I know I’ve been talking about it for awhile now, but here it is! I am finally posting about my trip to the state of Vermont. A little over a week ago I was lucky enough to be able to spend time with Carey from Reclaiming Provincialand learn from the incredibly knowledgable employees of King Arthur Flour. Vermont is a long ways away from Los Angeles and my plane ticket wasn’t anything to sneeze at, but nothing was going to stop me from meeting my good friend and learning about baking from the people who live and breathe it every day (Literally. Flour poofs = everywhere.)
Carey and I had an amazing time in Burlington and Montreal and ate a ridiculous amount of good food (she had me try ramps for the first time! SO good.) And she even had a hot tray of delicious cookies waiting for me when I walked in the door, which confirmed that she was just as awesome in real life as she is on the internet. Once I got to Norwich, I learned an enormous about baking times, temperatures, flours, yeasts, humidity, etc. And after thinking about what to share and how, I decided to elaborate on the more specific tips as I post recipes that relate to them, rather than pushing it all into one post (I think it is more useful that way, anyway). But I also made a new tab at the top of the page called “Tips & Tricks” with some generally helpful information that goes over the basics of what I learned at King Arthur Flour, and that I will be adding to over time. So for now, I will just talk a bit about the trip itself and what I learned about pie crusts!
- 3 Eggs whites and yolks separated
- 1 and 1/2 cups light brown sugar
- 1/4 Cup Butter
- 3/4 Cup Cream
- 1/2 Cup Milk
- 4 Tablespoons Corn Meal
- 1 Tablespoons Flour
- 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- 1 Teaspoon Salt
- 1 and 1/2 Cups Flour
- 3/4 Cup Butter very cold
- 4-6 Tablespoons of Ice Water
- 1 and 1/2 Teaspoons Sugar
- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 3/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon
- 1/4 Teaspoon Nutmeg
- 1/4 Teaspoon Cloves
- 3 Egg Whites
- 1/4 Teaspoon Cream of Tartar
- 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
- First make the pie crust. Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. You have two options when adding the butter. 1) You could cut the butter into pea-sized pieces over the bowl. But this method usually means holding the butter in your hand which will warm it up, thus making less cold-induced flakiness. Or 2) You could cut the stick into general 2-inch cubes on a cutting board, add the butter cubes to the bowl and toss them to coat in the dry ingredients (this helps protect them from the warm air) and use this dough scraper to chop the butter cubes into smaller bits that are roughly pea-sized. I have become obsessed with using dough scrapers since my time at KAF, they are so versatile and make mixing and cleaning up and spreading out thin layers of flour so much easier. This method is better because it keeps the butter colder longer. Begin adding the tablespoons of ice water while stirring gently. Grab a handful of the mixture and squeeze. If it generally sticks together when you let go, it is fine. If it completely crumbles apart, it needs a bit more water. Roll it out into a 1 cm thick circle onto a well-greased and well-floured surface. Place it in the pie pan, trim excess crust, and cut out designs with a cookie cutter to place around the edge of the crust (optional). Secure the decorations by putting a spot (about 1/4 teaspoon) of melted butter on the back of the decorative dough piece and pressing down gently when placing it on the crust's edge. Cover and place the crust shell in the refrigerator until use.
- Whisk the egg whites in a medium sized bowl until they just begin to have a layer of froth on top of the liquid. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat the butter, cream, and 1/2 cup of the brown sugar over medium heat until melted and beginning to boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes before adding the milk, cornmeal, flour, salt, vanilla extract, and remaining sugar. Place back over the heat and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is hot but not boiling. Remove from heat.
- Gradually add one cup of the mixture to a medium-sized bowl with the egg yolks in it, whisking continuously. Once combined, whisk the egg yolk mixture back into the butterscotch mixture and then whisk in the egg whites. The mixture should feel very thick at this point. Place the post back on the heat at the lowest heat setting and cook for 7 more minutes, whisking constantly, taking care *not* to allow the mixture to boil. Remove the mixture from the heat, pour into the prepared pie crust, and place the pie in the oven to bake for 20 minutes.
- While it is baking, make the meringue. In an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat together the egg whites and the cream of tart tart until able to hold a firm peak. Slowly whisk in the sugar in the thin stream until incorporated and the meringue turns shiny and glossy. Turn off the stand mixer.
- After 20 minutes of baking, removed the pie from the oven and quickly but gently place the meringue on top of the pie, sealing in the filling. Feel free to make points on the meringue with your spatula, as any exposed areas will brown in the oven. Place the pie back in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the pie and allow to cool for 30 minutes before serving. Refrigerate any leftovers.
I ended up being a bit late on the first day because the car rental location I was dropping my rental car off at wasn’t able to take me to Norwich like they had said they would (Avis lies!) so I had to call and wait for a taxi to come get me. But when I finally made it to the farm tour I arrived just in time to see one of my favorite animals, pigs! And even better, they were in the middle of a baguette feeding-frenzy (only the best treats for the pampered and well-loved pigs ofHogwash). It was really interesting to hear about how the marbling of the meat varies with each heirloom pig variety; it makes sense when you think about it since we know that some breeds of cows produce better cuts of steak than others, but I had never thought about pigs in that way until just then. And then the piglets came out and I lost whatever train of thought I had and just thought about piglets for a long time.
