K is for King Arthur Flour

King Arthur Flour Store sign Vermont

If you’ve ever flipped through the pages of the King Arthur Flour catalog, then you know what it is to dream. To lose yourself in the possibilities of so many different flours, to voyage across the globe in search of the perfect vanilla extract, to wrap yourself tightly in recipes, to line your imagination with parchment, to punch down doubt, and to rise above the ordinary loaf. To live, however briefly, and only in your mind, as the baker that you always knew you could be.

Or maybe that’s just me.

King Arthur Flour Store vt counter

Situated in Norwich, Vermont, this epicenter of all things baking features not only a café and bakery, but also offers classes, and a store that feels like the catalog come to life. But, if one of the drawbacks of the catalog is the high prices, you’ll see no relief from that here. True, by visiting the store you’ll save on shipping costs, but there are no additional discounts. There is a small clearance section where you may find a bargain, but if, like me, you were expecting some kind of “congrats for finding us in the middle of the Vermont woods” discount or a “thanks for driving allllll this way up route 91” price break, you may be a little disappointed.

King Arthur

But don’t worry, there’s always the café to lift your spirits. Sandwiches, salads, and sweets–everything I’ve tasted is delicious. There’s even a section of the place where you can watch the bakers create the specialties of the day. The café seating area is charming, with a couch-filled gazebo-like section in the middle and lots of tables and chairs surrounding that.

King Arthur Flour Store VT baker

So daydream your way through the store, stroll through each page of the catalog, and remember to check the back counter for a taste of the day’s sample. And if you don’t buy something, don’t feel bad. You never actually bought anything from the catalog anyway.

Get yourself a nice strong cup of coffee, pick out a pastry, and hit the road. I think of it as the fanciest pit stop I ever get to make while on a road trip.

King Arthur Flour Store cage


I’m participating in the A to Z Challenge for the month of April. The idea is to post every day, except Sundays, and end up with one post for each letter of the alphabet. It’s a good challenge to help me to blog every day.

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Maamoul Cookie Adventures

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Maamoul filled with dates and walnuts

Thanks to a post on Lana’s blog Once Upon A Spice, I was introduced to a shortbread-style Middle Eastern cookie called maamoul. This was a guest post by Lynn at Lynz Real Cooking, whose fascinating blog provides recipes and stories of her life in the Middle East raising 9 kids. The pictures were lovely and the recipe sounded delicious. Also, I was intrigued by the idea of using a wooden mold to form the cookies (after seeing someone use a similar tool on the Great British Bake Off).

I was so curious about these cookies and did a little research. There seem to be many spellings of the cookie as well as many variations of the basic recipe. (Lynn spells her recipe “mamul,” and in general I found the most common spelling to be “maamoul,” so that’s what I went with). I was sold–this was something I had to try to make.

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Course semolina, fine semolina, and date paste

I found a specialty grocery store and talked to elderly gentleman behind the counter about what I was looking for. Did he have any molds, can he show me where the semolina is, oh and also the rose and orange blossom waters? See, I had found this recipe online and wanted to give it a try. He gave me half a smile and suggested that I might be interested in one of the many brands of maamoul sold in boxes, already made and imported.

“No, thanks,” I replied, and he came out from behind the counter.

He stopped in front of the semolina and asked if I wanted course or fine, holding one in  each of his hands. I said I couldn’t remember and started to fumble with my phone.

“I know it’s part flour and part semolina, but I don’t know which one,” I trailed off as I looked for Lana’s post.

“No flour, you don’t use flour in maamoul,” he said, “usually, you use part course and part fine semolina.” I replied that I had remembered seeing a different recipe that called for that, so maybe I’d start with that one and then figure out the other. I took the two bags from him.

“What are you filling them with?” he asked. I said maybe some with dates and some with walnuts, recalling some of the other recipes I had researched.

“How are you going to do the dates?” he asked.

“Um, chop them up I guess?” I replied. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I started feeling a little self conscious. “Maybe the food processor?”

“No,” he said, handing me another package, “you need this: date paste. It’s ground up dates used for baking, they are ground very fine, and this is what we use in maamoul.” I thanked him for his advice, and appreciated what felt like insider information. I also picked up some rose water and orange blossom water. Unfortunately, they did not have molds, but I could figure something else out.

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Date paste balls and the walnut filling

We chatted some more and he said that he’s Lebanese. I realized that was why his recipe tips sounded familiar–because the recipe that had stuck out in my mind, one that I had bookmarked, was from a website called mamaslebanesekitchen.com. When I made my first version of maamoul, I used a combination of this recipe and the one in this video, posted by Laila’s kitchen.

