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Leavening The Image of Home Baking

King Arthur Flour sponsors national contest to celebrate `pure joy' of an age-old tradition

(Page 2 of 2)

King Arthur Flour's high-protein (which, when mixed with yeast, converts to high-gluten), bleach- and chemical-free formula is its biggest draw among the company's circle of market makers, who insist, floury hands down, that it's the monarch of bread-baking flours.

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In addition to Winterbake, King Arthur Flour sponsors many other grass-roots ventures that spread the word about its baker-friendly formula and more importantly, to the Sands, instill a love of baking.

Michael Jubinsky, who is an instructor of bread-baking at Connecticut Culinary Institute as well as a King Arthur spokesman, has been involved in King Arthur's latest program: teaching schoolchildren how to bake bread.

The first of three of these sessions was held in Killingly, Conn. for two assemblies of 450 7th and 8th graders each.

On stage, Mr. Jubinsky mixed, kneaded, and let rise dough for a loaf of "chewy hearth" bread. Afterward, the kids were given ingredients (including King Arthur flour, of course), a recipe (also King Arthur's), and the homework assignment to return after the holiday weekend with a home-baked loaf to donate to a soup kitchen.

"It was such a gas," he says, explaining that 550 of the 900 kids returned to school, proudly toting fresh, golden loaves along with pens, paper, and textbooks.

Success at baking their own bread helps them to feel good about themselves, says Jubinsky.

Taking it one step further, he says it's touching to see these kids, some who are underprivileged themselves, share their creation with those even less fortunate.

"I know it sounds corny," he says, "but in sharing a fresh-baked loaf of bread, you're giving a part of yourself ... it's an act of love."

Jubinsky is somewhat encouraged by the strong turnout in his regular baking classes, which he sees as indicative of a "getting back to basics" trend.

"In a declining economy, people want to take more control of their lives," he says, explaining that baking one's own bread is one result of this.

Getting back to basics has its modern-day shortcuts, however, and in many kitchens where loaf pans are collecting dust in an out-of-reach cabinet corner, a high-tech, hassle-free gadget, the bread machine [see story at right], sits prominently atop the counter.

Despite their purist approaches, the King Arthur Flour folks applaud this increasingly popular method, which is less costly than store-bought bread and requires of one only to toss ingredients into an electric box and push a couple of buttons.

"Five years ago, I would've eaten my words," says Ms. Sands. "More than half of the questions [callers ask] have to do with bread machines," she says, explaining that buyers of inexpensive brands often solicit their advice after producing lackluster loaves.

But, using a top-quality model (they recommend Zojirushi) makes all the difference, she says.

"We're finding that even people who love to bake bread by hand will use [a bread machine] because it gives them a way not to have to go and buy [bread]," says Ms. Sands, explaining that these people often resort to machine-made loaves during work weeks and return to old-fashioned kneading and rising on weekends.

The gadget, which some have dubbed the "adult toy of the year," has boosted sales of flour for home baking by 2 percent, says John Yurkus of the national Home Baking Association in Denver, Colo.

But, Jubinsky, whose grandmother used to send him off on his bicycle to buy the "flour with the horse on it" says he subscribes first and foremost to what he calls the "grandmother method," or baking from scratch.

So do the Sandses, and for this they're keeping a close watch on states, especially Iowa, where school administrators threaten to eliminate baking from home-economics classes.

"They're looking at it from a purely economic point of view," says Ms. Sands. "There's more to bread baking than that: If you know how to bake bread, you've got something that feeds your soul for the rest of your life."