Q & A with the Baker: King Arthur Flour's Robyn Sargent + King Arthur's Baking Demos

King Arthur Flour is one of those companies that you might just think makes the bags of flour with the Medieval guy on the front. But the country's oldest flour company is not only a source for high-quality flour. They have a store, free online classes, a baker's blog, cookbooks, a baker's hotline, a catalog and a traveling band of bakers who give baking demos around the country. They'll be making stops in San Pedro, Carlsbad, Anaheim and San Diego from March 10-13th.

Founded in 1790, the Vermont-based, employee-owned company also has a Baking Education Center and a whole bunch of bakers just sitting around the Vermont woods working on recipe development and fielding calls from people who want to talk to them about bread. Like us. We talked to baking instructor Robyn Sargent the other day about teaching demos, rolling barrels of flour off the boat in 18th century Boston, and why you should always read the label on your packet of yeast. And check back later for King Arthur's recipe for cinnamon rolls.

a class at the Baking Education Center
a class at the Baking Education Center
King Arthur Flour

Squid Ink: So tell me about your baking demonstrations.

Robyn Sargent: Our company is pretty committed to inspiring people to bake. It's something that we've always done, since I've been with the company--I started with King Arthur in 1993. Baking is part of our mission statement and this is part of that. We travel all over the country and present baking demonstrations, teaching people how to bake, and also we do also fun things like have door prizes at the end.

SI: Have you noticed an increase in people wanting to bake these days? Canning and pickling are coming back.

RS: I really do think I've noticed a trend. More people are wanting to bake things at home. I don't know if it's because of the economy or because people are getting back to simpler things and enjoying them. Maybe that's the one thing that grounds people and brings them back to hands-on stuff.

SI: You can't get much more hands-on than teaching someone how to bake a loaf of bread.

RS: And then you get to eat it too.

SI: So your classes are for all people, both beginners and accomplished bakers?

RS: We have quite the gamut of educational skills with the people who come to our classes. Some people have never made bread before, and others are into artisan breads and are making their own baguettes. It's a very, very wide range of people and I think we do a good job of meeting everyone's needs. We try anyway.

SI: What do you guys think about the no-knead method of bread-baking that's become so popular?

RS: I think it's great. There's something called autolyse in bread-baking and the gluten, or stretchy stuff that forms that traps the carbon dioxide that the yeast makes, can knit itself together. You don't have to knead the bread to have that happen. It can do it over time, and that's what people are learning. And the bread is fabulous. Some of the recipes are really good.

SI: A lot of people are just so relieved that they don't have to do that much work. Bread can be intimidating.

RS: Absolutely. Let time do it. And that's one thing that we like to share too. We like to take some of the fear out of people when they come see us. The two things that we'll be presenting are sweet breads, and pies and tarts. And those seem to be the two areas that people seem to have the most anxiety about--working with yeast and making pie pastry. So we're trying to cover those bases and take the mystery out of it.


SI: King Arthur's been around for a seriously long time, right?

RS: Yeah, our company got started in 1790 when George Washington was president. We were located on Long Wharf in Boston and back in those days the ships would bring the flour over from England and roll the flour off the ships and the flour was sold directly out of barrels from Long Wharf. And then as we grew as a country and pushed westward, we had our own farmers that started supplying our grain.

SI: Where do you guys get most of your flour?

RS: The flour is generally grown in the Midwest and it's milled in that area and shipped out from there.

SI: King Arthur seems to do a lot more than just sell flour these days. You have that 24 hour baking hotline thing...

RS: Well, it isn't 24 hours, but it's close. We have a baker's hotline, where if you're in the middle of a baking emergency you can call this number and speak with a real live baker and they can talk you through your emergency. We've had that for a number of years. That's actually how I got started with the company; I worked for the baking hotline. And then we have our Baking Education Center here in Vermont, so that people can come and take a hands-on class. The demonstrations that we teach are not hands-on. They're demonstration style, but our classroom is. When you come here and you take a class us, and we have a full schedule online, you are actually making your product by hand and then taking it home.

SI: So what are some of the things that people would call you up with at the baker's hotline?

RS: First of all, we have a store here where we sell things like yeast and flour. And I remember getting a call from someone who lived in Japan. She was making bread, and she said that she had put the dough in the oven with the light on and the dough was pushing out of the oven, pushing the door open and dribbling down the sides of the oven and her dog was trying to eat it. She said, what have I done? It was this huge mass of dough. And I talked to her about the recipe and everything seemed fine. And I'd said, so tell me about the yeast. And she said, I got it from you guys when I was in Vermont. And I said, how much did the recipe call for. And she said, it calls for a package. Well, we sell yeast in 1 pound bags. So she'd used a whole pound of yeast and like a 6-cup-of-flour recipe. And then she said, can I eat it? Can I still eat the bread? And I said, well probably not. And then you have people calling you and asking you where they can buy scalded milk.

SI: Wow. You know, I've always wondered why many bread recipes call for scalded milk.

RS: There's any enzyme in milk called protease, and that enzyme is something that yeast doesn't like. What tends to happen is that your breads don't get quite the height you want with that enzyme present. You can disable it by heating the milk to a certain temperature, and that's what scalding does.

SI: You can't buy scalded milk.

RS: You can't. You have to do it yourself.

Q & A with the Baker: King Arthur Flour's Robyn Sargent + King Arthur's Baking Demos
King Arthur Flour

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