Date paste filling for mamoul
Put the ball on the flattened dough

Watching the video was a great help because I could see what the texture of the dough should look like at each stage, and it was helpful to watch the cookies being filled. I did cut the rose and orange blossom water by more than half in the dough because the flavors were quite strong, and it’s not something that we’ve had before. I replaced it with orange juice when I mixed up the walnut filling.

My family liked the walnut-filled cookies, but the dates were a hard sell. I’m pretty much the only dates fan around here, but I shared with some friends, who really enjoyed them.

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Seal up the dough then press into the mold

Now, here’s an example of me falling into the trap of over-researching and over-thinking to the point where I start confusing myself. I had read lots of recipes, and I can’t say whether I read conflicting information on different sites, or whether I just got it confused in my own head, but I knew there was something about the shape of the cookie corresponding to the filling. As mamaslebanesekitchen explains:

Maamoul fillings can include dates, walnuts, pistachio, or a combination of both or other nuts. Traditionally, maamoul with dates (also called maamoul bi siwa) is made with a round shaped mold, and maamoul with nuts with an elongated shape mold.  Only nuts-filled maamoul gets sprinkled with powdered sugar. Dates-filled maamoul is baked slightly longer to get light brown cookies, whereas nuts-filled maamoul is removed from the oven at the slightest hint of browning.

So I followed the guidelines for the shapes, using a round plastic play-doh cap as my mold, and then shaping the other filling by hand. At some point while the first batch was in the oven, I decided to skim the recipe again and realized I had gotten the fillings and shapes switched. So for the subsequent batches, I followed the shape/filling combos above. This elegant system of the cookie shape indicating the filling inside was messed up from the start, haha. It was a bit of a gamble as to what kind of cookie you were biting into (luckily I liked both). But since I had read so many different variations on the recipe, I told myself that perhaps there is no hard and fast rule about the shape/filling relationship.

Maamoul cookies with powdered sugar
Executive decision to sugar them all

I knowingly decided, however, to break the rules and sprinkle powdered sugar on all of them.

Here are the results, one more time, of the recipe adapted from mamaslebanesekitchen and Laila’s kitchen.

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Maamoul filled with dates and also walnuts…but which is which?

And back to Lana’s post of Lynn’s recipe, which started it all. I was eager to make these cookies, too. They were delicious, and went over so well with the family. I ran out of walnuts for the filling so I chopped up some pecans as well (my favorite nut, yum!). Since I had leftover of both course and fine semolina, I used the course, which adds a little bit of texture to what is similar to a shortbread-style cookie. It’s an excellent combination. I did add a tiny bit of the rose and orange blossom water, but not too much. Just enough for a little hint of the flavor.

Lynn’s mamul recipe, filled with walnuts and pecans

Overall, this maamoul adventure was a lot of fun. Thank you to Lana and to Lynn for teaching me about something new! Without your posts, I would have never known of this new cookie to research and bake. And, of course, eat! I tend to bake my way through the bleak winter days, and this was a perfectly delicious distraction. So thank you again, ladies!!

Christmas Bakes!

Chocolate cheesecake, Pulla, canalés, rum cake, Christmas cookies

I was in charge of desserts for our family gathering, and I had a lot of fun this year. I made a chocolate cheesecake (inspired by this one from TheRobbylicious blog), two loaves of braided cardamom bread (this recipe is for Pulla from the Saveur website), canalés from the blog mamangerie, rum cake (from the King Arthur Flour site), and some cookies (sugar, oatmeal, and snickerdoodles).

It was my first time making canalés, and I was very happy with the result. The recipe is clear and easy to follow (thanks, Sabine!), and the silicone pan was well worth the $9 investment. I didn’t do beeswax, and I got this tip from the baker at a nearby coffee shop: do two coats of melted butter before baking, putting the pan in the fridge in between.

This sugary smorgasbord was partly inspired by my discovery of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix last week (the name was changed from The Great British Bake Off for American TV, for some reason). I fell in love with the show, its focus on the technical aspects of baking, and the overall niceness of the contestants, judges, setting, etc. I found it much more enjoyable to watch than most shows on the Food Network, with their emphasis on drama between contestants and swearwords being beeped every few seconds. It’s not that I have a problem with swearing–I’m from New Jersey, after all–it’s just that it can be (BEEP)ing distracting when I’m trying to (BEEP)ing learn something.

The show inspired me to try some fun decorations for the cheesecake–the idea to pipe the whipped cream and the chocolate shapes came from things I’d seen.

I’m happy that I came across the show when I did. It was just right right time to explore new desserts and learn new things. Watching something that is so dedicated to the techniques and joy of baking made my holiday baking a very enjoyable experience this year.