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My Excellent Adventure at King Arthur Flour

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wally's picture
wally

My Excellent Adventure at King Arthur Flour

In response to a prior post where I mentioned my recent experience at King Arthur Flour, David (dmsynder) kindly suggested a fuller account of the class, and was even kind enough (at my urging) to provide a list of topics I should include. I've attempted in what follows to touch on all of them, if in revised (and perhaps stream-of-consciousness) order.



From July 9th through July 11th I experienced a second childhood of sorts: I spent three days at King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vermont working to master classic french breads with twelve other bread aficionados (about an even split between professional bakers and amateurs of varying skill levels) under the tutelage of the center's director and master baker, Jeffrey Hamelman, and James MacGuire, author and master baker.



The course was entitled "From Miche to Levain to Baguette: A Survey of Classic French Breads." The title succinctly captures the course content in terms of the breads we worked with.



For the miche, we did two separate bakes - both miche pointe-a-calliere recipes of James. Both utilized 20% pre-ferments and were built in three stages: refresher, levain and final dough. The one used high extraction flour, while the other was built from 67% whole wheat and 33% sir galahad flour from KAF.


(Below: miche pointe-a-calliere.  All photos courtesy of Chris Henke)


miche pointe-a-calliere


We also did two bakes of batard-shaped pain au levain - one using 100% sir galahad flour, and the second with 15% whole wheat along with a pre-ferment of 12.2%.


(Hamelman removing pain au levain from KAF's production oven)


pain au levain



For the baguettes we did three bakes - a baguette de tradition with a hydration of 76%, one built from a poolish with 67% hydration, and the third an "intensive" french bread recipe. "Intensive" in this case refers to an intentional over mixing of ingredients to demonstrate how the resultant oxidation destroys the carotenoids which contribute so much to the flavor, color and nutritional value of bread. (It was, in short, an exercise in how not to bake bread.)


(Below, from l-r: intensive mix, poolish, de tradition, no-knead.  Note the utter whiteness of the intensive mix.  Its flavor was mainly from the salt (at 2.5%!)


 photos courtesy of Chris Henke


Finally, James demonstrated an un-knead six-fold baguette with a hydration of 73%, that involved a bulk fermentation of three hours, with folding accomplished by 20 to 25 quick strokes of a scraper at 30 minute intervals.



(Both Hamelman and MacGuire are of the school of ‘less is more' with respect to mixing. Since all mixing causes oxidation, and oxidation degrades the flour, the ideal circumstance would involve combining all the ingredients without any mixing - something that very hydrated doughs utilizing autolyse come about as close to as humanly possible).



Ok, so that covers what we baked. But there was so much more to the course than simply these three classic french breads!



It seemed to me that inherent in everything Hamelman and MacGuire demonstrated, two themes were present: First, bread baking is about learning how to control various factors and processes that occur within certain timeframes, so that you, the baker, determine the schedule, rather than having it dictated by the bread.



For example, Jeffrey pointed out that in production baking of baguettes, those baguettes which are initially shaped are done loosely, because they will be going into the oven in the first bake(s). Ones which will be baked later in the day are pre-shaped more tightly, allowing for more expansion over time since they have a more lengthy rest period.



The second, and to my mind, overarching theme, however, was that in every aspect of the baking process - from initial mixing to proofing to determining whether a loaf is fully baked - the baker must learn to rely on his/her senses, all of them, to determine if the processes and end results are as they should be.



I discovered this unwritten theme the second day when we were getting ready to put our first loaves of pain au levain into KAF's production oven. I asked, innocently enough, "So, how long do they bake." Jeffrey stared at me, and with straight-face replied: "Until they are done." (I had provided him unwittingly with the proverbial slow pitch over the middle of the plate. He went on to explain how we learn when "done" is done).



Done, as it turns out, is only approximately determined by bake times. The real test involves handling the loaf - and with the batard-shaped levains and the baguettes - squeezing them to see if the crust gives way with a distinct snap, while looking at the ears to see if they were turned a golden-brown (fully baked) or were still whitish (under baked).



(Hamelman's one injunction when it came to determining doneness was that you never, ever stick a thermometer into a loaf!)



