Zingerman's Bake-cation

by Jan Davies McDermott on September 27th, 2012

When a Zingerman's catalog arrives in the mail, foodies nationwide salivate over the Ann Arbor, Mich., company's baked goods, from crusty French breads to melt-in-your-mouth coffeecakes.

The recipes are secret, of course -- except to students who enroll in Zingerman's Bakehouse baking classes. The two-day and four-day programs, called "bake-cations," provide intense hands-on instruction in making some of the eatery's most popular offerings.

The bakehouse, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this month, is part of a family of Zingerman's eateries in the Ann Arbor area, including a delicatessen, coffeehouse and roadhouse restaurant.

"Zingerman's is definitely one of the places that has put Ann Arbor on the map as far as a destination for great food," said Mary Kerr, president of the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "People from near and far come to Zingerman's for the classes they offer."

Students in the four-day program, which costs $1,000, can specialize in breads, pastries or a combined "world tour" course of international baked goods. Two-day courses, at $500, focus on either pastries or breads.

Bake-cation classes are limited to 12 students to allow for one-on-one instruction, and Zingerman's staff members take care of measuring the ingredients and cleaning up afterward.

"The instruction is in sound techniques that one can apply to any other recipe, so if you learn how to laminate a dough properly, it improves your baking skills for the rest of your life, and that's an invaluable skill set to build," said Shelby Kibler, Bakehouse principal. "Whether it's kneading or shaping or cutting or understanding the fundamentals of bread or pastries, the instruction that we give is fundamental."

A typical four-day bread class includes quick breads, such as muffins and flatbreads; straight doughs, such as pretzels, challah and multi-grain breads; naturally leavened sourdough breads; and pre-fermented yeast breads, such as French baguettes.

Students especially enjoy making the Jewish rye bread, Kibler said, because most of them have tasted it on the well-known Zingerman's Reuben.

Pastry classes also cover a wide range of recipes, from chiffon cakes to pie crusts to cream puffs.

Zingerman's also offers more than 50 one-time classes, which focus on a single recipe or technique -- such as "Bakin' with Bacon" and "Cinn-ful Cinnamon Rolls." These classes last three to five hours and usually cost $75 to $125.

If all of that sounds too intimidating, don't worry. Zingerman's classes are open to students of all skill levels, even those who don't know how to use a measuring cup.

"We try to make it comfortable for beginners, so they're not overwhelmed and don't feel behind," Kibler said. "We're giving detailed instructions on the whole process."

In the meantime, more experienced bakers can work on refining their skills.

Two-day classes are the most action-packed and intense, Kibler said. The four-day classes, while still busy, allow for a bit more flexibility and fun -- including short excursions to the deli and roadhouse.

"I think it's a valuable experience to go and hang out and taste things," Kibler said. "To me that's the best part, seeing all the wonderful foods gathered in one place and being able to taste them."

Thinking of coming to take a Zingerman's class? Reserve lodging space at one of Ann Arbor's delightful Bed and Breakfasts. Davies House Inn is closest to the training site and offers a luxurious Jacuzzi Queen Suite with a kitchenette, a slightly smaller Queen Suite with fireplace and kitchenette, a first floor Queen Suite with private bath, or economical Standard Rooms that share a bath. Fill out your inquiry for availability on the contact page. Come and get your hands dirty!

Reprinted article by Ashley Petry of the Indy Star.

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