As soon as I knew that my teaching schedule in Paris this summer would allow me a luxurious and very welcome 2 weeks to myself, I immediately started Googling “cours de cuisine Paris” to see what classes I could take during that time. Having been hooked 2 years ago by the Lenôtre macaron class and then the atelier at ArtHome, I knew that I wanted to find some more classes in French, to broaden my vocabulary and learn some techniques from the experts. You’ve already read about my experience learning how to make croissants and pains au chocolat again at Lenôtre and I am sure you won’t be surprised to hear that I took more macaron classes, this time at different locations around Paris. As I strive to find the perfect macaron recipe and technique for me, any and all classes are welcome research.
Unsurprisingly, given my search terms, I stumbled upon La Cuisine Paris, a cooking school established by a Franco-American couple who simply want to share their passion – the love for cooking and sharing food – with others. Right in the heart of Paris, La Cuisine has a team of professional chefs, each just as passionate about cooking and sharing their knowledge with others. I had coffee with Jane, one of the owners, a few days after my class and her story about leaving behind a career she wasn’t in love with to start this business she is obviously passionate about is very inspiring. La Cuisine offers classes in both English and French but I chose to enroll in the French-language Macarons Tutti-Frutti class one (other) rainy Saturday afternoon. What better way to pass the time?
Our instructor, Guillemette, spoke great English which was fortunate as out of the 10 of us in the class, there was only one native French speaker. Others must have simply enrolled in the class thinking it’s very visual and do-able with a written recipe and they were right. With a little translation here and there from me and Guillemette, everyone seemed completely thrilled with their French-language class!
We made two kinds of macarons – yellow shells with an apricot white chocolate ganache and red shells with a passionfruit dark chocolate ganache. Such simple recipe, such complex flavours.
And, since we were using the Italian meringue method (where the meringue is cooked by the cooked sugar liquid poured over it as you whip the whites) because it is much more reliable and stable. Since the whites are basically already cooked before they go in the oven as shells, there is less chance of feetless, flat macs.
Guillemette showed us how to fill the piping bag neatly and cleanly. And elegantly.
And now the fun part – piping. Interestingly, Guillemette pipes from directly above, the piping tip never touches the parchment (as I was taught to do at Lenôtre). I piped my own way when it was my turn and was promptly told off by another class member for not doing it right. I smiled and nodded, all the while thinking, “Buddy, you don’t know who you are talking to here – I make macs in my sleep and my piping has never been the problem.” In any case, in the spirit of learning, I piped a few from the top as well and have to say that by the time they were going into the oven, you could not tell which was which.
What I loved about La Cuisine Paris was how totally and utterly do-able Guillemette made these pastries with a bad reputation. The atmosphere is casual, though the instruction is top notch and professional. All the equipment is what you would find in most kitchens – no special stuff required (except the piping bags and nozzles). It felt like a bunch of people gathered at someone’s house for a baking party. And people went away not intimidated and not afraid of the macaron. I’d say that’s a win-win situation for both students and La Cuisine.
La Cuisine Paris
80 Quai de l’Hôtel de ville
01 40 51 78 18
Open Tue-Fri 11am-7pm; Sat 11am-6pm
More macaron instruction took place during a class about candy making at L’Atelier des Chefs. From the website: “L’atelier des Chefs was created in 2004 by Nicolas and Francois Bergerault, two French brothers who noticed that the French were falling out of love with cooking. So, combining their creativity with business savvy the Bergerault brothers launched the business with the hopes of revitalizing young French urbanites’ relationship with cooking and entice people ‘back to the kitchen’. The first L’atelier des Chefs opened on rue de Penthièvre in Paris by offering a thirty minute hands-on cooking experience, known as L’en cas. Never before could people take part in a cooking class for no more than thirty minutes, in a convivial ‘fun’ environment at lunchtime! Success was immediate and the Paris atelier was the first of twelve other cookery schools to open in France, Dubai, London in less than five years. To date, more than 150 000 people have taken cookery classes at L’atelier des Chefs who pride themselves on the fact that everyone who enters the kitchen is taught by a highly skilled professional Chef. The first Chef to launch L’atelier des Chefs in Paris, for example, was Jean Sébastien Bompoil - formerly senior sous-Chef at the Ritz in Paris.”
During my class, we made marshmallow, lollipops and soft caramels as well as a batch of chocolate macarons. This class, taught entirely in French, was tiny – only 5 people – so we had a lot of hands on instruction from our pastry chef. Again, we made macarons using the Italian meringue method. Why? Because the French meringue is too finicky and unreliable. Can we see a pattern forming here?
Chef confirmed that you have to whip the egg whites more than you think you need to…
And taught us how he works the batter during the macaronnage phase. He beats the dry ingredients in by turning the bowl, not the spatula. It’s quite the technique – one I didn’t quite get the hang of but which I will practice.
Chef showed us the trick of pasting the parchment to the cookie tray with a dab of batter…
Our macarons came out pretty well, considering there were five of us piping different sizes and sometimes, shapes!