Jeffrey would constantly ask of us after a mix, "So, has the gluten developed sufficiently?" The answer, we learned, involves thrusting your hand down into the dough and giving it a good tug. If the gluten is insufficiently developed, it will be shaggy and tear. But if it is well developed it will be elastic and extensible with good strength. (We would do this after an autolyse, for example, as a way to determine whether the final mixing needed to go a full two minutes, or perhaps only a minute and a half.)



"Have the loaves proofed sufficiently, or are they under- or over-proofed?" he would ask. And again, the answer did not involve looking at the recommended proofing time, but actually pressing down on the dough.



His point is that ultimately the baker should be able to tell by touch and feel, taste, smell and sound, whether a loaf or a stage in baking is complete. (In one of our mixings, we accidentally over-hydrated the dough. The cure was the addition of more flour. But this then led to a question with respect to salt - more? How much more? Jeffrey's approach was direct: pinch off a bit of the dough and taste it. Salty enough? Not salty enough?



So the lesson I took away is this: good bakers are empiricists par excellence!



From James we learned much about the history of bread in France, especially during the twentieth-century. Those who haven't read his excellent essay, "The Baguette," written in 2006 for The Art of Eating can order it here. There was much discussion of how the culture of bread baking in France altered radically during the 1950s, leading to almost complete automation and inferior breads (this occurred while we were in the process of making the awful intensive mix pain). This in turn led to a discussion of how the art of bread-baking migrated to Japan, where many of the finest bakers in the world may now be found.



And he talked at some length about Raymond Calvel (who trained many of the Japanese bakers) and how he ‘rediscovered' autolyse in the 1970s. (The French had developed the technique just after WWII, when they had to rely on flour from the United States that had a higher protein content than their native flour, but then seemed to have forgotten about it).



The one very specific learning regarding autolyse we took away is that with rare exception, neither salt nor yeast should be added during the autolyse repos, since both will cause the dough to contract, whereas the goal of autolyse is to allow the dough to relax (hence repos).



As far as techniques we learned and practiced, in addition to the constant requirement to consult our senses, we focused on folding (both by emptying the dough onto a floured table, and, as James demonstrated, by leaving the dough in its container and reaching down to make the folds - a technique that works well with very hydrated doughs. We also practiced mixing, pre-shaping and final shaping involving boules, batards and baguettes, and scoring using lames.


(Below: James MacGuire demonstrates a fold within a container)


James demonstrating a fold in the container


(Jeffrey Hamelman demonstrating a fold on table)


Jeffrey demonstrating a fold on table


Finally, there were the two instructors: world class bakers who have been friends for many years and whose routines at times called to mind Penn and Teller (in equal parts humorous and magical in the effortless way they worked with dough). The class was fascinating not only for what we learned and practiced, but because the two were constantly entertaining, even when the instruction was serious. Each morning we would gather at 8:30, before class began, to eat freshly baked pastries from their production bakery, and each day around noon we would pause to have a communal lunch that involved wonderful local cheeses, the breads we baked, and at one lunch, magnificent pizzas created using baguette dough.


KAF offers a variety of classes on a regular basis. A link to their education center is located here.


I would do this again in a heartbeat! As I emailed Jeffrey and James afterwards, this was like summer camp for adults who love to play with dough.


Our class


 

venkitac's picture
venkitac

Awesome! I wish I could do what you did!

wally's picture
wally

Thanks!  I felt like a kid in the proverbial candy shop!

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Thanks so much, Wally, for sharing your experience.


Reading  your terrific description of the class makes me almost wistful because I haven't gotten my act together enough to figure out a time to take a road trip to Vermont.


Could you elaborate a bit about pressing down on the dough to determine sufficient proofing?  That sounds a bit more drastic than the old finger-poke method.


I noticed that class is offered under the professional section.  Are there any requirements for attending professional classes as opposed to the home baker offerings?


Such a joy those days must have been!

wally's picture
wally

(sorry, I mis-posted this as a comment rather than a reply)

Hi -


Wally here (actually it's Larry, Wally's my alter-ego from Dilbert...but I digress).


The "pressing down" I referred to is really finger poking: quick spring back and we're looking at under-proofed, long indentation and it's probably over-proofed, indentation that slowly goes away and it's oven ready.


