Friday, March 27, 2009

Trip Report: King Arthur Flour Baking Center

I've been running my own business for a year now and have been doing a lot of professional exploration and development. As part of this, I thought it would be a great opportunity to take a class at King Arthur Flour's Baking Education Center. I hoped to take a professional-level class there last year, but due to their popularity and small class sizes I got boxed out of everything I wanted to take.

I just returned from the three-day class Running a Successful Bakery and had a wonderful, educational time. (My full Flickr set from the class is here.)

The class is taught by Chef Jeffrey Hamelman. Chef Hamelman has thirty-plus years of baking experience and run his own bakeries as well as having been a CIA instructor. He's now King Arthur's Bakery Director (they run a full retail and wholesale operation at their headquarters in Norwich, Vermont).

Chef Hamelman is a great teacher: he's got extremely high standards, a tactful and direct style, an encyclopedic knowledge of all things bread and pastry, and a great sense of humor. It was a rare experience to spend three days learning from him. He has written a remarkably complete cookbook called Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes. (I picked up a copy while I was there and am already fermenting several starters for breads in this book.)

An additional benefit of this class was the opportunity to meet so many other passionate bakers from around the country. Our class had fourteen students and they hailed from the East coast as well as California, Texas, and Indiana. The students' broad range and variety of experiences only added to the richness of the class experience.

Class started promptly each day at 9:00. This class was unusual for the Baking Education Center in that it was about 60% lecture (about the business of running a bakery); other courses are much more hands on. That said, we still got to get deep into a french bread dough and brioche and croissant doughs as well. A number of us commented several times that one of the best aspects of the class was Chef's frequent tips and pointers on how to use product creatively and how to reduce waste. For instance, from one bread dough we made baguettes, batards (a large oval loaf), rolls and fougasse. From brioche dough, we made brioche Nanterre, tete brioche, brioche pastries with cherries, and a quiche-type dish called a flamiche.

We were also treated to lectures by Tod Bramble (Bakery Food Service Sales Manager) and Mary Bihrle (VP Finance) and Patricia [I didn't write down her last name, sorry!] (Controller). Tod spoke about the intricacies of wheat growing and flour production. He was a great resource for us; it's essential to understand your ingredients, and for such an important one, flour always gets short shrift. Mary and Patty spoke with us about the financial side of running a business and shared their experiences with us.

The class wasn't cheap (about $200 a day) but it was definitely worth the investment for the knowledge imparted by Chef Hamelman and for the opportunity to meet so many other bakers. I'm hoping to attend another class there later this year. The Norwich area is really beautiful - it's right near Dartmouth University so there are a fair number of tourist services available to area visitors.

Information about baking classes at the Center and nationwide can be found here.
Information about the Bakery is here.
My full Flickr set from the class is here.


TKTC said...

Jealous- that is beautiful stuff and the final products look amazing!

Sunday Cook said...

It was a great experience. Seldom have I obtained so much immediately applicable information in a class like this.

On the down side, my back and behind still hurt from the stools we had to sit on. Seriously, I think they could have used them at Guantanamo for "stress position" seating. Ouch!

bakers said...

Thank you for such a nice write-up. I teach in KAF's BEC and work in customer service. Glad to see you were very happy with Jeff's class. EFB @ KAF

bakers said...

Thank you for such a nice write-up. I teach in KAF's BEC and work in customer service. Glad to see you were very happy with Jeff's class. EFB @ KAF

Susan/Wild Yeast said...

That does look like it was an excellent class. I would love to have an opportunity to take a class with Chef Hamelman! Beautiful photos, making my mouth water.

Sunday Cook said...

It really was great - if you can swing the cost (in terms of $ and time), I strongly recommend it. There's tons for people to do, so you can bring the hubs and kids and they can have plenty of outdoorsy stuff to do whilst you frolic in flour-filled classrooms!

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