Inside the sweet business of Zingerman’s Bakehouse
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Of the businesses that get extra busy around the holiday season, Zingerman’s Bakehouse is most certainly one of them. The Ann Arbor-based bakery has fans across the country, thanks to a robust mail order business. And on top of that, owners Frank Carollo and Amy Emberling recently released a cookbook with all their most popular recipes. The book is also called “Zingerman’s Bakehouse.” They talked to Adriene Hill about the company’s surprising business model and how they know when the holiday shopping season has finally come to an end. What follows is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Adriene Hill: I wonder if you can start with just describing Zingerman’s Bakehouse for people who aren’t familiar with it?
Frank Carollo: Well, let’s see. We are located in an industrial park on the south side of Ann Arbor, and we have really about five different components to the Bakehouse. We have a bread bakery, a pastry kitchen, a cake studio. We have a little retail shop and we have a baking school. And we have about 24,000 square feet and 150 people who work 24 hours a day, pretty much seven days a week, making delicious baked goods.
Hill: Do you have a sense of how many sour cream coffee cakes you guys are making every year?
Amy Emberling: Yes, probably between 50,000 and 60,000.
Emberling: People love coffeecake. Who’d have thought?
Hill: Zingerman’s is a company I’m familiar with through mail order since I’ve not lived in Michigan, but I have gotten some excellently timed Zingerman’s care packages. What is the relationship of the Bakehouse to the rest of the Zingerman’s empire?
Cover art for Frank Carollo and Amy Emberling’s new book, “Zingerman’s Bakehouse.”
Emberling: We’re sort of like a loose confederation of businesses, a little bit like how our government works with states. So we all use the Zingerman’s name. However, we’re owned independently. There’s a little bit of joint ownership — the founders of the original business, Zingerman’s Delicatessen, owned some of each of the other businesses, but all of the other owners do not own parts of the other businesses. And we work cooperatively together in determining some big-picture things, like how we do benefits or service. But in terms of running our businesses, we’re entirely independent. So it’s a kind of interesting mix and often brings a productive tension.
Hill: Frank, you’ve been Zingerman’s since 1992, and I wonder how the business has changed in that time.
Carollo: Well, when we started, I didn’t know what opportunities we would have. Nor did I know how much people would embrace — I mean, from the start, humbly, I’ll say, hearth-baked, European-style bread didn’t exist in Michigan in 1992, and people just really loved it, and so we grew at a rate beyond my sort of wildest dreams, and now it’s an 800-square-foot store that does a ridiculous amount of business in an industrial park.
Hill: Amy, tell me a little bit about your holiday season. When does it start for you guys?
Emberling: Well, really it starts in August when we begin the planning for it, right? And every year it moves back, and we realize we really can’t do anything other than consider this sort of day-to-day business starting in August, so there’s a lot of planning that goes on in August. A lot of coordination with Zingerman’s mail order. They’re our biggest customer during the whole holiday season. And then it really starts to ramp up middle of October. Right now, you know, where we’re sort of winding down but it’s all through the fall.
Hill: And what’s your January like? You guys get to take a break when everybody goes on vacation?
Emberling: It’s amazing. I always tell people it’s as if there’s, you know, one of those red emergency stop buttons in the sky and that somebody just whacks it at about 3 o’clock on Dec. 24th, and it’s done and then it’s quiet and nothing happens. And so we’re really quiet until Valentine’s Day or in Michigan, Fat Tuesday is a very big day. We have a large Polish community and we make a lot of donuts —
Hill: Is that patchkies?
Hill: I was close.
Emberling: It was close! So it picks up then. But we’re grateful to have a little time off to breathe once that happens.
Hill: I want to talk to you guys now about your cookbook a little. I know some people will have gotten this book as a holiday present. They’re really flipping through it right now. Are these the actual recipes that you use? If I follow this to the letter, if I measure my ingredients or weigh them, am I going to achieve those same brownies I would get in the mail?
Carollo: You absolutely will. And you mentioned the key word that to help home bakers — to me the single most important thing to do is invest in a $35 digital scale and weigh all your ingredients rather than measure them by volume. And that is the single biggest step that will get you great results every single time you bake.
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Hill: Why give up the recipe though? Are you worried that that people won’t order next time around when they have a chance to order when they’re really craving those brownies or whatever it is?
