…It all started a few months ago when I was casually reading through the King Arthur Flour blog. The post was a drool-worthy, jealousy-inducing account of a “Blog and Bake” weekend for a select group of bloggers at the Norwich baking center site. I kept thinking about it for several weeks and just assumed that anyone with three kids couldn’t possibly just take off and attend a cooking class for a weekend. Then after a kind email from Allison Furbush, Web Media Coordinator for King Arthur Flour in response to a comment I made, I decided to finally just sign up for a class.
Now, I was correct that a mom of three young children cannot just take off for several days and live it up in Vermont with the 16 month-old twins at home throwing food at daddy as the four-year old screams in the background. It’s not nice, and the mom that does this might come home to some pretty bitter sour faces. The simple truth is I would miss my family if I was away from them for more than 12 hours (the first 12 hours would be fantastic though). So, that is how it came about that I went to Vermont last weekend with my husband and our three children, along with all four grandparents. When this mommy travels, she takes her entourage! Not only did I sign up for the Baking with Grains class on whole grains, but I also enrolled my father (AKA the Science Desk) and my Mother-In-Law.
The King Arthur Baking Education Center and Baker’s Store are located in Norwich, VT. Norwich is located in East Central Vermont; an area made up of tiny towns surrounded by many other tiny towns. We stayed in the blip of a former train town of White River Junction. What was once a bustling rail junction with a large hotel and opera house, has now downsized to a small collection of antique shops, restaurants and a bingo hall. The historic Hotel Coolidge is still operating and has retained its period look although it is a little rough around the edges.
Across from the hotel is the still-active rail junction that gives the town its name. On the morning of the class, Little Guy, Grandaddy (my dad) and I took a self-guided tour of the the train yard. Since it was early, Little Guy had a fantastic chance to climb on and explore the dormant trains. I remember the thrill when as a kid I walked along a train track. So, with Grandaddy and I standing lookout, I let Little Guy do it too. True to his character, Little Guy made only a quick stop at the historic engine on display for train enthusiasts, but instead preferred climbing up and looking in the windows of the modern diesel engines.
Quechee is another of the tiny towns only a short drive from Norwich. The claim to fame for Quechee is Quechee Gorge; which has the grandly over-stated name, “The Grand Canyon of Vermont”. Calling it such does a disservice to what is truly a beautiful bit of nature although nothing even close to Grand Canyon in scale. The gorge was stunningly beautiful and the well-maintained path made the quick walk from the visitor center to the gorge refreshing and easy for all members of the family. Even the twins walked long stretches of the trail. Little Guy made the decision to walk down past the gorge toward the dam which was equally as picturesque and another chance to breathe in more fresh Vermont air. It was nice to spend sometime with everyone in a place that we could all enjoy and that didn’t cost any money.
The class was fabulous fun. I intentionally wanted my first class to be a basic course for non-professionals because regardless of my professional experience and knowledge, there is always more to learn from people who know more than me. The people at King Arthur know their stuff; while many of the instructors have baking and pastry degrees, others have learned on the job through the classes offered on site. The Baking Education Center has classes for all levels of experience, and I would consider taking a professional level course if they were offered on the weekends. However, the whole-grain courses were too tempting to bypass.
We started our day off with a tour of the center as well as several moments drooling over the bakery cafe offerings. Napoleons, Whoopie Pies, Cookies, Cinnamon Rolls, Croissants, and just about every single bread and pastry item which I’m constantly trying not to eat were lined up calling (no shouting) my name. By the end of the weekend I had polished off more of those items than I will ever admit, but I will never regret a single bite. Everything I had was the best version of that item that I have ever tasted. The cinnamon roll was a classic cinnamon roll on top, but had a sticky bun bottom, the Amaretti cookie was like a sweet almondy cloud, and even the tomato bisque was somehow better. I am eternally grateful that the Bakery Cafe is a two hour drive from me. I can never move closer to Norwich, VT unless I need to gain a quick forty pounds.
For the class we watched demos of three different whole-grain products, a yeast multi-grain bread, a whole wheat pumpkin muffin and my personal favorite a multi-grain cracker. In my next post you’ll get a taste of a cracker based on the recipe we used and inspired by the flavors of Vermont. What impressed me was the skill and knowledge of every King Arthur person we talked to. Both the class instructor, Irene Shover, and her assistant could easily answer any baking question we threw at them. The other students varied in ability from avid bakers with decades of experience to novices who were along with their friends and partners for the fun. Some had taken previous courses, and many of us were newbies; but the class was perfect for all of us. A combination of written instruction, demos and hands-on learning were perfectly geared for all types of learners.
Before leaving we made a stop at the store and cafe. We stocked up on various flours, a new tea kettle, pizza seasoning (for my Lunchbox Pizza of course), and real chocolate jimmies (it’s a New England thing). We also bought out the rest of the bakery (not really), and I happily brought home every single remaining cinnamon roll to chow on for dinner (yes, really).
It was a mini vacation with a large group of family. These sorts of vacations are usually hectic, stressful and not as enjoyable as you hope they will be. However, this was different. The food was delicious, the sites relaxing and enjoyable, and I learned a few things. You can click on this link to see the full course calendar for the Baking Education Center, or to sign up for a class.