Baking is my favorite hobby, so when I was considering experience-inspired birthday gifts back in April, a Zingerman’s BAKE! class was one of the ideas that came to mind. My parents were kind enough to give me gift card to use toward a class. The hardest part was narrowing down which class to take when mulling over their extensive catalog. I finally settled on the fruit tart class because I love fruit based desserts and thought it would be fun to play with patterns for the layered fruit on top.
It’s nearly impossible to fault Zingerman’s on their customer service and the staff running this class were no exception. When I walked in just before the class started the instructor, Nikki, greeted me warmly and showed me to my spot at the table where I found a folder marked with my name filled with details of the pastry we’d be making along with several coupons good at the various Zingerman’s businesses. Bonus!
Nikki encouraged me to stop over at the Bakehouse for a free beverage before class started. Beverages are free to students during the scheduled class time, a nice unexpected extra. I opted for water over juice or coffee, knowing I’d want to stay hydrated as the ovens heated up the classroom.
Everyone arrived right on time and they had us go around and introduce ourselves. Several people were BAKE! veterans and spoke highly of the classes. One woman also warned us first-timers that they can become addicting!
We started with an overview of how they approach baking, including reading, and re-reading, the recipe several times before you begin, what ingredients they suggest and why they use them. Before each step in the tart making process Nikki demonstrated the technique, while throwing in some fun stories. A couple of assistants set us up with tools and ingredients and then cleared away our mess at each point in the class. Trust me, baking is much more fun when you’re not the one cleaning up!
This class was very hands on, which I really enjoyed. We made our own fruit tart from beginning to end, including the crust scented with orange zest, pastry cream with vanilla bean paste and cutting and laying out the fresh fruit design. We learned several great tricks, one of which was to crumble the tart dough into the pan and press it out, rather than going through the laborious process of rolling it out, where it often breaks anyway. That tip may not work for every pastry crust though so you’ll want to experiment!
Honestly, my favorite part was the comparative tasting. Zingerman’s buys a high-end comparative fruit tart from a nearby competitor, which they don’t name, and plate a slice along with the fruit tart recipe the instructor made (and you too!). We sample the cream, and crust of each and talk about how they stand up to eachother. Our (Zingerman’s) recipe won hands down! I had planned to eat both, because dessert is my weakness, but the competitor one wasn’t worth the calories; the crust was bland and the cream tasted like Jell-O pudding. It wasn’t cheap either at around $20! The one we made that day was soooo good! You could taste the zest from the orange in the crust which gave it a bright complex flavor. The vanilla cream was rich, thick and absolutely luscious. We also had a lovely variety of fruit including, strawberries, raspberries, kiwi, blueberries and oranges which we had the chance to arrange however we liked.
Having been a seasoned at-home baker I wasn’t sure if I’d come away with anything I couldn’t have made at home or looked up online, but I was wrong. The pastry crust tip was a great time and stress-saver. I’m going to try that for some other desserts. There were some other great tips we learned along the way, but I’ll encourage to you to sign up and see for yourself what kind of knowledge they share.
Aside from this class, the only other cooking classes I’ve taken have been with Josh. We have gone to some interactive date-night-style classes at Ann Arbor Cooks! (also very fun!). Even if you’re an experienced cook or baker, like me, I think there’s a lot to learn in a group environment, and it’s also just plain fun!
Have you taken any cooking classes? What was the best tip or trick you learned?