By Jennifer Huget
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, November 21, 2001

I've never understood what drives grown men to go to those baseball fantasy camps -- the ones where you pretend you're a pro, playing with guys who were in fact pros. Wouldn't the whole thing just make you see with painful clarity how very bad a ballplayer you really are?

After indulging in a little fantasy camp of my own recently, I think I finally understand. If baseball camp is anything like its parallel in the baking world, it's all in the timing: While you're there, slugging at fast pitches or whisking your fougasse dough, you feel like part of the team, no matter how lame you are. It's not until you get home that you realize the depth of your self-delusion.

But by then it doesn't matter, because you've just had a hell of a lot of fun.

If you're any kind of baker at all, you know King Arthur Flour as the Holy Grail of milled wheat. And while the KAF headquarters in rural Norwich, Vt., may not be Camelot, to home bakers and pros alike a visit there feels like a pilgrimage.

On a sunny Friday afternoon, my fellow pilgrims and I -- 14 women and one man -- made our way through the King Arthur store and bakery and into the classroom, a big bright rectangle with bread-board tables and tall stools. The room smelled of baking bread, but more specifically of yeast and flour and (if it can be said to have a scent) of warmth.

We were giddy disciples, fondling the scales and beakers and measuring spoons and Belgian whisks that, for the next 18 hours or so, would be as central to our existence as car keys and cell phones are in our regular lives. I took a front-row stool, next to a bright and bubbly mom-like-me named Desiree.

We'd all signed up for a two-day class called "From Starter to Finish: Starter-Based Artisan Loaves," but I hadn't paid a bit of attention to what that might mean. Now I'd find out. At my seat, along with the clean but well-worn apron and KAF-logo tie tack that would be my uniform, lay a folder full of recipes -- blue cheese and walnut fougasse, pannetone, ciabatta, currant and walnut boule, Old World sesame braid, baguettes and brick-oven pizza.

The only name I recognized was pizza. I was clearly out of my league.

But Desiree was thrilled. "Pizza!" Her goal, she said, was to make better pizza for her family. It had never occurred to me to set a goal, an omission I came to regret when, a few minutes later, we were all asked to say why we'd come. I mumbled something about wanting to, um, bake better bread.

This, essentially, was why we all were there. Take, for instance, the eight women from Missouri, volunteers who provided a catering service for a Kansas City museum. Disappointed at the bread options available to them locally, they flew to Vermont to learn to bake their own. Or Steve, our token guy. He didn't just want to bake better bread: He wanted to bake the best darn bread in Blacksburg, Va. "And it won't be hard," he said.

All that team spirit had me feeling at ease until I noted, at the front of the room, a dry-erase board that read "1 cup flour = 4-4 1/4 oz. (4-4.25) TODAY AT KAF."

Math? Nobody told me there'd be math.

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