If my life last week were turned into a Roald Dahl book it would be called ‘Adam and the Zingerman’s Bakehouse’. I have lived down the street from Zingerman’s Deli for almost two years but rarely buy bread there since I make it myself. But I have always been curious to see what a professional, commercial, bakery looks like and two weeks ago I got my chance. And I didn’t have to dig through thousands of loaves of bread to find a golden ticket either! Move over ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. Sadly, I do not inherit the Zingerman’s bread empire at the end.
On the plane last month back from Paris while munching on the last pieces of bread my wife turned to me and said, “You should work on your baguettes”. Though I had tried several different recipes and techniques I really had never managed to make something more than a mediocre to average baguette. I had been telling myself for months that I would finally take one of Zingerman’s many baking classes, and wouldn’t you know it that a week after we got back they had a baguette class! This was better than a Wonka Factory tour; no worries about drowning in a chocolate river or becoming a giant blueberry, just awesome break knowledge, experience, and a bakehouse tour.
The classroom has space for up to a dozen people but on the night of my class there were only four of us. There is a handy mirror above the instructor workstation so you can watch them, and on the other side of the room (not pictured) there is a deck oven. They also had a regular oven to demonstrate how we would make these ourselves at home which was very very helpful.
My biggest struggle with baguettes has always been the shaping process for baguettes, so it was quite helpful to learn from two people who each had a decade of experience! I know a shoddy craftsman blames his tools, but it was clear that having a gigantic wooden surface to work on did wonders for shaping. It isn’t so much the surface as much the space that I lack at home, but I continue to try and work around this.
Loading these onto a deck oven and watching them bake made me almost giddy. First of all just getting to bake something in a professional oven (with steam injectors!) was awesome. But I had also forgotten how much I missed having a window in the oven (our old apartment had one, but the current one doesn’t). I asked the instructor how long these would bake for and she gave a time estimate but said “we bake to color, not time’. How I envy them!
As you might expect these came out with a wonderful shiny crust and beautiful open crumb. I scored mine a bit too close to the edge so they rose out more than up. This was about 2 1/2 feet long and we made ones half that size for the home oven. They made very good use of the down time in the class by talking about each ingredient and the science behind each step in the process.
We cut into a warm one and dove in…yum! They had some jams and butter available to spread but I thought this was just perfect by itself. It was really amazing to see the difference between these and what I’d made before at home. The crumb was soft, buttery, open, and perfectly encased by a crisp, flaky, and not too thick crust.
While the rest of the baguettes cooled off we went next door for a tour of the bakehouse. There is really no way to truly express how incredible an experience this was for me, but…wow, it was SO COOL! They are baking and delivering bread just about all day long and this was the batch of goodies getting ready to be sent out that night.
This is the board of everything that was getting made that afternoon. You can see on the left the time that it was planned to be mixed (in green), the first rise time (in red), and the time it should be shaped on the bench (blue). The staff for one shift measures out the ingredients for the next one, so that when they come in things are ready to go and be mixed. Some of their bread is made specifically for certain businesses, like the buns for Frita Batidos and baguettes for Plum Market.
Here you can see a pretty good portion of the entire bakehouse. In the back corner is the measuring and mixing station (you can see one of the tilted mixers peeking out), and to the right is where things bulk rise. See those giant tubs (about as big as trash cans), that’s where it happens! The tables towards the front are some of the many benches for shaping. They were shaping baguettes when we walked through and it was pretty impressive to see them work so quickly.
This class was just so much fun, my only regret is waiting so long to finally take it! I came home with 5 amazing baguettes and dough for more (that I had made in class) that I baked the next day. I’ve since made them a few more times and the difference between them and what I used to make is night and day. If you have the chance to take a class with them I certainly recommend it!