It is the start of the school year and, along with all the other things coming back from hiatus, this blog is making it’s return. After a summer filled to the brim with work out outside of the city, I am back to explore what sweet treats the city has to offer and ruminate on the ever abundant topic of food. Unfortunately, during my absence one of the fairly recent subjects of this blog closed it’s doors. It is with a heavy heart I bid farewell to Daly Pies, whose savory and sweet options I had planned to return to again upon my return and cozy up in it’s Prospect Park-adjacent coziness. That only makes my search for more dependable pie places in the city that offer a selection of hand pies more vital!
While this summer brought a number of culinary experiments of my own – and some of them may be discussed in the upcoming weeks – none of them, sadly, included a trip to the Culinary Institute of America to which I spent two months in close proximity. This is a tragedy of which I am painfully aware. The foodie highlight of my summer came in it’s final week. Southern New Hampshire might not seem like the prime location for easy travel to exciting sites other than it’s beautiful nature everywhere you turn, but we are situated only a two hour drive away from two very important culinary staples: The headquarters for King Arthur Flour and the Ben and Jerry’s factory. Both just a bit north and over the line into Vermont (the upside down New Hampshire), they were perfectly spaced for an end-of-summer day trip. So one sunny Wednesday I ventured up with my Mom and sister to visit the headquarters of our trusted flour brand and beloved, often mentioned ice cream company.
One has most likely seen King Arthur flour on the shelves of the baking section of their local grocery store, but perhaps not given it much thought. It’s flour after all, and flour is flour. But not only are they a dependable source of a multitude of flours from white to rye to whole wheat, but they can also be counted on for quality recipes as well as baking tools and tips. In my house, we particularly enjoy their plastic containers, perfectly sized to hold bags of flour and sugar. We were also recently intrigued by another ingenious tool found at their Headquarters shop– pie weights attached to each other by a string so as to keep them all together, AND dishwasher safe. After a pie crust exploratory thanksgiving last year and a recent pie crust attempt with a lemon meringue this summer, both times experiencing the annoyance of the many individual pie weights in their cleaning and wrangling, we appreciated the ingenuity.
We arrived at their campus in Vermont and were first struck by the modern beauty of the building and its location. Tucked into a cozy hill, the complex was built of warm wooden beams that were apt for the New England company. The building was shaped in a U – the café and shop on one end and their baking school inhabiting the other – with a seating area out front. Inside the homey feel continued. Exposed wooden poles creating a circular center seating section, with the ceiling fanning out like a sun, creating a warm harmonious common area. Straight ahead was the café, which served not only an assortment of breakfast pastries, but morning meals as well, and a lunch menu that became available later in the day. Though we were there for breakfast time, our eyes could not help but wander with wonder upon the dessert pastries. Those, we decided, must be purchased and saved for later that night.
Some of the offerings were standard, such as their blueberry scone. Others were unique King Arthur recipes I had seen in their emails before, such as their morning buns – croissant dough filled with orange zest and shaped in a muffin tin, and lightly coated with sugar. Their full menu offered further intriguing options, like what would their bagel on their egg and cheese be like compared to those of my typical NYC experience? And how do they do their biscuits for biscuits and gravy?
With so many options, we settled on getting some for that morning, and bringing another set back for breakfast tomorrow (sensing a theme here?). The final results of the decisions for that morning were a morning bun for my Mom, a spinach and feta croissant for my sister, and biscuits and gravy for myself, with sharing across the board naturally.
A side note: It is a little known fact that King Arthur flour also used to produce coffee! This made us especially intrigued about their coffee execution as my Mom got here favorite, a cappuccino, and my sister and I tried their Vermont maple lattes. Yes, we’re from New Hampshire so we can get real maple anytime, but as the first brushes of fall were starting to hit the trees on our way up, we were in a mood to indulge in every bit of New England that we could.
As we know, one of the most important aspects of taste is smell. I usually give anything I try a good sniff before tasting to really try and grasp what it’s about. You know it is especially good when I don’t even have to try, and the warm smell naturally wafts up, filling whatever space it’s in. So was the case with all our products, emanating a sweet and buttery aroma making us realize how hungry we really were. I took little time to even examine the crumbs of the biscuit, which would have been pointless anyway as it was utterly doused with gravy, and created the perfect bite.
There are many ways you can go with biscuits, many of them having merit in their own right. Some are smooth and crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside, some are craggily and rustic with a glutinous chew. Still some are doughy drop biscuits like found paired with a soup. This biscuit was full of bumps and crags, but brushed with egg white to give the outside a shiny top. Inside was soft as a pillow and rich with buttery goodness. It all served as the perfect partner to the gravy, whose peppery crème and bits of sausage all came together to create a hoppin’ texture party. I, as a big black pepper advocate, could have used the flavor dial to have been turned up a bit to bring a little more spice into the mix. While the texture on all accounts was perfect, the gravy fell into pure, even creaminess without the zip I like from my sausage gravy.
