I love to bake. I get it from my mother and grandmother. It’s such a cliché, but my mom really did make an awesome apple pie. It was the crust. I’m pretty sure she used Crisco in hers. My grandmother did too, but she never thought it worked as well as lard. When Mom’s arthritis got so bad that rolling out the dough was too painful for her I remember gently asking her to save all the effort and just go to store-bought. Her pie in someone else’s crust just wasn’t the same and not worth the pain it still caused her. I did a lot of cooking with her under her direction, but we never did pie dough. I regret that a lot. Or maybe I don’t. The last thing I probably need to be doing is baking pies because then you eat them.
I did, however, learn directly from her how to make one of my favorite things in all the world: cinnamon rolls. Whenever Mom started rattling the baking pans in the cabinets when I was a kid it was always “please be cinnamon rolls, please be cinnamon rolls.” My grandmother made the best doughnuts that have ever been made in this or any other temporal plane. They were simple little fried dough balls of goodness tossed in sugar and cinnamon (are you sensing a trend here?) and stored in a round yellow tin that originally held potato chips. Whenever we’d get to her house for a visit I’d sneak into the kitchen to see if the doughnut tin was in the kitchen (there are doughnuts!) or out on the enclosed back porch off the kitchen (no doughnuts).
I started baking bread when I got out of grad school. My first adult purchase was a washer and dryer so I’d never have to go into a laundromat again. A bread machine was the second. This was the early 1990s and bread machines were getting common enough that the prices were coming down. “It’s the perfect machine for me,” I remember telling one of my classes, “It lets me press buttons and then later there is bread!”1
So I made a few edible hockey pucks and decided maybe I ought to get a cookbook or something. I found a book called Bread Machine Baking: Perfect Every Time by Lora Brody and Millie Apter. I liked it because it adapted recipes for specific bread machines. Each machine has its own quirks and they actually tested recipes in multiple machines and adjusted them accordingly. Following their advice I had some success and really enjoyed that first machine. The most lasting effect of that book, however, is that it introduced me to the King Arthur Flour Company.
I adore King Arthur Flour, both the company and the things it makes. I can’t think of another brand of anything that I have such loyalty to. Some of its products are more expensive than similar ones from competitors. I don’t care. If I have any question about baking or am looking for a recipe, my first stop is the King Arthur website. We have become utterly addicted to their Cinnamon-Pecan Scone mix.. ‘Addicted’ meaning I never let us have fewer than three in the pantry at any given time. Let it go any lower and there might be a scone morning that doesn’t happen, and that cannot be allowed. My biscuits got infinitely better when I said ‘screw it’ and just started using their self-rising flour. Now I always keep it on hand along with their All-Purpose, Bread, and White Whole Wheat flours.
I bought my second and third bread machine from them. The process of buying the third one illustrates our relationship nicely. They’ve been singing the praises of the Zojirushi Home Bakery Supreme for years. A while back I decided my old machine, while functional, was not quite doing what I wanted, so I decided to buy the Zojirushi. Amazon had it for a couple bucks cheaper, but I wasn’t going to buy it from them. King Arthur is employee-owned, which I like a lot, and they were the only reason I knew about that machine in the first place. They made the sale. So I ordered it.
I received the wrong one. They’d accidentally shipped the next model up, the Virtuoso. It’s essentially the same machine, but it has heating elements in the lid for baking gluten-free bread. Since I have utterly no interest in gluten-free bread, I have no interest in the feature. So now I was in a quandary. Do I ship it back? What a pain. Do I just say nothing and keep it? I’m no saint. I rather enjoy screwing over large multinational organizations whenever I possibly can, but KAF, Inc. is, as I mentioned, employee-owned. Those employees tend to identify themselves by name, and not in the bored “hii’mashley-thankyouforcalling-howmayIhelpyou-pleasekillme” way of the minimum-wage slave. I figured this was an honest mistake and I’m betting that somewhere someone who ordered a Virtuoso got my Supreme. That wouldn’t qualify as a happy accident for them.
So I fired up the chat feature on the website and explained the situation. After looking at my order I was cheerfully told that I was welcome to keep the machine. I said I wouldn’t feel right, so how about we split the difference. She must have asked three or four times if I was serious. I assured her I was. It was just $15 bucks, but it made me feel better. For the record, my only reaction to the same thing happening with Amazon would have been fits of happy laughter. The machine is fantastic, by the way. Highly recommend it.
I know this is reading like some sort of commercial for them. It’s not. Other than sending them money when I want things they happen to sell, I have utterly no relationship with them. Advertising here would be a really bad idea anyway. It’s not like I have a huge readership.
I just put in another order this morning. Some high-gluten flour because I want to start doing some pizzas on the Egg, and maybe some kimmelwick buns for Beef on Weck. Rye and pumpernickel flour because Carla has made this Reuban Strata that’s pretty amazing and I’ve wanted to try making some for a while anyway.
More punching buttons. More bread. It’s a good thing.
1“Is that what you’re looking for in a wife?” one of my older students asked me. Best comment in class. Ever.