Walking around Paris it’s impossible not to take in the sites, smells, and sounds of pastry. From patisserie shops on nearly every corner to sumptuous pastry stands in every grocery store and wanton acts of croissant on display in most restaurants, it’s clear that pastry and croissants are staples of Parisian life. But though they are ubiquitous, these impossibly light, flaky, and buttery creations feel somehow aloof. Doubts such as, “I could never do that.” and “There must be some trick – some French thing that I’ll never get” season the mind of most non-French cooks. Fortunately, La Cuisine’s half-day breakfast pastry class is there to demystify the Parisian pastry-making experience and place it in the hands of we mere mortals.
Conveniently located on the right (north) bank of the Seine, not far from the Hotel de Ville & Pont Marie Metro stops, La Cuisine’s teaching space (they also do market tours) is well suited to this 8-12 person class.
After greeting his students, Roman, our instructor, led us to a large cool room dominated by a giant stainless steel table, flanked by a brace of ovens.
Chatting casually as we stowed our coats and bags, Roman assessed our interests and skill levels in baking, gave a brief overview of the class, and then ran through the equipment at each of our baking stations (pastry student desks). Bowls of flour, scrapers, rolling pins, and disposable aprons awaited us all.
A few laughs were had as we helped each other into our aprons, and then began combining flour, water, and butter. While we did mix our own dough, we actually baked with dough made in advance (and allowed to rest in the refrigerator overnight).
As we pounded, stretched, rolled, folded our dough, and flattened butter, the class had an easy conversational feel among curious cooks. Roman regaled us with tales of his time in the trenches making croissants in commercial quantities, and gave us advice on buying pastry-making kitchenware around Paris and when we returned home. I must admit that I left this class a convert to the, “no-handle” rolling pin, and made it a quest to buy a good one on my visit to E. Dehillerin. I’d long coveted these, but watching an expert wield one was invaluable in helping me commit to the purchase. And having the time to test drive one in person taught me enough to buy the right size and weight for my own personal cooking style.
Dough ready, we began the work of assembling our croissants, pain au chocolate, and fruit filled pastries. Into the oven they went, and we continued work on a vanilla infused crème, and other accompaniments for our creations. One of the spreads was a heavenly pistachio cream that I’ll probably never be chef enough to recreate, but loved sampling. This special treat was one of the informational morsels (like the rolling pin) that made this class so worthwhile. And it was in one of these moments that Roman taught us the Parisian legal distinction between straight and curved croissants. Sadly, I’m sworn to secrecy, so you’ll have to take the class to find out.
Happily, when our pastries came out of the oven a short time later they actually looked like, well, pastries. What’s more impressive is they tasted like real pastries, and went well with the coffee and tea service provided by the school. So, in the end, we sat around eating pastry, drinking coffee, and feeling wonderfully full, and full of ourselves.
Overall, the La Cuisine course is a good mix of pastry techniques, French breakfast culture, and well-paced supportive instruction and casual food chat. As it takes place in a well-tended commercial-style baking kitchen it’s a bit more polished than most home kitchens, and things come out almost too perfect. The downside is that, while the recipes and techniques are all scaled back for home use, the class doesn’t feel as homey or as applicable to home pastry making as it might in a more residential setting. And, while Roman (my instructor) was great, it’s important to know that he doesn’t teach every breakfast pastry class. The courses at La Cuisine are rotated amongst all of the very well trained faculty.
In the end we all walked away a box of our own pastries, and a nicely printed sheet with pastry dough recipes and techniques, a good solid pastry-making foundation, and the courage to try baking Parisian pastry and croissants at home.
Text and photos by Glenn D. Kaufmann
La Cuisine Paris
80 Quai de l’Hôtel de ville, 75004
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