the dough is rising, prepare a water bath by heating the following:

5 cups water (approximately)
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon non-diastatic malt powder or brown sugar

Pour the water into a wide-diameter (about 10″) pan; a 10″ electric frying pan works well here. The water should be at least 1″ deep; add more if necessary.

Bring the mixture to a very gentle boil. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the baking soda has dissolved, then turn off the heat.

Gently deflate the risen dough, transfer it to a work surface, and divide it into 12 pieces. A scale makes it easy to divide the dough evenly.

Roll each piece into a smooth, round ball. Cover the balls with plastic wrap, and let them rest for 30 minutes. They’ll puff up very slightly.

Preheat your oven to 425°F. Bring the water in the pan back to a simmer/slow boil.

Use your index finger to poke a hole through the center of each ball, then twirl the dough on your finger to stretch the hole until it’s about 2″ in diameter (the entire bagel will be about 3 1/2″ across).

Place each bagel on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, and repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.

Transfer the bagels, four at a time if possible, to the simmering water. Increase the heat under the pan to bring the water back up to a gently simmering boil, if necessary. Cook the bagels for 2 minutes, flip them over, and cook 1 minute more.

Using a skimmer or strainer, or the end of a wooden spoon, remove the bagels from the water and place them back on the baking sheet. Top each wet bagel with some of the shredded cheese. Repeat with the remaining bagels.

Bake the bagels for about 25 minutes, or until they’re as deep brown as you like.

Notice the bagels on the bottom rack don’t yet have their cheese topping; I was experimenting to see if it was better to add the cheese right at the beginning, or midway through the bake. Cheese at the beginning won, producing a nicer-looking bagel.

Remove the bagels from the oven, and cool completely on a rack.

So, here’s the final result: our Asiago bagels on the left, Panera’s on the right.

Panera’s is fatter, with a smaller hole in the center; if that’s the look you like, simply let your bagels rise for awhile after you’ve poked their holes, rather than simmering them right away.

One caveat: don’t let them rise too much; they’ll become fragile, and might deflate during boiling.

As for the interior – I prefer ours. Those nooks and crannies, just as with English muffins, are awesome for holding melted butter or soft cream cheese…

… or smoked salmon, or capers and chopped onion, or… what’s your pleasure?

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Asiago bagels.

Print just the recipe.

Cheeseburger Pizza

Two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun.

Make that on a light/tender/crunchy sesame seed pizza crust.

Eschew the drive-through? Here’s how.

I’ve always liked McDonald’s. THERE – I SAID IT. Hey, if Julia Child thought Mickey D’s french fries were to die for, who am I to disagree?

When I was young, there wasn’t a McDonald’s in every town. Or even every other town. I remember us kids piling into the car, and Mom and Dad driving quite a way to the only McD’s within non-whining distance: i.e., the amount of time we could all sit in the back seat together without fighting over both seat- and air-space. (What, you never accused your sister of breathing your air? I did.)

Once there, we had no trouble deciding what to order. Not because we’d already identified favorites; there just wasn’t much choice.

Hamburger or cheeseburger? Fries, or no fries? Chocolate shake, or strawberry? Done, done, and done.

But oh, what bliss to unwrap the warm burgers from their paper. To lick fingers salty from fries, and noisily suck the last drops of thick milkshake through a straw.

As the years went by and I discovered bread-baking, I began to feel faintly disappointed with McD’s burger buns; and nowhere was their insufficiency as evident as in the Big Mac.

Despite their attempt at gourmet with the addition of sesame seeds, there just wasn’t much to these buns – flavor, or texture. They were kind of an afterthought, a definite second fiddle to the virtuoso contents they held: the warm burger; mild, milky American cheese; the almost-soft onions and barely warm lettuce – and oh, that “special sauce”!

[Note to my dear readers who never liked Big Macs – you can stop reading right now. This post isn't for you.]

I pondered making my own Big Mac on a homemade bun. But the triple-decker thing seemed like an architectural disaster in the making.

