King Arthur Baking (formerly King Arthur Flour) updated their previous All-Purpose Baker's Companion cookbook. As a novice baker, every recipe I've tried from this cookbook has turned out great on the first try.
This book sets you up for success by providing extra information not found in most baking books. In my opinion, this is the main selling point.
Table of Contents
The Amazon listing doesn't show the table of contents, which is odd. So I've posted in here.
- Quick breads
- Buckles, cobblers, and crisps
- Crackers and flatbreads
- Yeast breads
- Cookies and bars
- Pies and tarts
A section on measurements is included in the beginning as well, with a 7-page long table of volume, grams, and ounces for about 250 ingredients.
Learn how baking works
Do you know how yeast works? Most people (myself included) would answer, "yeah, it makes bread rise." The more advanced home baker might also add that "yeast helps develop flavor." This is all correct, but that's also the extent of most home-bakers' knowledge.
This book explains the role of yeast in a simple, but in-depth manner. After reading the section on yeasted breads, I feel much more confident in baking, and have learned...
- The amount of yeast can be easily adjusted to match your schedule (less yeast = a longer rise, like overnight)
- Whole grain doughs rise slower
- Flour weight differs depending on the humidity that day
- Yeast doesn't like soft water (who knew?!)
Each chapter breaks down the basic elements, how they work, and why they are important. The chapter on cake explains the role of flour, butter, eggs, creaming, etc. The pie chapter also covers why dough gets chilled, or why some crusts are blind-baked and others are not.
Tips to bake like a pro
Too often, I feel tips in cookbooks to be uninspired, but not in the King Arthur book. Every piece of extra information adds to my confidence and chance of success. Here's a few of my favorite tips:
If you want a crisp crust on a baguette, you'll want to take one more step after it has finished cooking. As the bread cools on the counter, steam escapes from the center and condenses onto the crust. This softens the crust. To avoid that, remove the bread from the oven, take it out of the pan, and put it back in the now-turned-off oven with the door cracked.
To make diner-style pancakes, use malt powder instead of sugar in the batter. Then let it sit in the fridge for an hour to develop more flavor and fluffiness.
There are several charts in the book that I know I will continually refer to. The pie chart (pun intended!) lists different fruit, their natural pectin levels, and various thickener agents. For example, Blueberries have a lot of pectin, so you need less thickener. I could use 1 T of flour, 2 teaspoons of Instant ClearJen or arrowroot, 2.5 teaspoons of cornstarch, 1.5 teaspoons of quick-cooking tapioca, or 4 teaspoons of King Arthur's "pie filling enhancer."
Detailed ingredient information
The 70-page long ingredient chapter is a valuable resource for ingredients' characteristics and how they act in baking. Let's cover some examples:
The eggs section includes the obvious things like egg size and how yolks vs whites impact a recipe. But it also dives into an egg's place in different types of recipes: dough, yeast breads, pie crusts, and custard.
The dry-sugar section includes characteristics and substitution information for 12 sugars. For example, coconut sugar is equally sweet as table sugar and makes for a simple substitution. But maple and date sugars have unique qualities (like dissolving differently than white sugar) that make them poor substitutions and should be used only in recipes designed for them.
The 2021 version of the Baker's Companion keeps up with modern baking trends:
- Measurements are in volume and grams (previously it was volume and ounces)
- Ingredient information is based on more recent scientific studies
- Some recipes have been revised based on ingredient trends (like using butter instead of shortening in cookie recipes)
- Recipes with more widely available ingredients have been added (like brownies with dutch-processed cocoa or a lot of gluten-free recipes)
- New recipes have been added due to their popularity (cheesy pan pizza, sourdough breads, several types of buttercream frosting)
- About 20% of the recipes have been removed and a similar amount of new ones have been added
This customer review on Amazon details the differences, including an itemized list of recipes that have been removed, added, or changes.