When I registered for the class I called and specifically pointed out that I wasn't a professional baker (though I'd been doing it for many years) and asked whether it was appropriate to my skill level. The answer I got was "yes." Having taken the course, I'd second that. You'll learn a ton and no one in our class to my knowledge felt out of place.


It was a joy - and if you have the opportunity, I would say "go for it!"


Larry


 

venkitac's picture
venkitac

Is there a video that anyone knows of, which indicates proper proofing? Judging proofing is the one thing I really need to learn...

roxbakes's picture
roxbakes

Hi Larry, nice to be part of your adventure! I was always wondering how to make a fold with a large  quantity of dough. I guess it can be done by hand, ha?! :)

Just wanted to say thanks for the accurate description of proper proofing. I always wondered how would I know for sure when it's ready for bake, because there are so many variables that could influence the proofing time: temperature, climate, kind of dough, how much starter/ yeast was used... you definitely cannnot go by time alone. So, my loaves were either underproofed or overproofed.

So, thanks!!!! :)  Roxana

wally's picture
wally

Proofing is still an art I'm learning - seasoned bakers can just lightly touch a loaf and feel whether it's ready. 


Larry

laokai's picture
laokai

Wow, I am new to this site, but I noticed that there was a post about a KAF course.  I was also in the course, and the pictures linked here are mine.  The course was really, really fun, and I learned so much.  I was probably the least experienced baker in the course, but I was not afraid to ask lots of dumb questions.  I had previously been quite familiar with Reinhardt's BBA, but not as much with Hamelman's book.  As our time with Hamelman wore on, I began to question a lot of the things I had learned from Reinhardt.


If you ever have the opportunity to take a course at KAF in Vermont, I would highly recommend it.


Chris

wally's picture
wally

Chris,


Thanks so much for taking - and allowing permission - to repost the pictures!  I'm with you!

wally's picture
wally

Hi -


Wally here (actually it's Larry, Wally's my alter-ego from Dilbert...but I digress).


The "pressing down" I referred to is really finger poking: quick spring back and we're looking at under-proofed, long indentation and it's probably over-proofed, indentation that slowly goes away and it's oven ready.


When I registered for the class I called and specifically pointed out that I wasn't a professional baker (though I'd been doing it for many years) and asked whether it was appropriate to my skill level.  The answer I got was "yes."  Having taken the course, I'd second that.  You'll learn a ton and no one in our class to my knowledge felt out of place.


It was a joy - and if you have the opportunity, I would say "go for it!"


Larry

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Thanks, Larry.


Do you live in Vermont or close enough to KAF where you could drive back and forth, or did you stay at one of the local motels?


I'm thinking next year, but would have to wait for their class schedule to come out.


Plus, I wouldn't make the financial investment in the tuition and travel expenses unless I could get into a class taught by Jeffrey Hamelman.  That's why I was curious about the requirements; I think he teaches the professional level primarily.


Thanks to you too, Chris, for sharing those great photos.

wally's picture
wally

Hi Lindy,


No, I live in northern Virginia, so the total drive time was about 9 hrs.  However, I have a cousin in NYC, so it was my stopover each way, making for a pleasant drive (and supplying him with fresh bread!).  There are a bunch of local places you can stay that are listed on KAF's website - and many which discount their rates if you are attending a KAF class. 


As I noted, I'm not a professional baker (or even approaching).  But I got a ton of experience and information from the class, and definitely wasn't in over my head.


If you follow the class schedules, they'll tell you who the instructors will be.  Getting the opportunity to work with Jeffrey and James together may have been a once in a life time experience.  However, their baking staff is really talented (we had support from them throughout the course).


My advice, if you find a course that catches your fancy, call and ask to speak with Susan Miller who directs the center.  She was extremely helpful and on the mark!


Larry

txfarmer's picture
txfarmer

Wow, what an awesome experience! Once in a life time indeed. Funny you posted this now, I am about to bake the French Bread (in baguette form) from BBA this week as part of the BBA baking challenge, I am looking at its mixing methods (10 minutes until windowpane), I think it's way overmixing for this type of bread, which may be why this recipe generally is not very holy from what I read online. I am going to modify it using autolyse as well as stretch and fold, with probably a couple minutes of mixing/kneading. You mentioned that salt and yeast should be added to the dough after autolyse, how about preferment? Before or after?

wally's picture
wally

You know, that is something we did not cover.  However, the essential point about autolyse (and what tied it into yeast and salt) is that the purpose is to shorten the mixing process while allowing the glutten to relax.  So my guess is that the question with the addition of a preferment is whether it will contribute to relaxing the dough, or work against it.


