Zingerman’s Bakehouse is my very favorite bakery in the world! People come from all around the U.S. to taste their breads, cheeses and cakes, and then wax poetic about the caramel crustiness of the pecan-raisin bread, the perfect flakiness of the almond croissant, and the tangy crunch of the Parmesan Pepper Bread revealing the gooey chunks of real parmesan cheese.
I thought surely the bread was overrated given its price but the local food coop in East Lansing had a Zingerman’s display and fresh bread delivered daily. Two days a week they delivered just two loaves of the $8.99 pecan-raisin loaves. The display advertised 1/2 lb of pecans in each loaf so I bit (pun intended).
OMG!!! The bread was so good — the crumb wasn’t overly sweet (like I find Great Harvest’s bread to be, even their savory breads have too much sugar for me) but slightly sourdough-ish and the crust was indeed a caramel-ly contrast to the roasted pecans and plump raisins inside. The first time I bought a loaf I brought it home and tried to hide it behind our regular loaves of bread so I could eat it all myself but Thom, having a superior sense of smell, soon found it and it was gone in 24 hours. From that point on we bought a loaf a week, price be damned! (Okay, sometimes we bought two loaves a week. It was a high protein bread given the nuts so we rationalized it could replace a meal.) I learned that I had to be at the co-op when they opened or risk not getting a loaf because they sold out if you waited much beyond 11 am.
I read somewhere that a marathoner would eat a whole loaf the night before a race and that he would never flag while running, all due to that bread. That alone tempted me to compete in a duathlon (run/bike/run). Though I didn’t eat a whole loaf the night before the race I came in first in the Women’s Masters group(!!), which was comprised of all women age 40 and up. Can you believe it? It had to be due to the bread. Either that, or, it could have been due to the fact that I was the only woman over 40 to compete in the race. Probably though it was the bread.
Anyways, all was well until we moved to Africa. Major withdrawals! It was a long shot, as I know most food establishments believe their recipes to be proprietary so they don’t like to share, but I thought I’d email and beg my case and ask if they would share their recipe. You can imagine how excited I was when the co-owner and founder, Frank Carollo, responded the very next day with the recipe! I was so grateful. He was very patient with me and explained some of the baking terms used in the recipe in subsequent emails. Thanks Frank!
The first pecan-raisin loaf I made here in Zambia turned out good, but it didn’t taste just like Zingerman’s, and I wanted an exact replica! I noticed that my loaf wasn’t as dark as the ones I would buy in East Lansing. The ones they sell there are almost brown-black, just shy of being burned. So, the next time I let the bread bake five minutes more than I thought it needed and sure enough, I had made the perfect Zingerman’s pecan-raisin bread. In reading up on it later I discovered that the crust has to get to a certain color before it caramelizes, kind of how when you make candy there’s probably about 60 seconds between a proper caramel and a hard toffee — it’s all in the timing.
Though some visitors to Zingerman’s complain about the prices, I can vouch that buying their loaves is a bargain. The recipe calls for 2 cups of pecans and 1.5 cups of raisins. Add in the other ingredients and your time and I calculate the loaf should sell for $15, not $8.99.