Emberling: Some people may not, and that will just leave us room to continue to develop new things. And I think in reality there are a lot of people who are not going to bake the things and they will continue to buy from us. Some of the things in the book are really difficult, Adriene, and I think people will realize why they cost what they do when they come to our stores and may decide that it’s really worth it and would rather not make it. So in terms of business overall, there’s so much more to having a successful business or a bakery than just these recipes that, you know, we feel OK about sharing them.
Hill: So before I let you go, I want to ask if there are any recommendations you have for folks, you know, in this week before New Year’s diets kick in. What should they be cooking? What would you recommend? One thing they cook for this week in between?
Emberling: I think I take a little break and make something very tasty but not so difficult that’s in the book that’s called Detroit Style Pizza. A lot of the country doesn’t know that we have a style of pizza that’s distinctive to Detroit. And it could be a really nice midweek meal.
Hill: And anything you might cook Frank?
Carollo: Well, I guess there’s a recipe for chestnut baguettes and thinking about a New Year’s Eve party. If you make those baguettes with some chestnut flour, they pair wonderfully with a nice piece of cheese, and you’ll be a winner if you make those for a New Year’s Eve party.
Slices of Zingerman’s Detroit Styled Pizza
Zingerman’s Detroit Style Pizza
Yield: 1 pizza
1 cup (230g) warm water (100⁰F, [38⁰C])
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1 tablespoon (290g)
¾ teaspoon active dry yeast
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (795g)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar (44g)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried, crushed basil
1½ teaspoon finely minced garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (45g)
8 slices pepperoni (optional)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (230g)
2 cups shredded brick cheese (230g)
Pinch of dried oregano
Pinch of sea salt
1 cup warm pizza sauce (230g)
Make the Dough:
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the water and sea salt and stir to dissolve the salt. Add the flour and yeast and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough becomes a shaggy mass. Make sure that all the flour is hydrated. Using the dough hook attachment, mix on medium-low speed for 4 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl and release the dough from the hook. Mix for an additional 4 minutes. It will now hold a round shape.
Spray a bowl with nonstick cooking spray or brush lightly with olive oil. Place the dough into the bowl and cover with plastic. Let the dough relax for 15 minutes, and then shape the dough.
Shape the Dough:
Lightly oil or butter the inside surfaces of a 9-by-13 inch [23-by 33 cm] baking pan or Detroit pizza pan.
Place the dough into the pan and use your fingertips to spread the dough out to the corners and sides of the pan. The dough will be sticky, so lightly dip your fingertips in oil to make stretching it easier. Set the pan aside, cover with plastic, and let rise in a warm area for 1½ to 2 hours, or until the dough is approximately ½ to ¾ in [1.5 to 2 cm] tall in the pan.
Make the Sauce:
Combine the tomatoes, sugar, oregano, basil, garlic, salt, and pepper and stir together in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring periodically. Using an immersion blender or food processor, puree the sauce until smooth. Place it back over medium heat. Simmer the pureed sauce until slightly thickened, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring periodically.
Keep the sauce warm for ladling over the pizza, or cool and refrigerate for up to a week. This recipe makes about 3 cups [710 ml] of sauce and it can also be frozen up to 3 months, if desired. You will have more sauce than you need for one pizza.
Top and Bake Pizza:
Preheat the oven to 475⁰F [240⁰C].
Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese around the edge of the pizza where the dough touches the sides of the pan. This cheese will form a crispy, caramelized edge on the crust. If desired, place pepperoni in two rows of four down the length of the pizza, directly on top on the dough. Gently push the pepperoni into the dough.
Sprinkle the mozzarella and brick cheeses over the surface of the pizza, spreading them all the way to the edges where the dough meets the sides of the pan. This cheese will also contribute to the crispy, caramelized edge on the crust. Season the top of the pizza with a pinch each of oregano and salt.
Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Look for an amber-colored top and crispy edges.
After removing the pizza from the oven, use a small offset spatula or knife to loosen the sides of the crust from the pan. Slide the pizza out of the pan onto a cooling rack. At this point, if a crispier bottom is desired, you can put the pizza (out of the pan) directly onto the oven rack or a sheet tray and bake for an extra 5 minutes for a slightly more browned finish on the bottom of the crust.
After you remove the pizza from the oven, top it with the warm sauce. Traditionally, it is ladled into two rows down the length of the pizza. Serve warm.
Storage note: This pizza can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three days and reheated on a lightly oiled sheet tray at 475⁰F [240⁰C]
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