Pros: Customer service, free services, fantastic selection, really really nice people
Cons: Slightly high prices, but in terms of customer service and such you get what you pay for with that extra…
Rating: 5 out of 5
First posted 1/2/2001
I first discovered the King Arthur Flour Company many years ago, as my mother always bought their all-purpose flour in the store. It’s a fantastic flour, high-protein and high-gluten, great for breads and bread machines. But flour isn’t the only thing the KAF company sells. They run “The Baker’s Catalogue,” a fantastic storehouse of all things baking, for sale over the internet (and by mail, and phone, and fax, and from their store in Vermont). They usually run slightly more expensive than other places, but they also have things you won’t find anywhere else, and their customer service is exemplary.
It wasn’t all that long ago that KAF put their catalog on line. They’ve had their web site running for quite a while before that, so there’s plenty there to find. Such as their recipes. You’ll find 13 categories of recipes, including yeast breads and rolls, croissants and danish, bread machine breads, quick breads, coffeecakes, pancakes, holiday and festival, and more. You can pick a sub-category within those categories to search (for instance, yeast breads and rolls has 12 sub-categories, including pizza, bagels, and sourdough). You can browse the entire category or sub-category, or you can search for words in the title, ingredients, and/or keywords.
Just to give you one example, I checked out the sourdough sub-category. Along with the recipes, there’s “a quick history of sourdough.” Then you’ll find a grape sourdough starter recipe. And more than 15 other recipes, including Sourdough Waffles for Four, Garlic Bread, and Currant & Walnut Boule.
Web Site Appearance and Usefulness
It’s a nice-looking website, with mainly white backgrounds, a couple of photos here and there, and quick, easy interfaces. While you can access images of all of their wares individually, the long lists of things are simple, quick and easy-loading with no massive image-borders to slow things down.
I find that the website works quickly. I don’t think it’s the fastest system I’ve ever used, but neither have I ever experienced huge lag times or delays while there. The checkout system is secure. The tollfree number for the company is easy to find – right there at the top of the main page (unlike many companies who seem to make it their goal in life to keep from ever talking to you).
The Baking Center
This part of the web site will give you directions to the actual store in Vermont, as well as their hours. It’s worth a trip if you’re ever in the area – it’s a fun place, and the people who work there are friendly and nice! They even have an on-site bakery now, and it’s divine (try the Napoleons!).
The “Baking Education Center” will provide you with information about their school. You’ll find schedules for their demonstrations, hands-on classes for home bakers, and professional classes.
Here you’ll find baking tips, online baking classes, and “frequently asked baking questions.” The tips include primers on yeast breads, sourdough, pie crust, quick bread, pancakes and waffles, whole wheat, and cakes. There are various bread machine tips, as well as pastry tips and bread troubleshooting suggestions.
The online classes are static lessons, not interactive. But they look fantastic, including plenty of detailed photos. The two they have available right now are “Baking at the Bed and Breakfast,” and “Bread Machine Basics and Beyond.”
The FABQ includes 8 categories, including flour, sourdough, bread machines, and more. You can search or browse it. For example, the “ingredients” category includes information on the differences between baking soda and powder; what milk, fat, salt, sugar, ascorbic acid, and vital wheat gluten do in bread; what yeast is; and what malt is.
The Flour Company
The web site includes information on their varieties of flour for home bakers (including their “white whole wheat,” or whole wheat for those of us who don’t like whole wheat flour), and for professional bakers. You’ll also find the company history and profile, and information on working for them.
They have a gift registry! Oooh, and I’m getting married soon… Maybe it would have been safer if I hadn’t found that out… They also have a couple of quick gift packs in case you’re in a hurry to find something for a friend, as well as gift certificates.
You can order a paper version of their catalog, or check out the online one. Online, you have the option of ordering by item numbers (in case you, like us, get their paper catalogs and circle everything in sight). You can browse their categories, or search within categories (or the entire catalog). The categories are: Gift packs; special clearance items; bread baking; cookies, cake, pie, and pastry; ready mixes; ingredients; flours, grains, and grain blends; pans; tools and kitchenware; pizza and pasta; appliances; and miscellaneous. When you check out a category you’ll get a fast-loading and fairly plain short-list of item number, item name, price, and an “add to cart” button. Each item name is a link to a more detailed page of photo and description. Some of their catalog is also available from Amazon.com now.
As for what they sell… well, they range from frilly fun things (decorative cake testers) to semi-commercial (the Kenwood KM-800 mixer with a capacity of 6.9 quarts!). They sell everything from our favorite sourdough starter, to dried cherries and blueberries, to nylon spatulas, mini funnels, extra-fine cheesecloth, and more.
They tend not to carry many different brands of a certain item; they prefer to do their own in-house testing to determine what they like best and then carry that brand. So you know that they’ve thoroughly tested everything they sell. Also, they often come up with unusual uses for normal things, and will hunt down odd items when enough customers ask for them. In addition, they have a wonderful sense of humor, and the item descriptions are done in a very personal, funny, unique voice that makes reading their catalog an amusing pasttime.
They also provide toll-free phone and fax numbers for ordering, a customer service email address, and a (not toll free, but not one of those icky 900 numbers either – you’re only paying for the phone call) “bakers’ hotline” so you can ask them for help when your bread fails to rise.
Our holidays just wouldn’t be complete without an order from or trip to KAF. We use it as an excuse to get a bunch of little things we might not get otherwise, like their “extreme dark” chocolate chips, white spelt flour, a doughnut cutter, pizza cookbook, baking stone, and so on. In all of our dealings with them they have been universally courteous, professional, and friendly. We’ve gotten at least two of our baking friends completely addicted to King Arthur. Just watch your pocketbook – it’s easy to spend waaaay too much with them!