King Arthur Flour Baking School

nissa scocca

nissa socca

If you love to bake as much as I do or are interested in learning how to bake a trip to the King Arthur Flour Baking School in Norwich, Vermont should be on your bucket list. Last week, my Caitlin and I spent a few days exploring the Green Mountain state and learning how to bake everything from flatbreads to European tarts and pastries compliments of the sponsors of the National Festival of Breads.

IMG_7407

The class schedule offers a great variety of hands-on baking experiences for the home baker as well as the professional chef. There are classes for everyone and they do fill up quickly. Some of the classes are taught by celebrity chefs like the famous Gale Gand. I did get a glimpse of her teaching a class on cinnamon rolls as the kitchens are easily observed through large glass windows. This state of the art facility also includes a large retail bakery, a café and a most beautiful store. The store is a baker’s paradise.

IMG_7432

and

the store has everything from appliances to extracts and all gadgets and ingredients in between

the store has everything from appliances to extracts and all gadgets and ingredients in between

and

IMG_7411

Flour Matters–use the best

Back to baking, I especially loved the class on flat breads because I learned a few new scientific things. First, I never baked with a mix of yeast and baking powder before. This extra leavening creates so much carbon dioxide that it actually causes the bread to deflate and bake to the perfect flatness. Brushed with egg white and sprinkled with a little nigella and sesame seed this bread is perfect for scooping up hummus.

northwest India naan

northwest India naan ready for the oven

In this class we also baked a spelt pita (check out goodgriefcook on Instagram to watch it puff) and a bread I had never heard of before, nissa socca. Nissa socca is a morning snack sold by vendors in the south of France. This recipe, made from gluten-free chickpea flour reminded me more of a polenta than a bread. Warm from the oven and cut into small squares or wedges it will make a terrific holiday party appetizer.

nissa socca hot from these amazing ovens

nissa socca hot from these amazing ovens

Vermont in October is lovely. The air is crisp and the leaves are just beginning to turn. Fresh apples are plentiful and make the perfect seasonal filling for a buttery rustic tart. In fact, most of our fresh baking ingredients like the apples, butter, cream and eggs are sourced from local farms. In addition, we are instructed to drop our egg shells and apple peels in a green compost bucket. The philosophy is clear: flour matters, the farmer matters and the environment matters. It all adds up to naturally delicious baked goods.

European tart class

European tart class

In between our classes we visit some of our old stomping grounds including the old Sugar Bush Farm which inspired my winning National Festival of Breads recipe. The old farm hasn’t changed a bit in 30 years and is still handing out samples of its delicious smoked cheeses and sweet maple syrup. Caitlin and I stocked up and I am thankful to have re-lived some old memories while creating some new ones with my daughter.

one of many old barns at Sugar Bush Farms

one of many old barns at Sugar Bush Farms

By the way, everything we baked we could take home. My innkeeper was very happy and especially loved the chocolate hazelnut ganache tart. A few of the other guests indulged in these from our Mille Feuille (homemade puff pastry) class.

Napoleons really do have 1000 layers of pastry

Napoleons really do have 1000 layers of pastry

The Pippin Inn

The Pippin Inn, Quechee, VT is where we stayed

One day I hope to return to the baking school for more classes. The perfect plan would be to grab a couple of girlfriends and make a long weekend of it. Put it on your Christmas list. If you can’t get there any time soon than shopping their on-line store is the next best thing. Here is a recipe from the far flung flatbread class. I hope it inspires you to enter the National Festival of Breads come 2017.

IMG_7450

Thank you Kansas Wheat and King Arthur Flour for a great weekend and making me feel like a queen.

IMG_7421

Good Grief & French Toast Take Time

Overnight French Toast

Overnight French Toast

It should have come as no surprise that the first new episode of Downton Abbey would be about GRIEF. By the end of last season, Tom Branson lost a wife, Mary lost a husband and Mrs. Crawley lost a much loved son in a tragic accident. (Sigh! I can still see that handsome Mathew pinned under that car. That final episode haunts me.) We even saw a bit of angry suffering in the character of Carson as we learned of his love and loss. The episode enforced many of the things I have felt and have discussed on this blog like  finding strength to celebrate life, the need for forgiveness and the need for distraction.

good times around the fire pit

good times around the fire pit

However, I beg to differ with one final notion as portrayed through the grief-stricken Mary. With the exception of her father, the other characters believe 6 months should be plenty of time for her to resolve her grief and get back into the swing of things. What is so magical about 6 months? Good grief takes time–however long it takes. I am going on 3 years and I am still in the resolution phase. If, however, after 6 months, you still are not eating, sleeping or enjoying any kind of social interaction then it is time to see your health care provider as those are signs of a deeper, more complicated grief and depression.