My suspicion is that anything not directly tied to flour and water is to be avoided in autolyse. 


One point regarding windowpane: Jeffrey indicated (if memory serves me well) that he would prefer to mix the dough just short of the classic windowpane test.  Wish I could remember more of that particular conversation!  However, I agree with you that 10 minutes of mixing until windowpane seems extreme.  That approaches the mixing time for our intensive french bread, and you don't want to go there!


Good luck!


Larry

laokai's picture
laokai

For the baguette recipe that included a poolish, we added it as part of the autolyse.  Otherwise there wouldn't have been enough moisture to get the flour hydrated.


And yes, I agree that Reinhardt is a little mix-happy now that I have taken this course.  I am not worrying nearly so much about mixing for a certain amount of time anymore or even concerned about the window pane test (I could never seem to get that to work anyway...).  I realize now that folds during bulk fermentation will give body to a dough that is fairly undeveloped after mixing.


Chris

wally's picture
wally

Thanks Chris!  I remember now that autolyse was considered essential for pre-ferments that are very liquid - like poolish. I'm seeing more and more recipes that have replaced kneading with folding, and my experience is that folding is much less intensive/intrusive and still develops good body. 


Larry

txfarmer's picture
txfarmer

I will add the pre-ferments in the autolyse then. Planning to mix for a couple of minutes then do 2 or 3 folds during the supposely 2 hour fermentation, all will depend on the dough of course. Will report back, thank you both for answering so quickly!

tananaBrian's picture
tananaBrian

I'm betting that the poolish being added to the autolyse is a compromise, done as you say, for the moisture.  The poolish obviously has yeast in it, and they previously said to avoid that.  The alternative is to add water to the autolyse ...but then you would inevitably have to use relatively less poolish or change the formula.  In that particular balancing act, I suspect that having a bit of yeast in the autolyse was the smallest trade-off versus other adjustments.


I'm working my way through Crust & Crumb by Reinhardt right now, and I am feeling similar conclusions.  At first, I thought "Is my kitchenaid super efficient or what?" as dough temperatures climbed and the dough appeared to be mixed/kneaded longer than required ...and the breads have sometimes been bland and white with a finer crumb than usual.  So, I've been mixing less, much less, than recommended and getting better results.  I also think the jury is still out on blending flours in order to emulate Type 55 flour from Europe.  I think there is more to getting the percent protein right in the initial mix, that when using American flours in a mix that produces similar protein percentages as Type 55 Euro flour, that there still appears stronger gluten development than there should be.  I wonder if maybe the European-grown wheat that goes into Type 55 has protein that is 'less available' and doesn't develop as strongly as the American 'mixed' version does.  As a result, I've also been defaulting to using about 1/3rd bread flour plus 2/3rds all purpose flour whenever Reinhardt asks for a 50/50 mix.  Maybe I'm wrong, but I prefer the flavor and more open crumb that I'm getting (assuming all other factors staying the same, the ferments, the hydration, temperatures, etc.)  Just my 2-bits.  I'm thinking of switching over to the Hamelman book before I finish my Reinhardt book ...we'll see.  I'll probably finish one before diving into the other...


Brian


 

wally's picture
wally

Brian,


You are right on target - the poolish is a compromise to the usual rule of keeping yeast and salt out of the autolyse - and for exactly the reason you note.  Without adding it, there is insufficient water left in the final dough to hydrate the flour.


I've been baking mostly direct dough breads for nearly 40 years, and was all about kneading and more kneading. Perhaps because most of my breads were flavored, it never dawned on me what the effects of the oxidation were on the flour.  But our experience with the intensive mix french bread was a real eye-opener. I'm now approaching my mixing much more gingerly and I'm basically replacing kneading with folding. 


Our experience with autolyse has me thinking that when the goal in the final product is maximum flavor development from the grain, allowing the flour and water to do the work is better than forcing it through over handling (either via machine or old fashioned elbow grease).


I wish I could speak to your questions about American vs. European wheat.  This is something Jeffrey or James would have a lot to say about.