Then I thought, flatter, more secure… let’s layer those toppings on something that’ll hold them without the need for toothpicks or other buttressing agents.

Eureka! Pizza, of course. I chose one of my favorite softer, more bun-like crusts (the one from New Year’s Eve Pizza), then simply mimicked Big Mac’s fillings, layering them on the parbaked crust in stages, so each ingredient would be the perfect degree of cooked-and-warm when the whole shebang was done.

And you know what? I think I succeeded.

Take a bite of this pizza, and be transported back to 1967, when the Big Mac made its debut (at 49¢) – and quickly became, for many, the sine qua non of fast-food burgers.

Ah, one of my favorite pizza ingredients: Pizza Dough Flavor, a garlic/cheese combo that somehow manages to make any dough taste like pizza from the neighborhood takeout joint – in a GOOD way. Give it a try; you’ll find it quickly becomes a pizza must-have.

Click anywhere on this block of pictures to enlarge them to full size – this will work for any of the photos you see in this blog post.

To make the crust: Combine the following ingredients in a mixing bowl, or the bucket of your bread machine set on the dough cycle –

3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
4 teaspoons Pizza Dough Flavor, optional but delicious
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons to 1 cup + 2 tablespoons (7 to 9 ounces) lukewarm water*

*Use the lesser amount in summer (or in a humid environment), the greater amount in winter (or in a dry climate), and somewhere in between the rest of the year, or if your house is climate controlled.

Mix until the dough is cohesive; then knead to make a smooth, soft dough.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or large 8-cup measure (or leave it in the bread machine), and let it rise until it’s very puffy, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

While the dough is rising, ready your toppings. Let’s start with the special sauce.

The ingredients (though not their specific amounts) to this sauce were revealed last summer by Chef Dan Coudreaut, executive chef of McDonald’s Canada. Coudreaut posted a YouTube video on how to build a Big Mac, and it’s garnered nearly 2.5 million views; check it out.

After fiddling around with amounts, here’s what I came up with for the sauce:

1 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup green pickle relish
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika; substitute smoked or hot paprika, if desired, your choice

Whisk everything together; refrigerate until ready to top the pizza.

BTW, any leftover makes yummy salad dressing.

The remaining toppings are as follows:

1 pound ground beef seasoned with 1 teaspoon salt, cooked and drained
1 medium-large onion, peeled and diced
hamburger dill pickle slices
12 slices yellow American cheese
shredded lettuce

You can ready any or all of these ahead of time.

As far as the pickles and lettuce, the amount of both is up to you; I didn’t bother to measure exactly how much I used.

OK, back to the pizza dough.

Spray a large rimmed baking sheet (a 13″ x 18″ half sheet pan is perfect) with non-stick vegetable oil spray.

Sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoons sesame seeds into the pan, if desired; they’re there to mimic the burger’s sesame seed bun.

Gently deflate the risen dough, and stretch it into an oval in your hands. Plop the oval onto the baking sheet, and press it towards the edges. When it starts to fight back, walk away for 15 minutes. When you return, you should be able to press it to the edges and nearly into the corners. If you can’t, give it another short rest, and try again. You want the dough to cover as much of the pan’s bottom as possible (without making yourself too crazy about it). Cover the dough, and let it rise until puffy, about 90 minutes.

While the dough is rising, prepare the toppings. Fry the ground beef until brown; drain off the fat. Dice the onions, and shred the lettuce.

Towards the end of the dough’s rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.

Bake the crust on a lower oven rack for 10 minutes, or until it’s a light golden brown.

Make sure your toppings are ready to go…

Top the crust with the diced onion, then the ground beef.

Return the pizza to the oven, and bake for 10 minutes.

Remove the pizza from the oven, and top with the pickle slices, then the sliced cheese. Return it to the oven, and bake for 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the edges of the crust are brown.

Remove the pizza from the oven, and spread with the sauce. Finally, sprinkle with the shredded lettuce.

Serve immediately.

Once more, with feeling: “Two all-beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun…”

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Cheeseburger Pizza.

