After reading My Life in France, by Julia Child, and to a lesser degree, The Sharper Your Knife, The Less you Cry, by Kathleen Flinn, I became very interested in taking a class at the Cordon Bleu in Paris. Not a full regimen of courses to become a certified chef, just a class to see what the whole place was like.
During our visit in Paris last month, only one class was offered for “food enthusiasts” – Les Croustillants Sucrés, or Crispy Desserts. The three-hour class promised us almost nothing, the description being decidedly not descriptive. Nevertheless we were thrilled to sign up, at 90€ a pop, for the chance to be in the actual building where Julia Child made her culinary breakthroughs.
Upon arrival, we were whisked upstairs to a working classroom and met our instructor for the day, Chef Patrick Caals. His translator, Chef Ben Preston, was also on hand to ensure our understanding of the technique and instruction. Our class was made up of other Americans, a woman from Japan and a college student studying in Paris for the year. Unfortunately, because we were moving so quickly, I did not get a chance to chit-chat much with the others, except the college student, who said she takes classes at the Cordon Bleu whenever she can.
Our dessert for the day was an Apricot and Almond Cream in a Crisp Pastry. The crisp pastry turned out to be phyllo dough, something I have worked with before. I was hoping (although not realistically, given the short class time) that we would learn how to make puff pastry. Oh well.
After washing our hands, we prepared the apricots for roasting in the oven. This mostly involved putting them in a pan, brushing copious amounts of melted vanilla-enhanced butter over the top, and roasting in the oven. We did not actually put anything in the oven, but we were able to watch the cooking assistants do that.
The phyllo dough was into 4″x6″ rectangles (approximately) which we then laid out, piece by piece, each one brushed with butter and stacked upon the pile, to create a sort of large squarish-type layered mass of phyllo. Then the phyllo dough was draped into the pastry rings, and more butter was brushed over. Did I tell you the nickname for Le Cordon Bleu is Le Cordon Buerre?
Almond Cream was next, made very easily with equal amounts butter, sugar and ground almonds and one egg. We piped it into the bottom of the pastry rings and arranged the apricots neatly atop. More butter. More sugar. Then fold the edges over and in the oven you go.
While waiting around for our pastries to bake, Chef Caals whipped together a little rum and orange drink, which was more than my darling stomach could handle. Champagne would have been nice, next time I will sneak in a bottle.
The class was over and done with in two hours, an hour short of the scheduled time, and at some points, a little too fast. The entire experience was memorable, and while I was sort of nervous at the beginning, I really enjoyed myself toward the end. The class did not teach me anything new, but I really enjoyed being in the classroom, in the Cordon Bleu and learning more about French food and culture.