Larry

txfarmer's picture
txfarmer

I went back and read Hamelman's "Bread" book (for the 3498ths time I am sure), and caught that he suggests to add poolish to autolyse mainly for hydyration, for any other preferments, he suggests to add them after, along with yeast and salt. With the layout of that book, this peice of information is "well hidden" in the text right before the chapter about breads with preferments. However, in the following recipes, he sometimes add yeast to the autolyse as well, which is confusing to me? Anyway, this weekend, when I make BBA French breads, I am going to add preferments after, just to see how it goes.


I am originally from China, and most of the breads there are Japanese/Taiwanese style soft sweet breads. The recipes usually ask for thorough kneading until windownpane, and that I did for a long time. Now that I am baking more lean and hearth breads, I think different breads demand different treatment, including kneading. Intense kneading creates the kind of gluten developement that's even and fluffy, which is good for soft breads, while less kneading/more folding creates gluten that's elastic and uneven, which is good for lean breads that require big holes and a nice chew. That's just my observation so far. I've tried to fold my way through a "wonder-bread-ish" sweet sandwich bread, the results were not good. Not fluffy, soft enough.

wally's picture
wally

I haven't been able to find where he adds yeast to autolyse except in the case of poolish, so you'd have to point out the specific recipes to me.  I've always kneaded sandwich-type breads that have a fairly tight crumb, however, I came across this video demonstrating a folding technique, and the loaves he produces have a pretty tight crumb.  I know the one area where Hamelman discourages folding is with doughs having a high precentage of pre-ferment, since the dough already has considerable strength and additional folding can actually inhibit its ability to rise properly.


Larry

laokai's picture
laokai

FYI...if anyone wants to see more of my pics from the course, you can view them here: http://laokai.smugmug.com/gallery/8884467_sw3pq

tananaBrian's picture
tananaBrian

It's Chris, right?  Anyway, yes, thank you for the pictures.  You can learn and tell a lot from photos ...almost able to feel the dough just by looking at them.  It's very kind of you to share them with us!


Brian


 

laokai's picture
laokai

my pleasure---glad that you like them.


 


Chris

laokai's picture
laokai

Also, just to respond to those who aren't sure if a course like this is for them.  I also emailed KAF before committing to the course, just to make sure that it was ok for home bakers to take it.  I was told it was fine, and I was glad that I took it.  With that said, the course we took was definitely geared toward production baking.  I (and others) asked questions about adapting things to home baking, but it wasn't the focus of the course, and there were a few times that I sensed a little impatience (just a little) from Hamelman.  Again, in the end I was very happy that I went through with the course.


Now that I am studying Hamelman's book more closely, I see that many, many of the things he empahsized in the course are also in the book.  His book is definitely the textbook around which this course was designed.


Chris

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

A most excellent account of your experience. You truly communicated how inspiring it was.


Hmmmm .... It sounds like sufficient reason to quite my day job. 


David

Soundman's picture
Soundman

Larry and Chris,


This is a great write-up and the pix tell wonderful stories too. I envy you both for getting to work with these 2 great bakers.


I loved the less is more in mixing adage. (I have found this to be the case myself and never understood the point of windowpanes in bread.)


So, I'm ready to see some more pictures, of the great bread you are surely going to bake now!


David

KAF bakers's picture
KAF bakers

Hi Larry and Chris,


What a great article on your class! Thanks for sharing your experiences with those who haven't made it to Vermont yet. I've assisted Jeff in the past, and you really hit the nail on the head describing both his baking philosophy and his sense of humor.


Thanks again for sharing.


MaryJane @ King Arthur Flour


 

wally's picture
wally

Thanks MaryJane!  I'm glad to have my 'learnings' confirmed.  Thanks as well to all the KAF bakers who cheerfully put up with us as we tromped through your work spaces.


Larry

Jw's picture
Jw

I especially like this sentence: "I experienced a second childhood of sorts", wonder if I should get myself into that situation someday. Cheers, Jw.

wally's picture
wally

Thanks Jw, glad you enjoyed it! If you ever get the chance, grab it.