Good French toast, believe it or not, also takes time. Especially if you like it a little crispy on the outside and melt in your mouth soft and creamy on the inside. It takes some simple planning. First of all, your bread should be just a bit stale–1 day old is good with most artisan breads that don’t use preservatives. The bread also needs to get a good 8 hours (overnight) in a yummy milk bath to soak up all the creamy goodness. Topped with butter and real maple syrup it is worth the time.

IMG_0742

Simple Overnight French Toast

4 (1-inch thick) slices French baguette*

2 eggs

½ cup milk

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

pinch of salt

butter

Arrange bread in a single layer in a baking dish. In bowl, whisk remaining ingredients until well mixed; pour evenly over bread. Cover and chill at least 8 hours or as long as overnight. Melt some butter over medium heat on a non-stick griddle. Place soaked bread slices on hot griddle. Cook, turning once, until deep golden brown on both sides. Serve with your favorite toppings.

*Use the center portion of the bread and save the ends for another use. Trimming the crusts is optional.

Benches & Blueberries

Will's Bench at Lake Elise Middlebury, CT

Will’s Bench at Lake Elise
Middlebury, CT

What do benches and blueberries have to do with each other? Well, it has to do with some of my fondest memories of my family and friends back in Connecticut. On one warm day in July, my friend, Carol, organized a venture out to a local farm to pick blueberries. On this particular day, as we headed in to get our filled buckets weighed, the screaming came out of nowhere. Without warning all my friends were suddenly standing behind me. Completely bewildered by their scared behavior, I said, “WHAT?” As they were hugging my back and pushing me forward, they pointed to a garden snake crossing our path. Well, I nearly peed my pants (sorry) responding, “What am I? Your secret service agent waiting to take the bullet?” In reality, I was quite flattered that they looked at me as the strong and brave protector. It certainly was how most saw my son, William.

Soon after the news of William’s death Carol went into organization mode again and this is where benches come in. She mobilized an entire community to join in to celebrate William with a memorial bench placed at his favorite fishing spot along the shores of Lake Elise. It is a protected place where one can enjoy the beauty of the lake and remember the boy who often went out of his way to make one feel loved, respected and protected. I love visiting this place with family and friends. After a bit of tearful silence we usually, without warning, turn to laughter, recalling the mischievous boy who made us so proud to be a part of his life. Lake Elise is worth the trip. Drop me a line if you ever take a seat on Will’s Bench. To those who have lost don’t hesitate to build a memorial celebrating your loved one. It is a good thing.

IMG_0211

So, if blueberries and benches have something in common why not blueberries and coconut. Luckily, winter fresh and frozen blueberries are readily available this time of year. Paired with coconut the blueberries make for a most memorable and comforting bread pudding. Kind of like a warm hug from an old friend.

Blueberry Coconut Bread Pudding

Blueberry Coconut Bread Pudding

Blueberry Coconut Bread Pudding

1 (8 to 10 oz) loaf challah bread, sliced into 1-inch cubes

1 ½ cups winter fresh or frozen blueberries, divided

1 (15 oz) can sweetened cream of coconut

1 1/3 cups milk

¼ cup sugar

1- teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon coconut extract

4 eggs

½ cup shredded sweetened coconut

Garnish: powdered sugar, mint sprigs

Spread 2/3 of the bread cubes over the bottom of a 9-inch square baking dish. Sprinkle 1 cup of blueberries over the bread. Top with remaining bread. In small saucepan, over medium-low heat, stir cream of coconut, milk, sugar, vanilla and coconut extract just until the sugar is dissolved and mixture is smooth. The mixture will be warm, but not hot. In large bowl, lightly whisk eggs; add warm milk mixture and blend well. Pour milk mixture over bread in baking pan. Using the back of a spoon gently push bread down into milk mixture. Sprinkle top with remaining blueberries and coconut. Bake 50 minutes or until puffed and golden. Serve warm Dust with powdered sugar just before serving.