Print just the recipe.

Oh, and since the economy has been on everyone’s mind lately, here’s a point of interest from McDonald’s Big Mac fact sheet:

The Economist magazine uses McDonald’s Big Mac prices across the globe as a light-hearted guide to whether currencies around the world are at their ‘correct’ level. According to the publication, The Economist‘s Big Mac index is arguably the world’s most accurate financial indicator to be based on a fast-food item.”

Ah, for the days of nickel chocolate bars and 49¢ Big Macs…

Vanilla Rice Pudding

A few years ago, I wrote a blog about bread pudding and how until I had my first bowlful, I wanted nothing to do with it. For a long time, I felt the same way about rice pudding, Rice to me belonged in stir-fry, not in dessert. And then a wacky twist of fate brought my new love and I together.

This past spring I ended up having a surprise surgery that left it very difficult for me to swallow solid foods for awhile. While recuperating on the couch, I delved heavily into the world of soft, squishy foods provided by friends and family. My favorite way to start the day became chocolate pudding and mashed potatoes became a luncheon mainstay.

At one point for variety we bought some tapioca pudding, and that proved to be quite delish. But I still had never had rice pudding. Something in the back of my mind always prevented me from picking up a container, or breaking out the saucepan.

Fast forward to a few months ago when Baking Sheet editor Susan Reid and I were chatting in the test kitchen. She was extolling the virtues of a good dish of warm rice pudding for curing the blues. I confessed to never having tried it, and vowed to give it a go. Ah Fate, you finally played a card on my side of the table. Simply put, rice pudding is da bomb.

I tried out a few different versions, and while all were quite yummy, I really like the plain vanilla versions best. I also like cooking the rice right in the cream/milk instead of using pre-cooked rice.

The thing that I think really makes this particular rice pudding recipe special is the vanilla itself. Our King Arthur Flour exclusive blend has a truly perfect combination of Madagascar and Tahitian vanillas. Pure, rich, and intensely vanilla, it is the only one I use now both at home and in the test kitchen.

Join me, and we’ll make this outstanding Vanilla Rice Pudding.

Place the milk, 3/4 cup cream, sugar, rice, and King Arthur Pure Vanilla Extract in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat.

Yes, the rice is raw at this point. This particular rice pudding is cooked more like a risotto; the rice absorbing the cream and sugar during the cooking process.

Continue to cook over medium heat as the mixture simmers and bubbles gently. No boiling! This would cause the cream to curdle.

The rice will start to absorb the liquid. It will grow and become more transparent, while the liquid will begin to thicken from the rice starch.

Bubble, bubble, bubble, stir, stir, stir. Around the 30 minute mark, you’ll want to begin tasting the rice to see if it is done yet. You want a firm grain, not soggy and mushy, but also no crunch.

When the rice seems nearly done, add the remaining 1/4 cup of cream and the Vanilla Bean Paste. Adding more vanilla late in the cooking time will keep it from cooking out too much, giving you the best vanilla flavor, plus the flecks of actual vanilla bean.

There! Lovely transparent grains of rice and a creamy sauce of vanilla. Right now, I can’t think of anything more soothing and lovely, except maybe a beautiful mermaid stroking your hair as she sings you off to sleep.

The pudding can be served warm or cold. I like to have a little dish while it is still warm, and then chill the rest to enjoy like ice cream. I can’t begin to tell you how fragrant this little dish of pudding is. The vanilla is at once exotic and familiar, enticing and comforting. I think I’ll grab my spoon and dig right in to the best of both worlds.

Please make, rate and review our recipe for Vanilla Rice Pudding

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Treat yourself to a bottle of amazing vanilla.

Gingerbread House Decorating Contest

A quintessential sign of the holidays, resplendent of sugar and spice and everything nice: gingerbread houses.

As bakers, we’ve been in love with gingerbread houses for years. We’ve written blogs, sponsored a local gingerbread house show, and of course taught gingerbread house classes to generations. What would our next step be?

