COOKBOOK REVIEW: A handbook for all baking projects great and small

“The King Arthur Baking Company All-Purpose Baker’s Companion” (The Countryman Press, $40)
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“The King Arthur Baking Company All-Purpose Baker’s Companion” (The Countryman Press, $40)

“The King Arthur Baking Company All-Purpose Baker’s Companion” (The Countryman Press, $40)

My husband Ralph and I have been seriously craving pizza lately — not from a takeout box, but hot from the wood-fired oven of one of our favorite pizzerias we’re keeping our distance from until we’re both safely vaccinated. This thought was in my head as I paged through “The King Arthur Baking Company All-Purpose Baker’s Companion” (The Countryman Press, $40), the newly revised and updated edition of the hefty tome that won a James Beard Foundation award in 2004.

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I scanned the sections on pancakes, cookies, sourdough and cakes and ogled the full-color close-ups of Whoopie Pies and Pain au Levain before deciding to try my hand at Crispy Cheesy Pan Pizza. Not having a pizza stone, I was curious to try their unconventional tricks for creating an “audibly crispy crust” using a cast-iron skillet. I followed their dough-stretching and folding method as directed, let it rise slowly in the fridge overnight to develop flavor, and trusted their tip for sprinkling the dough first with a layer of cheese to prevent sogginess. As we indulged in all its gooey glory, Ralph declared it “a triumph.”

Throughout its more than 225-year history, the Vermont-based King Arthur Baking Company has won the fierce loyalty of professional and home bakers alike not only by offering them premium flour products, but also by sharing their personal expertise in using them. Their staff of inveterate bakers teaches classes on-site and online, provides tutorials and recipes across robust social media channels, and answers consumers’ questions through a Baker’s Hotline. When the pandemic hit and baking became the isolation coping therapy of choice, King Arthur’s baking team went into overdrive dispensing virtual advice as flour sales exploded.

Those tips and lessons are beautifully distilled throughout these fine-tuned recipes and extensive overviews covering the essential ingredients and techniques for whatever baking project you’re contemplating. All are explained in a neighborly, reassuring voice that so far has led me through pizza-making, shortbread-baking, and Classic Chicken Pot Pie — another bucket-list accomplishment covered in perhaps the flakiest pie crust I’ve ever rolled.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.