Larry

wally's picture
wally

Brian,


Came across something while re-reading my class notes that might shed light on attempting to blend flours to emulate T55.  MacGuire pointed out that while differences in the wheats and their processing make an apples to apples comparison of US flours to T55 impossible, for bakers' purposes US all-purpose flours (unbleached and untreated, of course) are pretty comparable to T55 in terms of results. 


Our typical all-purpose flour has a protein content between 10 - 12%.  T55, whose protein content as calculated by the French is 11.5% (the French base their calculations on dry matter, i.e. no humidity, whereas US calculations are based on an assumption of 14% flour humidity) would actually have a protein content of around 9.5% by US measures.


So, adding a percentage of high-protein bread flour to all-purpose flour is taking things in the wrong direction.  Both Hamelman and MacGuire counselled that flour with a protein content over 12% is going to lead to less satisfying results in the form of softer crusts.


In our class, when not using wheat or rye flours, we always used KA's Sir Galahad, whose protein content is 11.7%, the same as their All-Purpose (which may be the same as Sir Galahad actually).


Larry

tananaBrian's picture
tananaBrian

Thanks for the good and educational information!  I wonder why Reinhart uses half and half all-purpose and bread flour in many of his recipes, and 100% bread flour in his mushroom ciabatta ...which I just made last weekend.  It turned out beautiful, proper crumb in that it had a variety of hole sizes ranging from small to larger (to two thirds of a quarter coin in size).  But two things that I noticed are a) once cooled, the crust became soft, and b) in between the nicely distributed larger holes, the crumb was a bit finer ...finer than I think it could be for absolute perfection that is.  I may, just for funz and grinz, try the recipe again but use 100% all purpose flour this time.  Should be interesting.


Brian


PS: So far, I have baked 2 Reinhart ciabattas and one Jason"s Cocodrillo (Quick) Ciabatta.  According to the family, they preferred Jason"s over the Reinharts for flavor (me too.)  I would have guessed that the longer poolish and biga process versions would have been better... Hmmmm....

wally's picture
wally

Brian,


The chemistry is beyond me frankly, but I think your approach via experimentation should yield reliable results.  One thing to keep in mind is that the conversations we had were focused on the course: a survey of classic French breads.  So their opinions about proper 'bread' flour were given in that context.


Still, given that, ciabatta should have a crisp crust.  In his book "Bread" Hamelman recommends a full bake because of the amount of hydration in the dough - even suggesting turning down the oven temp a bit if the crust starts to brown too much.  Might be worth a try.


Larry

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Wally,


I just read this entire thread and I have to say it is filled with good tips and advice. Thank you for taking the time to recount your experience at KAF training camp. It certainly does look like a great experience.


I have been reading and baking from Hamelmans Bread for over a year now and didn't appreciate some of the finer details you have discussed. I think as time passes more people will begin to experiment with minimal mixing and more folding as a path to better breads. I know for me, this method has made a big difference.


I'm just learning about Mr MacGuire myself. It is good news he and Jeff are aligned to teach the world how to make better breads.


Eric

wally's picture
wally

Thanks Eric!  It was quite a learning experience.  Jeffrey and James are reprising their roles in another class surveying the classic French breads that's being held at KAF in October.  Well worth the three days and tuition!


Larry

koloatree's picture
koloatree

thank you for posting this! it just so happens that im planing on taking this class come october!

wally's picture
wally

You'll love it!  Take a camera - Jeffrey won't allow videotaping, but you can shutter away to your heart's content.


Larry

koloatree's picture
koloatree

well today i signed up for my first ever baking class at KA baking insitute for the end of october. im so excited!!! i will be bring backup batteries for sure!


 


any bread bakeries or eateries you recommend in the area?

tananaBrian's picture
tananaBrian

Great news! I hope you have a great time and learn a lot!  I am looking forward to hearing how it went and the pictures!!


Brian


 

wally's picture
wally

I stayed at a delightful B&B about 30 miles south of Norwich in South Woodstock - the Grist Mill House (which, by the way, will discount their rates by 20% if you tell them you're attending a class at KAF).  The cost justified the drive for me. 


I had dinner one night at the Seedhouse Cafe in Reading which was very good; and also had a decent flatbread at Fire Stones Restaurant in Quechee. 


That said, if you're staying closer to Norwich I can't be much help.  Might be worth a call to the Baker's Education Center there to inquire.


Good luck and have a great time!


Larry