"I don't think mine is turning out the way it's supposed to," my cousin Keri whispers, her fingers nervously kneading the sticky dough. Channeling Dorie Greenspan and exuding much-fabricated confidence, I tell her everything will be fine — and if not, she can take some of my baguettes home.
Keri and I covet the originals of our grandmother's recipes, regularly save our pennies for culinary experiences and road trip with the musings of Joy the Baker's podcasts.
When we stumbled upon Zingerman's Bakehouse in Ann Arbor, Mich., one slice of the foodie empire that includes the famed Zingerman's Delicatessen and its own coffee roasting company, we fell in love.
We immediately knew which of the nearly 70 single-subject classes we would take: Fabulous French Baguettes. We were both French teachers at the time, and presenting houseguests with perfectly warm, crusty baguettes seemed like an attainable extension to our Francophile selves.
We exchange an eager first day of school glance and admire the tools laid out at our identical spaces — long-handled birch spoons, shiny stainless steel bowls, perfectly leveled ingredients — before we unfold our crisp, white aprons and settle in with 10 others at the 15-foot-long butcher block table. With each hint from our instructor, Alejandro, I feel a touch closer to a professional. "I can just see our bakery now, Keri," I exclaim. "We could name it after grandma: Betty's."
But Keri's confidence turns to anxiety as we knead our goopy dough, shape it into elongated ovals and relinquish control to the ovens. French songstresses croon in background music and the sweet scent of rising bread fills the room while we chitchat about the science of gluten and the protein in flour and wait for our loaves to pop fresh from their 450-degree chambers.
We want to break our golden baguettes in half to hear their crusts crackle, to see if the insides are airy and filled with holes, but our instructors feed us house-made bread with cheese and preserves instead. We must wait.
The second we slide into the car, I say, "Break them open now!" They're perfectly warm, crusty, chewy baguettes that, by the fascinating laws of baking science and attentive instruction, we created with our own hands.
Whipped up for foodies, this full-course trip serves up a taste of the Ann Arbor, Mich., well-seasoned dining scene.
5 p.m. Purchase Ann Arbor Tortilla Factory chips and Avalon Bakery's sea salt chocolate chunk cookies at Plum Market for a late night snack.
6 p.m. Check into the renovated Weber's Inn, which boasts poolside rooms near locals' favorite stops.
7 p.m. Bite into spicy chorizo burgers ($8), conch fritters ($5), twice-fried plantains ($6) and coconut cream milkshakes ($4.50, spiced with rum for an extra $2) at Frita Batidos.
7 a.m. Make a coffee run to Zingerman's Roadshow, a vintage Spartan trailer offering lattes and cappuccinos.
8 a.m. Your bake class begins, with most courses lasting three to four hours.
Noon Grab Zingerman's Creamery Sharon Hollow Stock cow's milk cheese. Soft and garlicky, it pairs well with your new baked goods.
12:30 p.m. Buy tools used in your class from Ace Barnes Hardware, which carries a curated collection of top-brand kitchenware and bakeware.
1:30 p.m. Pick up lunch from the aquarium at Monahan's Seafood Market, where the chef will prepare a fish sandwich at market price.
3 p.m. Find sketched mushroom varieties or illustrated trifles on Hollander's decorative papers, perfect for wrapping food gifts.
7 p.m. Catch up over wood-fired Tartufo pizza ($17) with black truffles at Mani Osteria and Bar.
10 a.m. Brunch at Cafe Zola with a signature crepe such as smoked salmon ($15.95).