This year we decided to host a gingerbread house contest and frankly, my dear, we were stunned by the beauty, creativity, humor, and sheer talent of the entries. We ooohed, we aaaahed, we aaawwed, and we sat silent, just trying to take it all in. Thank you, sincerely thank you to everyone who entered; this was an incredible event of which to be a part.

Contest judges included King Arthur employee-owners Wilhelm Wanders, a member of our King Arthur Flour Bakery team (and 9th generation German pastry chef); Brook Stewart (center), visual merchandiser on our product development team and designer of many of our cookie cutters; and MaryJane Robbins (right), blogger and cookie decorator extraordinaire.

And what a job we all had! But finally, after much deliberation, we identified the following contest winners, pictured below. Each category winner will receive a $50 gift card; a King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion cookbook; and a personalized cookie from the King Arthur Flour Bakery. Honorable mention winners receive a $20 King Arthur Flour gift card.

For each of our five categories, we chose one overall winner and three other entries for honorable mention. In this case, honorable mention really meant to us that we were honoring the incredible hard work, dedication, and talent of the artist, and we are honored to share their work with others.

Without further ado, we are pleased to present our winners.

STANDOUT EXECUTION – FIRST PLACE:

Bayside Cemetery Gatehouse as Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.  Artist: Rebecca W.

Rebecca’s architectural background is evident in this edible work of art. The free-standing dragon with piping details kept us coming back for more as we discovered new details each time we looked.

HONORABLE MENTION: Gingerbread Village.  Artist: Carrie T.

We were enchanted with the detail of the houses, and who could resist the teeny tiny cakes and breads? A “pecan” coated carrot cake? Swoon!

HONORABLE MENTION: Christmas Covered Bridge. Artist: Katrina M.

A winter wonderland with a  touch of New England charm. Just lovely.

HONORABLE MENTION:  Cuckoo for Christmas.  Artist: Barb A.

Barb’s submissions were truly incredible. We felt this timeless gingerbread structure was just delightful!

MOST CREATIVE – WINNER:

The Great Gluten-Free Gingerbread Barn Breakout!  Artist: Cathy R.

Yes, gluten-free fans, this whole gingerbread scene from structure to reindeer to trees is gluten free.  Those naughty GF reindeer were in the gardens, popping out of haystacks, and even swimming in an edible pond. Bravo, Cathy, for your humorous details; you had us in stitches.

HONORABLE MENTION:  A Roman Villa: A gingerbread toga party.  Artist: Jill A.

These wacky toga-clad gingerbread folks really know how to throw a bash in their gingerbread villa, complete with pool. Party on, little dudes!

HONORABLE MENTION: Rapunzel’s Christmas Tower. Artist: Noreen K.

When a princess’ hair can flow down three stories of a handmade gingerbread tower, call us impressed.

HONORABLE MENTION: Kringle’s Christmas Store.  Artist: Susan L.

Our German-born judge, Chef Wilhelm, really loved the truck in this entry. In Germany, the Coca Cola trucks really do get decorated with colored lights for the holiday season, and are quite a sight to behold.

KIDS 10 AND UNDER – WINNER:  The Great Wall of China; my dream of the place I most want to visit. Artist Emi H.

What can we say, Emi? The pictures of you creating this masterpiece (including your bag of KAF flour) and your ambition really made our day. Now, are those trees made of broccoli? Great idea!

HONORABLE MENTION: Lighthouse. Artists: Anna and Jacob B.

Keep smiling, guys, we think you’ve got a great future in the kitchen!


HONORABLE MENTION:  The Christmas Cottage. Artist: Maggie Colleen C.

The bright border and fun patterned roof really caught our attention. Well done, Maggie!

HONORABLE MENTION: Colonial Conservation. Artist: Nicholas K.

How do you update a Colonial-style gingerbread house? If you’re our earth-friendly fan Nick, you add insulation and cookie solar panels to your house. Sweeet!

LANDMARK WINNER: St. Albans (VT) City Hall. Artist: Yvonne E.

