When I last wrote to you, I was threatening to do more shopping at King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vt. The next day, Saturday, I was indeed back again, with another two items on my agenda (besides shopping). This time I wanted to check out the folks from Nielsen-Massey, and Brinna Sands, the last owner of KAF. KAF is now employee owned, which in my opinion explains a lot, like their fantastic attitudes, attention to detail, and eagerness to help. More likely, it could also be that they are a great bunch of people. You must remember with a company as old as KAF, (founded in 1790), they have a lot of history. Brinna has also been the author of several KAF cookbooks, so anything she would have to say, or demo, for that matter, mustn’t be missed.
Neilsen-Massey was first, and if you’ve never taste tested various types of vanilla side by side, you should. There is a huge difference between them. It’s all in the flavor, and you can have the liquids, which are excellent, or the paste, which, well, just give me a spoon. Yummy, even out of the bottle. Now most people probably wouldn’t go as far as this, but it is a product you should try. The company also puts out a fascinating booklet on the history and production of vanilla worldwide, and this booklet (maybe you can get them to send you one), was a true goldmine of information on vanilla. In the end, it’s all about quality. It goes without saying that certain regions or countries produce more, and better, vanilla beans, than others, but it was an excellent primer toward one’s vanilla education. When various food authors, me included, or recipe books call for pure vanilla, please, do use it. The artificial stuff just isn’t worth it. Somehow I ended up with a bottle of the fake stuff, and it literally smelled like flowers. Not too great in your food, though.
Then it was on to see the demo by Brinna. The recipe was the Almond Puff Loaf, and afterwards, when we all were given samples, I’m surprised people didn’t stampede to get more. It’s basically a cream puff pastry, otherwise known as pate a choux, with pie pastry layered on top. Yes, you heard me correctly. That is baked, then jam is spread on top, with a sprinkling of almonds and icing. It literally melts in your mouth. If you own the KAF "Baker’s Companion," it’s on Page 99. A version (for one loaf, at the demo, we made two, or doubled it) is also online if you search their website for Almond Puff Loaf under recipes. Check it out. Warning: Not for the calorie conscious. Cream puff pastry is something I’ve shied away from, to be honest, thinking it was tricky. Not at all. It is so ridiculously simple, I was shocked. The end result was a pastry to die for, rich, just the right amount of sweetness, and oh, you can’t get enough. If you make nothing else for Christmas this year, make this.
Then it was on to more shopping, finding more things I didn’t see the day before. The crowds were huge, with cars from such far-flung places as Arizona and California, and there was another lady from the Ottawa, ON, area besides me. I went back to the historic Norwich Inn, more bags in hand.
Sunday we took a break, particularly the other half, as he had had enough baking for one weekend, so we took a tour on the Green Mountain Railroad in the morning, a delightful trip along the Connecticut River. Check out their holiday trains (www.rails-vt.com); wish I could be there. We also took in the Montshire Museum, to break up the previous day as well. In the afternoon, it was back to KAF for one last visit, this time for the hands on baking demos. Yes, I had something learn. Like how to properly form buns or rolls. Braids too. Once you mastered your bun and braid, you took it home. Unbaked. Hmm.....um, I’m staying in a hotel-like inn? No oven? Not to hit home until late afternoon the next day? I took the dough back to the Inn, and had a thought. They have ovens. So I gingerly approached the front desk to explain my dilemma. There was a young man standing nearby, and when he heard me explain my situation (the dough was already doubling in that amount of time), he piped up and said their ovens are always on. Bring in the dough. I did, and about half an hour later, I had a bun, and a braid. Many thanks go to the staff at the Norwich Inn for their assistance in this baking emergency. But then I was told, they often get strange requests from people who visit KAF. It was a first for me however, never having asked for oven room at a place where I stayed before. The bread was delicious by the way. It did survive long enough to be eaten once I got home, that being a miracle in its own right.
Next blog, we’re doing Holidays!
You can read more of Sue Van Slooten's food adventures at www.suevanslooten.com.