Reviews of recipes I've made
These recipes can also be found online, so I have linked to them for you to evaluate further. If you aren't a cookbook person, their website is a great resource. If you love a good cookbook, this one is definitely worth it.
Raisin bran muffins
These had a warm-baking-spice flavor. The recipe allows you to use either whole wheat or all purpose flour and shares the differences between them. All purpose flour will create a lighter, fluffier muffin, but whole wheat provides a better flavor for this type of muffin. I went with whole wheat and it was delicious.
This recipe is an adaptation of the famous Jordan Marsh department store muffins, and they baked up to a perfect cake-like bakery muffin. While the recipe is for full sized muffins, King Arthur admits they love these in mini muffin form (and use tiny Maine blueberries when they do so).
Irish soda bread
There are two Irish soda bread recipes: one is closer to the traditional Irish soda bread and the other one is more of an American adaptation. I made the more traditional one and the flavor was excellent the day it was made, but the leftovers ended up a bit dry. The bottom got a little dark (but not burnt), however I was using someone else's oven so I can't pinpoint the problem.
I would probably try the Irish soda bread muffins next time (not in the book, but they can be found online).
I have never made baguettes or bread this 'fancy' before. I followed the recipe as well as their online bake-along, and the loafs came out beautifully. The flavor was so good I didn't even spread butter on it while enjoying with some soup.
The recipe provides several options on how to let the shaped loaves rise. Avid bakers probably have a special baguette pan or a linen couche. For the rest of us, we're told to set them on a baking sheet covered with plastic wrap. This is what I did and it seemed to work perfectly.
Crispy cheesy pan pizza
Each year, King Arthur announces a 'recipe of the year.' This cheesy pan pizza won that award for 2020 and for good reasons. It is incredibly tasty and comes out just like a pan pizza from a restaurant. They push cheese all the way to the edge of the crust on purpose - this makes the cheese crisp up and genius!
This recipe does require a cast iron skillet - it can't really be made without it.
There are only a few, but they are worth noting.
- Very few pictures: 36 recipes (less than 10%) have pictures that are placed into the middle of the cookbook. To be fair, if each recipe had a picture, the cookbook would be twice as thick (and it's already 500+ pages).
- Nutrition information: the plus is that every recipe has nutrition info, for example, 1 all-star muffin is 274 calories. The downside is the serving size isn't always clear. For example, 1 slice of Irish soda bread is 206 calories, but the number of slices per loaf is never mentioned.
- Visual help: another positive is that the book has illustrations to help with things like shaping pretzels or working with pie dough. But those only go so far and I find videos to be more helpful. Obviously this doesn't make the King Arthur book inferior to other books, but I thought it was worth mentioning because online resources can be a good alternative.
Buy the book or visit the King Arthur website?
As far as I can tell, the recipes in the book are all also online. So why would you buy the book?
I recommend it because it teaches you about baking. The book does this better because it presents information in an organized fashion, when and where you need it. I personally also prefer books to reading recipes on my phone when I know I will have flour-covered hands.
The online recipes don't always come with the extra knowledge about ingredients or little baking tips that are scattered throughout the book. But the online recipes have some advantages: photos, reviews, and comments.
King Arthur also has free bake-along challenges where they post in-depth articles and videos to help us all get better at baking. For an example, check out the baguette recipe, bakealong post, and their instagram video on shaping the dough (very informative, I promise if you watch it you'll feel like a pro when you make them).
You can preview about 100 pages of the book on Google's book preview service.
So the choice is yours! I enjoy this cookbook and use the online recipes if I want to see a picture or read reviews. If you happen to be interested in buying this book, here's the link on Amazon along with the most helpful review.
You can also get it directly from King Arthur's website, although it tends to be more expensive since Amazon often has a sale price for $5-$10 less than list. Shipping from King Arthur is $10.95 (unless you are a premium member).
(I get a small commission if you buy it from my link and really appreciate it. I also only write cookbooks reviews of books that I personally own and love)