Each time we looked, the brickwork and details just popped on this historic hall. MJ and Brook were especially impressed with the turrets and recessed doorway.

HONORABLE MENTION: The Nubble Lighthouse.  Artist: Cheryl B.

Contest judge and fan of York, ME, MaryJane recognized this lighthouse right off the bat from childhood vacations by the sea. We were also impressed with the attention to scale; it’s spot on.

HONORABLE MENTION: The Halfway House. Artist: Sydney H.

Mullioned windows and five chimney pots, plus razor-straight siding make for one outstanding structure. Kudos, Sydney, we were enchanted.

HONORABLE MENTION: Heirloom Café and Fresh Market in Athens, GA.  Artists: Teri M-T and Caroline K.

What do the pastry chef and her assistant from this café do in their spare time? Why, they create an edible version of their workplace!

FUN/HUMOROUS – WINNER: The Griswolds. Artist: Diane F.

It was hard to choose winners in this category, we were laughing so much. We were amazed at the humor the entrants conveyed with simple foodstuffs.

Diane’s lightbulb-covered house and other details from the famous movie got us right in the funny bone.

HONORABLE MENTION: Santa Forgot His Toys. Artist: Jennifer H.

Poor Mrs. Claus and her elf try to catch Santa before it’s too late! Ah, haven’t we all been there?

HONORABLE MENTION: Frosty the Snowman Village. Artist: Lorrie B.

Lorrie, how’d you like to make a life-sized version? We want to play, too!

HONORABLE MENTION: North Pole Fire Academy. Artist: Kathleen C.

Is it safety first, or funny first? Either way, we were in love from the start. Pole-sliding practice at the North Pole? Har, har, har!

JUDGE’S PICK: Chef Wilhelm

Gingerbread “Goodies Bakery.” Artist: Anna S.

“Warm” and “comforting” were words Wilhelm used to describe this entry. It made us all think of the classic gingerbread house; we’re so pleased Anna honored us with this entry.

JUDGE’S PICK: KA blogger MaryJane.

Festival of Trees. Artist Kathy B.

Crisp piping, tiny details, and a flock of festive trees caught MJ’s attention from the start. “Thanks for making me smile over and over again, Kathy!” says MJ.

JUDGE’S PICK: Creative guru Brook.

97th and Lex Gingerbread 2012. Artist: Laurie G.

World-traveler Brook was enchanted with this slice of urban greatness in the midst of country cottages. Great brickwork and the glow in the windows really sang out.

MOST PINNED ON PINTEREST: The Gingerbread Snowglobe. Artist: Michelle M.

Amazing detail and dramatic presentation, this proved to be a true crowd pleaser. Wonderful work, Michelle!

Thank you, one and all, for participating in this enjoyable contest. We hope you all had as much fun making these houses as we did seeing the photos!

Whole Wheat Baguettes

Un baguette integrale?

Mais non – c’est incroyable!

Such might be the reaction of any self-respecting Parisian, who’d no doubt scoff at a whole-wheat version of France’s beloved baguette.

But as a new year dawns, and you vow – AGAIN – to eat healthier, get a little sauvage et fou: try this baguette.

I mean, if Panera can pull it off, why not you?

Click anywhere on this block of pictures to enlarge them to full size – this will work for any of the photos you see in this blog post.

Since a baguette is nothing more than flour, water, salt, and yeast, the two ingredients that will do more to ensure your whole-grain baguette success than any other are whole wheat flour, and bread flour.

I happen to love our white whole wheat flour, a lighter-colored, milder-flavored 100% whole wheat. I especially like the organic version for bread; it seems to provide extra oomph in the rise.

In order to get anything approaching the light texture and large holes of a classic baguette, we’re going to combine our whole wheat flour with some unbleached bread flour, whose extra gluten will help the loaves rise.

If you don’t have bread flour, and don’t want to add another flour to your pantry, substitute unbleached all-purpose flour. You’ll want to reduce the water by 1 to 2 tablespoons, to account for all-purpose flour’s lower protein level.

