THERE’S A KITCHEN cliché I loathe: Cooking is an art, but baking is a science. To quote my dad after he’d been reminded to watch his language: This is horsefeathers.
The King Arthur Baking Company‘s cookbooks excel at blending art and science to teach a rock-solid understanding of baking ingredients and principles. Their latest book, the revised “The King Arthur Baking Company All-Purpose Baker’s Companion,” reflects the team’s expertise on ingredients and techniques. They know that home bakers are notorious for our on-the-fly ingredient substitutions, slapdash measurements and “Did I already add the salt?” moments of distraction. They forgive us our trespasses, and they set us up for success with either their own recipes or others we use down the road.
Formatted as the world’s friendliest textbook, there are minimal photos and a smattering of technique illustrations; you’ll want to read all the sidebars and introductions, as that’s where the education lies.
King Arthur is a sponsor of the WSU Breadlab, and the company’s in-person classes at the Skagit Valley center hopefully will resume once such things are possible. But the book offers a far-ranging curriculum, covering tangzhong, sourdough, roti, corn tortillas, panettone, baguettes, croissants and no fewer than four variants of puff pastry.
The authors’ emphasis on measurement tools goes beyond the now-standard plea to use a scale, to include oven and instant-read thermometers. I’ve baked bread for 20 years and swear by the internal temperature check to know when it’s done (190° F for sandwich loaves, 195° F for enriched doughs), but the authors also include a satisfyingly precise chart of internal temperatures for cakes.
I also tried a tip to freeze scones or biscuits for 30 minutes before baking, for better layers. Sure enough; adding this step to my usual scone recipe created a loftier, more tender result.
This English Muffin Toasting Bread uses instant yeast and all-purpose flour for a low-effort loaf that needs just one rise and took less than 90 minutes start to finish. Its craggy, open crumb makes spectacular toast, and it was the basis for the best homemade club sandwich of my life. I suspect it will find its highest purpose in peak BLT season this summer.
King Arthur English Muffin Toasting Bread
Makes one 8½-inch loaf
3 cups (360g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon (14g) sugar
1½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon (10g) instant yeast
1 cup (227g) milk
¼ cup (57g) water
2 tablespoons (25g) vegetable oil or olive oil
Cornmeal, for sprinkling
- Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and instant yeast in a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer. Combine the milk, water and oil in a separate, microwave-safe bowl, and heat it to between 120° F and 130° F. Be sure to stir the liquid well before measuring its temperature; you want an accurate reading. If you don’t have a thermometer, the liquid will feel quite hot (hotter than lukewarm), but not so hot that it would be uncomfortable if it were bath water.
- Pour the hot liquid over the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl. Using an electric beater, or a stand mixer with beater attachment, beat at high speed for 1 minute; the dough will be smooth and very soft. If you don’t have a stand or electric hand mixer, beat by hand for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and starting to become elastic.
- Lightly grease an 8½-by-4½-inch loaf pan, and sprinkle the bottom and sides with cornmeal. Scoop the soft dough into the pan, leveling it in the pan as much as possible.
- Cover the pan, and let the dough rise until it’s just barely crowned over the rim of the pan. When you look at the rim of the pan from eye level, you should see the dough, but it shouldn’t be more than, say, ¼-inch over the rim. This will take about 45 minutes to 1 hour, if you heated the liquid to the correct temperature and your kitchen isn’t very cold. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 400° F.
- Remove the cover, and bake the bread for 22 to 27 minutes, until it’s golden brown and its interior temperature is 190° F.
- Remove the bread from the oven, and after 5 minutes, turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool. Let the bread cool completely before slicing.
Excerpted from “The King Arthur Baking Company All-Purpose Baker’s Companion,” revised and updated. Copyright © 2021, 2003 by The King Arthur Baking Company, Inc. Reproduced by permission of The Countryman Press, a Division of W.W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved.