January Book Review: The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion

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By Sarah Strauss

True confessions for the New Year – I am a baked goods junkie. I prefer to choose baked goods over fruit, over candy, over even ice cream. It’s a hard cold world out there, and I feel bolstered and encouraged by a little something-something on a regular basis. Even the bliss of a simple slice of bread and butter will suffice in a pinch.

Specifically, I have had a long love affair with King Arthur Flour, that familiar red and white bag, filled with such promise and optimism. I love that it is made in Vermont. When it appears from the cupboard to sit proudly on our counter, my family starts to orbit around the kitchen, “What are we making, Mom?” or “So, honey, whatcha up to?”

The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion, while packed with recipes, also includes a section on how to measure flour correctly, a table of measurement conversion, a section on high altitude baking, and a nearly 100 page section on other ingredients and tools. I find myself using this volume as an encyclopedia or reference manual as much as I do a collection of recipes. A true companion, indeed.

My husband dared me to make the Classic Puff Pastry from scratch some time ago, with success thanks to the informative descriptions and illustrations. The section on sourdough bread is also well frequented in our book, with a basic education in the creation, care and feeding of a starter preceding the recipes. After that, the Cookies and Bars section, particularly the Meringues recipe, which actually doesn’t contain any flour, surprisingly. I thought that I knew this book well enough that we wouldn’t have too many new surprises from it. Not so, not so.

I soon discovered the section on Breakfast, and was delighted by the variety of pancakes, waffles, crepes, in particular the Classic Buttermilk Waffles, soon to become a standby in our house.

The Quick Bread section serves up muffins, scones and biscuits, including the Herbed Cream Cheese Biscuits, which we served along with some sausage gravy one brunch and spent much of the day recovering from the delight.

In the Yeast Breads there are Beautiful Burger Buns, Soft Dinner Rolls and Challah so good and reliable that you may find yourself choosing to make your own rather than buy them from the bakery. I also love the Sandwich Rye Bread, which asks for a hit of dill pickle juice to get that deli style tang.

The Cake and Pies sections are well endowed with delicious recipes, including the classics like a Dark Chocolate Cream Pie, and a luscious Pumpkin Cheesecake, as well as a selection of savory pies and quiches. We enjoyed the Church Supper Chicken Pie and the Tourtiere very much this holiday season.

Our copy of this cookbook is loved, battered and worn. The spine has become a little weakened and warrants repair, but the book falls open naturally and reliably to our favorite recipes, with all the little smudges and stains in the margins. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves again!

“The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion” by King Arthur Flour. Color Photographs by H/O Photographers, Inc. Instructional Illustrations by Laura Hartman Maestro. Published by The Countryman Press, 2003. 620 pages.

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