OK, let’s get started – with a starter.

Mix the following ingredients in a small (2- to 3-cup) bowl:

1 cup (4 ounces) King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour or Premium Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 cup cool water
pinch (about 1/16 teaspoon) instant yeast

Cover the bowl, and let the starter rest overnight at room temperature.

If your house is very cold at night, try to find the starter a somewhat cozy place to rest. You don’t want it really warm, but about 65°F-70°F will keep it happy. Near (not on) the wood stove or another heat source, or atop the water heater, would be good choices.

Next day, you’ll see that the starter has expanded and become bubbly. In a large mixing bowl or the bucket of your bread machine, combine this risen starter with the following ingredients:

3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons lukewarm water
1/4 cup room-temperature orange juice*
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour or Premium Whole Wheat Flour
2 1/4 cups (10 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

*Orange juice tempers the flavor of whole wheat, without adding any orange flavor of its own; substitute water, if desired.

Mix and knead — by hand, mixer, or bread machine set on the dough cycle — to make a dough that’s cohesive, but whose surface may still be a tiny bit rough. If you’re using a bread machine, cancel the machine after about 7 minutes of kneading.

Cover the dough, and let it rise for 3 to 4 hours, gently deflating it and turning it over once each hour; this helps oxygenate the dough (for the sake of the yeast), and redistributes the yeast.

You’ll find this dough isn’t an exuberant riser; whole wheat’s sharp bran particles shred gluten, which means the dough is constantly releasing a bit of its CO2, like a tire with a slow leak.

Also, you may have noticed we’re not using a whole lot of yeast. Why not? Because we’re giving this bread a couple of long, slow, cool rises, to increase its rich flavor; and slow, cool rises prefer less (rather than more) yeast.

Note the bottom two pictures in the series above; the one on the left is the dough before its first rise, while the shot on the right is that same dough, 2 hours later (with a deflation at 1 hour). See what I mean? Though you can see that it’s expanded a bit, it’s not exactly filling the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased or floured work surface, and divide it into three pieces.

Shape each piece into a rough, slightly flattened oval, cover with greased plastic wrap or the cover of your choice, and let rest for 15 minutes.

Working with one piece of dough at a time, fold the dough in half lengthwise, and seal the edges, as pictured. Flatten the dough slightly, and fold and seal again.

With the seam side down, gently roll the dough into a 16″ to 17″ log.

Now, you can leave your baguettes plain and simple, but I happen to love the nutty flavor of seeded bread. This seed mixture isn’t something we sell here at King Arthur, nor is it mentioned in the recipe for these whole wheat baguettes. But since you’re inquisitive enough to be reading this blog, here’s a formula for a tasty bread topping, courtesy of Modern Baking magazine.

Mix the following:

2 ½ ounces brown flax seeds
2 ½ ounces golden flax seeds
2 ½ ounces sunflower seeds
2 ½ ounces sesame seeds
2 ½ ounces pumpkin seeds
1 ounce poppy seeds
1 ounce coarse yellow cornmeal or semolina
1 ounce wheat germ

If you don’t have a scale, simply mix equal parts, by volume, of the first five seeds; and about half as much of each of the final three ingredients. Store in an airtight container, preferably in the refrigerator.

I only had golden flax seeds, so used 5 ounces of them, instead of 2 1/2 ounces each brown and golden.

Want to make up your own mixture? Go for it! I’m thinking some fennel seeds would be a nice addition next time…

To add seeds, spritz the loaf with warm water, and sprinkle heavily with seeds. For complete coverage, top and bottom, sprinkle some seeds on your work surface, and roll the baguette back and forth through the seeds.

Lightly grease (or line with parchment) a large (13″ x 18″) baking sheet. Place the shaped baguette on the prepared baking sheet.

Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough, spacing them evenly lengthwise on the pan.

Cover the loaves with heavily greased plastic wrap, tenting it over them gently. Allow them to rest for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes gently remove the plastic wrap, grease it again, and re-cover the loaves. Again, drape the plastic gently; you don’t want to anchor it to the sides of the pan.

