King Arthur’s All-Purpose Baker’s Companion is like having a master baker at your side

Left: Book cover; Right: Gruyère-Stuffed Crusty Loaves
Left: Book cover; Right: Gruyère-Stuffed Crusty Loaves
Image: The Countryman Press, Photo: Liz Neily

I got a digital copy of The King Arthur Baking Company’s All-Purpose Baker’s Companion a few weeks ago, right at the start of a vicious cold snap and series of blizzards. King Arthur is a favorite among Takeout staff and readers, and so I immediately downloaded the PDF onto my laptop, went into the kitchen, and got to work. I made white bread. I made pancakes (both Simply Perfect and Zephyr). I made Doughnut Muffins and Bran Muffins. I made challah. I made lemon shortbread. I made scones. Everything except the challah was delicious. Finally I took a deep breath, faced up my fear of laminated dough (which I’d never made on my own before), and made croissants de boulanger, distinguished from croissants de pâtissier because they contain yeast. “The following recipes aren’t exactly dauntless,” the book informed me at the top of the pastry chapter, “but neither are they too daunting: If you’re a dedicated bread baker, you’ll thoroughly enjoy the long (although not particularly difficult) process.”

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Hmmph, I thought. The last time I’d been a party to laminated dough, a professional baker had made the butter block for me by whacking at a brick of butter. After she made the first few folds, I took over, and immediately some butter leaked out. The King Arthur recipe suggested I create a block by mixing the butter with some flour in a food processor. It didn’t look like anything I’d ever seen on one of the baking shows, but you know what? It worked. By the end of the day I had croissants!

The book is full of advice about the ins and outs of baking, from gathering ingredients and equipment to final assembly, and it explains, sometimes in great detail, how butter and flour and sugar and yeast all combine into glorious baked goods.

Now I am deeply in love with this book, and I called up Posie Brien, the lead editor of the project, to learn more about it.


The Takeout: What’s the process for creating a book like this? It’s so big, and the recipes work so well.

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Posie Brien: This has been a cool project for me to work on. The first [edition of the] book came out in 2003. My mom’s a huge baker. We always had it in our house when I was growing up. We had the book, we were really updating and refreshing it. It was a process of going through and looking at recipes and thinking about how to bring then into line with a modern kitchen without changing our voice or approach.

We went back and worked with bakers who worked on the first book. A big part of our mission is to fold in education. The way we think about it, it’s a way to meet bakers where we are. The baking school is a big piece of the company. We have a baker’s hotline, a number you can call. It’s such an underrated thing, but it’s extremely busy. Every time I hear the statistics [about calls], it’s wild. We’re talking to bakers all day, every day. We’re on social media, interacting with customers. All those pieces are unique, but they all mimic the voice of King Arthur. We’re all bakers talking to bakers of all different levels. The recipes in the book reflect that ethos. We want to be thoughtful about giving the kind of education and tips that are useful for a home baker.

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TO: What kinds of updates did you do?

PB: We consider ourselves stewards of baking tradition. We have recipes you might not see in a lot of places. We always ask ourselves, “Is it dated?” Maybe we don’t need five funnel cake recipes. But hermit bars, for example, you don’t see a lot, but they’re really beloved. We felt strongly that we do keep it in the book. We did a lot of examining and making sure the collection felt right. The new edition has more gluten-free recipes; in 2003, we didn’t have much. There are more alternative flours, more whole grains. There’s been a general modernization of things. Back when the book was first written, Greek yogurt was not as available. We also took out ingredients and tools that we don’t make anymore that aren’t as readily available. A lot of our recipes are now online, brought online over time. Our test kitchen process is to always examine recipes, making sure they’re bulletproof, again and again.

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TO: Which new recipes are you most excited about?

PB: The Crispy Cheesy Pan Pizza. It was our recipe of the year last year. It’s a little bit of a unique recipe.

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TO: I made that one! It was great! [Note: It’s a Detroit-style pan pizza with sauce on top.]

PB: It was a total hit, and it’s included in the new book.

TO: Which other recipes should people start with? It’s a huge book!

PB: I honestly love every single one. I would suggest reading it thoroughly. But I like to read cookbooks like a novel. If you want to jump in and out with a single recipe, everything you need is there. The sidebars are there when you need it. So much information is included. Instead of telling you what to do, we explain how and why. I encourage people to read that because baking is an exact science and total art.

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But for recipes, it depends on whether you want something sweet or savory. Coffee cakes are really great for sweet. They’re celebratory, but you don’t have to worry about assembly. With the No-Fuss Coffee Cake, you can make it the day before you bake it. It’s nice for people who struggle with time commitment. It’s also amazing and delicious, with sour cream and chocolate chips. I hate using the word “foolproof,” but it’s difficult to mess up. If someone is wanting to try something a little more advanced, particularly with yeasty breads, make the Gruyère-Stuffed Crusty Loaves. It’s so easy. So many of my friends who have made them don’t bake. It makes them say, “I can’t believe made that!” It’s really dramatic looking. It has molten rivers of cheese, and it’s crispy and crunchy around the edges. You can just throw cheese on it, and it melts into a gorgeous, golden mess.