My Mom was very much enjoying her morning bun, and ripped off a swirl from the edge. While the outside was crisp and brown (though you could barely tell from the white-out of the sugar coating), the inside was soft and gooey, with the light coating of orange zest spread. Just as the cronut is wonderous in it’s many delicate layers matched with it’s golden outside in a shape not seen with such pastry work, this morning bun has a similar quality. The swirls of the layers come together in a somewhat conical fashion, presenting itself as a simplistic, though elegant take on an average morning muffin. This carried through in the flavor, which did not hit you in the face with orange, but rather provided a sweet citrus undertone that highlighted the buttery goodness of the bun itself. And while it looked like it would have been overly sweet from the sugar coating on the outside, it was but a light, crisp hit of sweetness of a different sort, providing a contrast form what was inside. This was a bun for which we were certainly interested in looking up the recipe and trying out at home.
I had but a bite of the spinach and feta croissant, but the execution of the croissant dough in a more typical context was just as good, and the savory flavors of spinach and feta were in good proportions.
We then took a stroll around their shop, wandering amongst aisles of bakers dreams full of specialty pans, fruit jelly mix ins, storage containers, and recipe mixes. There seemed to be any and every specialty baking item you didn’t know you needed at every turn. This, of course, included the string of pie weights which we hastily picked up. Though we tried not to get too crazy, we could not help ourselves but get fixated on bread making accoutrement, for we are forever on a quest to make beautiful, homemade loaves. I was overjoyed to find a suitable proving bin, a long-desired replacement for proving our loaves in our large metal bowls. Our bread will now finally have the space it needs to expand into the corners and up higher than before, and even be a suitable shape to coax right into a loaf pan! In preparation for proving bin experimentation, we also picked out two bread mixes, the ingredients for which are more specialty and not ones we have in the home: multigrain and pumpernickel.
But before we left with our goods for home, we had to circle back to the pastries and stock ourselves for that night. I naturally could not pass up getting a cake slice, as I am always on the search for a slice that checks all the boxes. Their available slice at the time was a typical yellow cake with chocolate frosting, which sounded good enough to me. We also knew we had to get a lemon bar, my Mom and I both being big lemony dessert fans, especially at the tail end of summer. The other two items were more difficult to decide on, as all things looked good. The éclair seemed a good option, as it was of a very different design than everything else we had gotten, but for our final item we needed to ask for a suggestion from behind the counter. They quickly recommended the magic bar, a graham cracker crust topped with chocolate chip’s, coconut, and walnuts. This is very reminiscent of the Hello Dolly bars from my family cookbook, but without the butterscotch chips, so we took them up on the suggestion and away with our desserts we went.
Typically I would continue on to our arrival at Ben and Jerry’s, but the institution is so dear to me and has been mentioned as a point of reference on this blog that it clearly deserves it’s own post, and King Arthur, clearly, has deserved it’s own as well. So fast-forward to that night. Despite the ice cream of earlier that day, we were, “as professionals”, still ready to take on the task of our King Arthur baked goods. It had been some time since a classic slice of cake for me (though my time in Poughkeepsie yielded two cake making opportunities for me that were rather out of the ordinary) and I was happy to return to my roots birthday cake style.
Visually, I was pleased by the proportion of cake to icing, especially given that the icing was looking like it was the texture I desire. The layers were strong and definite, no crumbs creeping into the icing, no icing smudging up the layers of cake. The cake itself gave the strong smell of vanilla – not general sweetness, but actually vanilla. Pressing on it, it seemed moist enough, though I was withholding final judgment until I finally got to taste.
While there was nothing exceptional on any front it was, as advertised, a classic birthday cake that didn’t lack in any of it’s departments. The cake was sturdy in it’s flavor and played nicely with the milk chocolate icing. All parties were moist and doing their due diligence to serve the essentials of cake. While I would often like the taste to give me a little more depth than was present, I was happy to cozy up with a classic slice that night, for sometimes you just need a regular ol’ piece of cake to cap off your day. Trying just hard enough to comfort the soul, but not above and beyond.
King Arthur Flour proved to be more than just a pit stop on our journey into Vermont for the masters Ice Cream, but I great bakery full of new experiences, helpful tools, and an interesting story. I’m hoping that next time I’m home for an extended period of time I can take a jaunt up and partake in one of their classes at their baking school! Maybe venture into the world of croissant dough with the help of a demonstrated expert!