Though I am not sure why no-one apart from Lenôtre suggests running cold water under the parchment to stop the cooking and help the shells lift off the tray. I always do that and mine never stick (unless they’re failed ones of course and then it’s an entirely different matter). Some of these stuck because they were different sized from others on the same tray and were not quite cooked enough… But no matter, these were mighty fine macarons, considering we only spent about 30 minutes in total on them!
L’Atelier des Chefs classes in French are for those with a high level of French. I speak fluently yet these classes were exhausting mentally for me, simply because of the vocabulary which, let’s face it is not exactly day-to-day vocabulary. But if you want to learn new vocab and push yourself, these are excellent classes (I also did a class with L’Atelier des Chefs where we visited a marked and cooked a three course meal from what we purchased which was excellent). Fabulous chefs and participants who really are keen to learn. Everyone was super kind too so whilst the instruction was very precise and professional, the atmosphere was warm and friendly.
My last macaron class in Paris took place at L’Atelier des Sens, a cooking school that attracts curious epicureans and gourmets from all over. L’atelier offers a wide choice of classes in French cuisine, world cuisine, pastry, wine etc… which take place in a warm, friendly kitchen and are taught by professional and passionate chefs. The workshops are practical and hands on, with classes changing monthly to reflect seasons and trends. This class was again, entirely in French.
The Chef spent a few minutes introducing himself and regaling us with tales of all the Michelin stars he has worked under. Everyone seemed dead impressed by this (as was I!) but it was at this point I realised how all these French people were intimidated by their own macarons and the idea of making them themselves. It seemed to be very comforting to them that they were in very qualified hands.
Again, we made the Italian meringue method macarons because – say it with me now – “it’s more reliable”. Having pooh-poohed this method which requires an extra step, more washing up and a candy thermometer (which I didn’t have until I did the class at L’Atelier des Chefs – it was on special and I got a discount the day of my class!), I think I will be giving this a whirl the next time I make macs chez moi.
The “bec d’oiseau” (bird’s beak) the meringue should look like when it’s ready. This was much smoother than the previous batter at L’Atelier des Chefs and I think the resulting macarons were not as perfect because of this. *I* think it could have done with a touch more beating.
Chef showed us the most robust macaronnage I saw over the three classes. He beat that batter for AGES and went at it like a bull at a gate. Our coffee batter was very very runny after this – we used coffee extract (liquid) to flavour and colour the batter but did not compensate in any way by adding more dry ingredients. The coffee macs were the flattest and had the highest failure rate.
Chef accidentally doubled the ingredients for each of the three batches of macarons so we literally made hundreds of macarons. Hundreds I tell you…. With only four regular ovens to cook them in, we were soon overtaken by macarons waiting to bake…
Most batches (apart from the coffee) succeeded pretty well – nice feet and smooth tops. Again, peculiarly, Chef allowed people to try to remove the macarons from the parchment before they were really cool enough, resulting in broken feet which made them quite challenging to fill. None of the three chefs I took classes from this summer taught participants to line up the macarons in partners so that you can just whip down one row of them putting ganache on one half only and putting the matching shell on right away. In this class, people were putting ganache on every macaron on a tray and then searching amongst others for a match. Not the most efficient way to fill macarons. And yes, I was biting my tongue.
So yeah, I went away from this class with 13 macarons of varying shapes and size and, in my opinion, varying levels of success. Chef told everyone at the end that we all did well because our macarons had smooth tops and that this was a key factor to success. He suggested that there are techniques in the macaronnage that you can use to make your feet taller once you have mastered the basics (i.e. smooth tops). Everyone else seemed extremely pleased with their macarons and I guess I would have been to, had they been my first. In any case, I watched Chef intently and took notes (and photos!) and asked many many questions about technique. So whilst I don’t think the macarons were the prettiest I have had a hand in making, I did learn a lot.
And what will I do with all this knowledge? Why teach a macaron class myself, of course! I am pleased and proud (and a little nervous!) to announce I will be teaching my first class at Le Dolci in Toronto on September 30th. You can read all about it here.
And today I am thrilled to announce I have one place in the macaron class to give away, courtesy of the lovely Lisa at Le Dolci.
To enter, simply email me with “Le Dolci macaron class giveaway” in the subject line and I will choose a winner through Random.org on August 23 at 6pm EST and announce the winner on August 23rd. For a second entry, please “Like” Le Dolci on Facebook and email me to let me know you did.
For a third entry, you can tweet the following message: ” I just entered to win a macaron class at @ledolci with @eatlivtravwrite and you can too: http://bit.ly/recn74 ” and email me letting me know you did.
Good luck and I hope to see you there! (It goes without saying that you should only enter this if you can be in Toronto on September 30th!)
(Edited to add: this contest is now closed. Thanks so much for your interest and, hey, you can always sign up for a class at Le Dolci if you didn’t win!)
Congratulations also to Nic and Penny who each won a copy of “Mad about Macarons” from last week’s giveaway! I will be to touch to get your addresses so Waverley Books can send your copies out to you!