TO: Do you think people have become more accustomed to baking in the past few years because of all the baking shows on TV? I think I was a bit more confident making croissants because I’ve seen people make laminated dough so many times now.

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PB: That’s a good question. We’ve seen a huge surge of interest in the last year, with bread baking in particular. It makes us at King Arthur so happy. Our mission is to encourage people, to give them the resources to bake whatever they want, to tell them, “You can do it!” and usher them through the process. That’s the first step. Once you see somebody do it once... Taking an in-person croissant class is incredible. You see it’s just mixing flour with salt, add the butter, roll it out, then I made a croissant! The book does a nice job of mimicking that. Instead of a pile of recipes, it helps to demystify the process.

And if it doesn’t work, call the baker’s hotline! That’s what they do. I wish everyone would do it just once.

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Gruyère-Stuffed Crusty Loaves

4 mini loaves or 2 standard-size loaves

Who doesn’t love warm bread and cheese? Fresh from the oven, a lava-flow of aromatic cheese melts down the sides of these crusty loaves, made light and chewy thanks to the use of bread flour. They’re like a grilled cheese sandwich in roll form, and they make a very nice partner for soup or salad. When making the dough, consider the weather and use the greater amount of water in winter, when conditions are dry; and the lesser amount in summer, when the air is humid.

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Starter

  • 1¼ cups (149g) unbleached bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon instant yeast
  • ½ cup (113g) water, cool

Dough

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons to 1¼ cups (255g to 284g) water, lukewarm
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3½ cups (418g) unbleached bread flour
  • ½ teaspoon instant yeast

Filling

  • 1 tablespoon (16g) garlic oil (optional)
  • 2½ cups (283g) grated Gruyère cheese, or the cheese of your choice (sharp cheddar or a mixture of provolone and mozzarella are good)
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To make the starter: Mix the flour, salt, yeast, and water in a medium bowl until well combined; the starter will be stiff, not soft and liquid. Cover and let rest overnight at room temperature (65 degrees Fahrenheit to 75 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal); it’ll become bubbly.

To make the dough: Combine the risen starter with the water, salt, flour, and yeast. Knead to make a smooth dough.

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Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise until it’s nearly doubled in bulk, about 1½ to 2 hours.

Gently deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, or a piece of parchment. Pat and stretch it into a ¾-inch-thick rectangle, about 9 × 12 inches. Spritz with water (or brush with garlic oil, if using), and sprinkle with the grated cheese.

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Starting with a long side, roll the dough into a log, pinching the seam and ends to seal. The cheese will try to fall out; that’s fine, just try to enclose as much as possible, then pack any errant cheese into the ends before sealing.

Place the log, seam-side down, on a lightly floured or lightly oiled surface (or leave it on the parchment and place the parchment on a baking sheet, for easiest transport).

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Gently cut the log into four crosswise slices, for mini loaves; or simply cut the dough in half for two full-size loaves. A large sharp knife or serrated knife works well here. If for some reason you fail to cut all the way through the dough at the bottom, simply take a pair of scissors and snip through the dough.

Place the loaves on one (for two loaves) or two (for four mini loaves) lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheets, cut side up.

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Cover the loaves and let rise until they’re puffy but not doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1½ hours. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re baking two loaves, position a rack in the center of the oven. If you’re baking four loaves, place two racks toward the center of the oven with just enough room in between to accommodate the rising loaves.

Spread the loaves open a bit at the top, if necessary, to more fully expose the cheese. Spritz with warm water.

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Bake for 25 to 35 minutes (for the mini loaves), or 35 to 40 minutes (for the full-size loaves), or until the cheese is melted and the loaves are a deep golden brown. If you’re baking four loaves on two pans, rotate the pans halfway through the baking time: top to bottom, bottom to top. Remove the pans from the oven and cool the bread right on the pans. The bread is best served warm.

Nutrition information per serving: 1 slice, 40g

100 cal | 3g fat | 5g protein | 13g complex carbohydrates | 0g sugar | 1g dietary fiber | 10mg cholesterol | 260mg sodium

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Excerpted from The King Arthur Baking Company’s All-Purpose Baker’s Companion: Revised and Updated. Copyright © 2021, 2003 by The King Arthur Baking Company, Inc. Photography by Liz Neily. Reproduced by permission of The Countryman Press, a Division of W.W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved.

Associate editor of The Takeout. Chicagoan. Owned by dog.

DISCUSSION

Question, does the book include high altitude adjustments?