Refrigerate the loaves overnight.

Next day, let the loaves rest at room temperature, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours. Towards the end of their rising time, preheat your oven to 425°F.

Notice the loaves have indeed risen a bit (top picture), though again, the rise is nothing like that you’d get with a standard white-flour baguette.

Uncover the loaves. Spritz them with warm water, and make 3 or 4 diagonal slashes in each.

This slashing guides how and where the baguettes will expand as they bake, and will help them attain an even, regular shape; but if you’re afraid of slashing, that’s OK.

Also, if you do slash, the loaves may start to deflate alarmingly; they’ll be fine if you get them into the oven ASAP, so don’t dawdle.

Place the pan on a middle oven rack, and bake the baguettes for 18 minutes. Notice how the loaf in front was sagging (from its slashing) going into the oven; but within 15 minutes or so, it was standing tall again.

Tent lightly with foil, and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until they’re a deep, golden brown, and their sides and bottom are hard/crisp, not soft/spongy.

Remove the baguettes from the oven. Turn the oven off, crack it open a couple of inches, and place the baguettes on the oven rack (without the pan) to cool; this will increase their crisp crustiness.

Pretty nice texture, eh? And the flavor, thanks to those long, cool rises, is good, too.

AWESOME holes! (Or, as our bakers would say, “nice crumb.”)

Serve baguettes the same day they’re made, if possible. If not, store loosely wrapped (not sealed) in plastic; just before serving, heat in a preheated 350°F oven, tented with foil, until warmed through, about 10 minutes.

Question: Can you freeze the dough?

Well, for greatest stability and best results, I’d rather parbake any loaf you don’t want to enjoy immediately, then freeze. Simply bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the bread is completely set, but not totally browned. Remove from the oven, cool completely, wrap airtight, and freeze.

When you want to serve the bread, thaw it in the fridge overnight, still wrapped; then bake in a 425°F oven until it’s a deep-dark brown.

Any other questions? Call our baker’s hotline, 802-649-3717.

Please read, bake, and review our recipe for Whole Wheat Baguettes.

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Sunflower Pizza Crust

It’s hard to believe 2013 is already here.

New years always come with question after question, if you ask me. Little questions, like “Where did the time go? ” and “Where exactly did I put that gift card?”

The new year brings much bigger questions, too. I know I’ll be asking…

Questions about the future: “What do you mean I have an 18-year-old now?!” “Have you done that college application yet?”

Questions about everyday life: “Gas costs HOW much?!”

Questions to my husband: “Hey there, what’s for dinner?”

Questions for my boss: “Sooo, about that extra day off…? ”

Questions for my best friend: “Does this make me look unique?”

Even questions for strangers in the parking lot: ” Would you like me to return that cart for you?”

My days are gearing up to be filled with questions.

I’m also not being facetious, I’ll be asking much deeper questions, too. Questions about our health, our well being, and our peace of mind will be high on the list.

Working for a company that revolves around food, we answer questions every day that relate to the how, where, when, and what of food production. Does it contain this? Why is that added? When was it made? How long will it last?

Here at King Arthur Flour we pride ourselves on being the largest educator of home bakers in the world, and every recipe, every blog, every email and catalogue strives to be packed full of information that’s helpful to you, and gives you information to make educated decisions on your choices for purchasing ingredients and goods from us.

Of course we all know there’s only so much room in any one space, so what happens when you don’t see an answer to your question?

First, we hope you’ll give us a call, or send us an email. Your question is important to us, and it’s treated with the care it deserves. Our customer care staff has incredible knowledge of our products, access to samples, and practical knowledge galore.

Many of you are familiar with our Baker’s Hotline too. We have a collective 260+ years of baking experience, and we’re always happy to talk baking. Our resume reads like a famous Christmas carol…4 sourdough bakers, 3 class instructors, 2 pastry chefs…. believe me, we know baking!

