Read Time: 4 Minutes Subscribe & Share
Fairy Tales Can Come True
When I inherited a little money from my grandfather in my late twenties, I knew exactly which dream it would make come true . I was going to move to Paris and go to cooking school — provided I was unmarried and fancy-free by my 37th birthday.
Nancy Pollard and my stepmother, Carolyn, along with their culinarily gifted friend Mary Bond, had sparked the joy of cooking in me, and I wanted to keep going.
But dreams change and get postponed. So, single and into my 40s, I made a wildly different investment: I headed to China to adopt a tiny baby girl. Best. Decision. Ever.
And, in the world’s weird way, it turned out that together, my 24-year-old Charlotte and I had a chance this past summer to fulfill part of the original fantasy. In Paris for four days, we took a French Choux Pastry baking class at La Cuisine Paris — an English-language cooking school in Le Marais, where we were staying in a darling AirBnB apartment. [80 Quai de l’Hotel de Ville, 75004;Paris.]
A Parisian Class On Choux
The two-hour hands-on class was the highlight of the trip — an ideal complement to boutique-shopping, riverside-lolling, gallery-strolling, and eating fabulous food in great little restaurants. All, by the way, within easy walking distance of La Cuisine Paris.
Our class was in the stone-walled basement of an old row-house, the only cave I’ve ever been in that felt cozy, not claustrophobic. We’d chosen the Les Choux, Eclairs and more/Technical Choux class based on our schedule restrictions and my daughter’s dessert passion, but all the other offerings were equally tempting, including the French Market Tour and Cooking Class; a walking tour featuring pastry and chocolate; a cheese and wine tasting; and classes in creating crepes, croissants, macarons, baguettes, or Buches de Noel. You could go savory as well as sweet, with courses in Bistrot Lunch Souffles, or Classic French Sauces. You can also take classes in French.
A Piece Of Cake
Forget any anxiety you might have about tackling eclairs in the land that gave birth to the Michelin star. Our class had every level of amateur — from my Duncan Hines inexpertise all the way up to the baker who claimed she’d once made a croquembouche — a classic French wedding cake that is an impossibly complicated upside-down tower of tiny cream puffs filled with creme patissiere, cloaked in swirls of caramel and wrapped in spun sugar. Ok, Baker. She shook me up a bit, but in the end, we all thrived no matter how skimpy our pastry resumes.
This could not have been a more approachable class, taught by Eline, a pastry chef who was totally relatable — funny, warm, and fabulous at explaining technique. She had us all turning out choux buns with sweet and savory craquelin, eclairs filled with cream or topped with meringue, and Paris Brest — the hazelnut cream-filled wheel -shaped pastry created to commemorate the Paris-Brest bicycle race. [An aside on craquelin: this is a little extra disk of a special sweet or savory dough that can top choux buns to give them a crunchy, almost streuselly crust. I was biased against this layer, thanks to Paul Hollywood treating it with great disdain on Great British Baking. He’s wrong, that’s all I can say. Craquelin is fabulous.]
We learned that you don’t have to poke holes in choux to dry them out if you’ve dried out the batter properly to begin with. We learned it takes forever but average folks really can make Italian meringue that can easily pass the bowl-inverted-over-the-head trick — which Eline resisted demonstrating. We learned how to be brave: For burnishing meringue, Chef Eline armed us with an impressively powerful flame-thrower, pooh-poohing the wimpy kitchen torches that I’ve always shied away from as far too dangerous. That bit of pyromania turned out to be enormous fun and put visions of arc-welding in my head. Nobody got hurt. Eline also shared that she and her husband (a chef) had recently devoured an entire cake as dinner. I found that tidbit especially inspiring.
We walked out completely sated and with a dozen-plus extras for later. Next trip — I’m fantasizing about making baguettes. I have a feeling this dream will also come true!
Victoria Sackett is a speechwriter and editor who uses cooking as an antidote to Washington, DC dysfunction. Nothing counteracts chaos like measuring out ingredients in tiny dishes, arranging them in proper order, blending them together, and watching magic happen. Namaste indeed!
What a delicious read on a journey that touched every sense. I’m ready to join the next trip.
I’d love to do this, but I’ll put this on my list of … 2021? Meanwhile, I’ll love to make eclairs for my friend Lois. What would you recommend for this Arlington resident? Kind regards, Susan
Have you checked out Praline Bakery it Fresh Baguette? And following Victoria’s footsteps from home is definitely a post holiday project!
A lovely read and your pastries are beautiful! Cooking and baking are contagious; when we read good stories, we want to be in our kitchens trying something new. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for the lovely comments.
Nancy & Vicky