After that we went over to Killdeer farms and we were given a detailed tour by the farmer, Jake, and learned that baby tomato stalks can be grafted onto tomato bottoms of varieties that have hardier roots to make a frankenstein tomato plant with the fruits of one variety and the roots of another, which kind of blew my mind. I got really excited about it and started researching it on my own, so if you’re interested you can read more about it here. The greenhouses they had built on the farm were amazing, they created the most beautiful diffused light and housed an enormous amount of plants. I am dreaming of the day I can fit a greenhouse of that size in my garden…fresh tomatoes all year long!
Once the tour was over we went to the King Arthur Flour headquarters for the first time. The building is shaped like a U and has windowed bakeries so you can watch their bakers hard at work while you enjoy tasty goods from the bakery. They also have a gift shop. This is where I bought a pound of yeast and several different kinds of cocoa powder. (Keep in mind I did only carry-on luggage for my flight. No joke, I am still sore from carrying my duffel bag from one side of the Washington Dulles airport to the other for my transfer.) And the final wing is devoted to classrooms for all the baking classes they have, which is where we spent most of our time. They also have traveling baking classes, which you can read more about here. That night in the classroom we started our pizza dough ferment and let it sit until the next morning.
Once we got back the second day the mixture was incredibly bubbly and we added some more ingredients and then folded the dough throughout the day while we were making scones and bread, then we made pizza in the wood fire oven in the classroom (this officially made it the most awesome classroom I’ve ever been in) and ate a ton of pizza before heading over to a cheddar cheese tasting session with Cabot Creamery. The cheese was sooooo creamy and wonderful. Even though I was really full from the pizza, I managed to eat all of my cheese and then a crepe (there was a crepe-making demonstration!) One of the folks from Cabot was a dairy farm owner who also kept her farm as a Bed & Breakfast. It was really refreshing to learn that larger companies like Cabot and King Arthur Flour are actually employee-owned, and that the people making the calls have first-hand knowledge about what the company is actually doing/producing.
The third and final day was spent making puff pastry and… pie! Yes, we had a pie making contest of sorts. I’d wanted to make the pie in this post for it, but because of ingredient and time constraints we ended up going in a different direction. But we did learn a lot about pie crusts. For example, we learned that in order to make a flakey pie crust, you need to have larger pieces of butter in the dough. You need these larger pieces of butter (about pea-sized) because when the butter melts when it’s baking in the oven, it lets out a teensy bit of moisture when it is trapped between layers of dough, and this creates a teensy air pocket between those layers of dough. And all those teensy air pockets combined create the sensation that we know as flakiness. That is why it’s a good idea to pop your dough in the fridge for a little bit if it’s really hot when you’re rolling it out, or to keep the completed crust in the refrigerator until you’re done making the filling, because you don’t want the butter to melt before you put it in the oven. If you’re interested in learning more about the facts behind baking, I highly recommend subscribing to King Arthur Flour’s Newsletter, The Baking Sheet. It’s chock-full of recipes, discusses the science behind cooking techniques, and is packed with helpful information regarding any and everything baking-related. They have a print version and just came out with a digital version for the iPad, too! We got to visit the test kitchen for The Baking Sheet, and you can bet that every little piece of information in there has been tested several times by Susan (the editor) and her staff. The amount of baking that goes on in that kitchen on a daily basis is honestly kind of staggering to think about.
After the pie making frenzy, we had a cooking demonstration from an extremely talented chef from the Simon Pearce restaurant, and I finally learned how to make good gnocchi. I realized that all the gnocchi I was making before was way too flour-y and not potato-y enough, so I’m going to be making some gnocchi soon to share my newfound gnocchi knowledge with all of you, HURRAY!!! After the demonstration, we went to the actual Simon Pearce restaurant and walked into the dark underbelly of the building where the famously handcrafted Simon Pearce glassware is made. I had never seen glass made or shaped before, but watching these guys work with molten hot melted glass was honestly one of the most awe-inspiring and nerve-wrecking things I’ve ever seen. The detail that goes into each piece, and the thought that with one wrong movement someone could end up terribly burned…well, it’s an incredible art form that certainly takes a lot of dedication.
After dinner, Allison (the wonderful head of the program), took me back to the new rental car I’d picked up earlier that day for the drive back to Burlington. The only problem was that it had already been started for me when I picked it up, and now that I had to start it myself the key was NOT working. Allison and I sat there for a good 10 minutes trying to start it until she inserted a weird plastic nub on the key ring into the ignition and…IT ACTUALLY STARTED. I don’t know if I’m totally out of the loop, but since when did cars start with plastic usb-drive looking things??? Regardless, it was a huge relief to have it running, and then I was off on my night drive up to Burlington to nap for an hour or two at the airport before my five am flight back to California.