If we don’t have the answer at our fingertips, we have an excellent relationship with our merchandising and purchasing teams, who in turn have excellent relationships with our vendors. Questions about where it’s made and what it’s made from get quick and reliable responses every day. Bigger questions about allergens, processes, and certifications can be researched and recorded as well.

Have you ever wondered if we have secret formulas?  Just like the Colonel and the guys at Coke, everyone has to have professional secrets. Even I don’t know the recipe for the chocolate fudge frosting mix. BUT any time we can share, we will. That’s our mission; that’s how King Arthur Flour works.

So, in this new year, please know that we’re here for you. We want you to ask, we want you to know and, above all, we want you to bake.

I’ve already answered my question about what’s for dinner. How about a curry pizza made with Sunflower Pizza Crust?

Place 1/3 cup roasted unsalted sunflower seeds in your food processor.

Grind until you have a coarse meal. Take care not to grind as far as nut butter, though; you still want some crunchy bits left.

In the pan of your bread machine or mixing bowl combine:

3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All -Purpose Flour
1 cup (4 ounces) King Arthur Self-Rising Flour
2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon salt
1 3/4 cups water
1/3 cup sunflower seeds, measured then ground
3 tablespoons olive oil

Yes, you read that right. Self-rising flour will have a lower protein level and a touch of baking powder to give this crust a light, fluffy texture with a very open crumb.

If you don’t have self-rising flour, use all-purpose in its place, and add 1 teaspoon baking powder to the recipe.

Set the machine on basic dough, or knead in your mixer on low speed for about 5 minutes.

Holy rubber band, Batman, check out that stretch! NICE gluten development.

Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil into a half sheet pan with a lip, or two smaller round pans, about 12“.

Because this dough has such great stretch, you’ll need to spread it out to the corners of the pan in stages. Stretch the dough out. When it begins to shrink back, walk away and leave it for about 5 to 8 minutes. Repeat the stretching and resting until the dough nearly fills the pan.

As you can see, you don’t need to worry about the corners. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for 20 to 30 minutes.

Check out the great bubble action under the top of the crust. Can you see the sunflower seed flecks, too? They’re just waiting to give off bursts of whole-grainy goodness in every bite.

For this particular pizza, we used bottled yellow curry sauce instead of tomato sauce, tiny cooked shrimp, sautéed red pepper strips, feta cheese, and fresh basil. The nuttiness of the seeds was excellent with the more exotic toppings. It would also be excellent with a white garlic pizza, or as a focaccia topped with olives and more seeds.

Can you spot the food mistake in the photo above?

That’s right. If you put fresh basil on a pizza BEFORE baking, it will darken and blacken in the heat of the oven. Luckily, I realized this and pulled the basil off before baking.

Bake the pizza for about 20 to 30 minutes in a preheated 400°F oven. The feta cheese won’t melt and spread like mozzarella, so check the chunks of cheese for browning.

Toss the fresh torn basil on top. This is one of the more fragrant pizzas you’ll ever bake, heady with curry and basil. Serve and dig in while it’s still hot. This curry version paired beautifully with ice-cold light beer, like an IPA.

I doubt anyone will question your mad kitchen skills when you serve this pizza. Before we part, though, I’d like to share some of the common questions from 2012 – and where you can find their answers.

Do you carry gluten-free products? You bet we do! Check out our gluten free pages!

How old is your company, anyway? King Arthur Flour has a long, long history. Read all about our past.

Are your flours GMO? Wow, this was a huge topic this past year. See our GMO statement online.

Hire me, hire me, hire me! While technically not a question, check out the latest job postings.

Aaaarrrgggh! I can’t find the answer to my question! Dang, sorry we missed that one. Call us at 1-800-827-6836 and ask. We’ll do all we can to help you find the answer.

Prefer email? Contact  customercare@kingarthurflour.com with your product questions, or email me and our team of bakers your baking question at bakers@kingarthurflour.com.

Thanks for spending part of your day, week, month, and new year with us. Happy baking in 2013!

Please bake, rate, and review our recipe for Sunflower Pizza Crust.

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