Making croissants and pains au chocolat at École Lenôtre (Paris)

(please note, there are videos embedded in this post so if you are reading in a Reader or via email, you will actually have to click on the post title to see the videos on the web!)

When I realised that I was going to be in Paris for 2 weeks after my conference in London and my teaching gig ended, I was pretty excited.  Two weeks in my favourite city in the world. With a little bit of “play money” put aside….  I set to work organising a few cooking and baking workshops with some wine tasting thrown in there for good measure!  After thoroughly enjoying my macaron workshop at Lenôtre in December 2009, I was pleased to see a croissant and pain au chocolat workshop that still had some space.  Whilst I love eating viennoiseries, I am not too gifted in the “working with pastry” department so I figured who better to learn from than Lenôtre.

A three hour class led by professional Chef Philippe Haller with only 7 people meant there were ample opportunities for practicing techniques. Since croissants actually take a minimum of six hours to make, Chef had organised each stage in advance so we got to practice preparing and working with the dough without all the waiting.

The class was in French, though Lenôtre offer classes in English now too.  I have not followed one of the English ones so cannot vouch for the language, though I imagine it’s well done. Lenôtre is very professional. For me, I learned a lot of baking terms that generally don’t form part of my vocabulary. It was odd though – a lot of the words I totally understood without having ever learned them. I would probably have to really think about it to use such words myself but (though it was hard work concentrating on newish vocabulary for over three hours) I totally understood what was going on.  We did receive a huge packet of notes, which helped too….

And a lot of people actually took notes through the process…

But I didn’t.  Whilst I am interested in the technique of making pastries, I am pretty sure I will never make them at home. Too many variables. Not difficult but time-consuming and requiring a lot of space in one’s fridge and a large space to roll dough. Neither of which I have at home. So I took it all in at Lenôtre and dreamed of having a huge kitchen where I might be persuaded to make fresh breakfast pastries…

Once we had made the “poolish” (like a yeast starter), we got to work rolling the pains au chocolat with a premade dough (Chef had prepared this the night before)…

When I was writing this post up, and looking at my photos (all 350+ of them!) I wondered how best to represent the experience and it seemed to make sense to make some little slideshow movies to give you a sense of what went on.  I tried to keep them short so I hope you enjoy…

And the result?

Aren’t they professional looking? I was pretty excited, though with a chef watching your ever move, it’s hard to go wrong. Oh and what are those below the pains au chocolat? Why those would be croissants au beurre. And they’re not kidding about the “au beurre” part…

35o grams of butter per approximate kilogram of dough incorporated over a series of “tours” (rolling and folding the dough) over a number of hours…  When Chef brought out the big old pot of butter and measured out 350g, I was thinking this was for all of us. But no…

I love how he scrapes up the very last little bit….. 😉

We practiced quite a bit with the “tours” of the buttered dough but by this point, the kitchen was very hot and very humid – 22C is about the hottest you would want it (in fact, if everything is refrigerated and cold, when working with pastry, it’s obviously much better) and it was way hotter than than that so it was difficult to say the least.

But Chef had some more pre-prepared dough and showed us how to roll out the croissants from triangle shapes.  Then he made a few other random pastries with the leftover dough. I mean, as you do, right?

A proper French croissant is, by the way approximately 50g (this is information I gleaned especially for Gail). Much heavier than they look but I guess it’s all that butter…

Here’s my haul (this was me being very modest – and realistic!). Some people took home two boxes of stuff!!!  I can vouch for the fact that a little zap in the microwave might not be so traditional but will do the trick if you can’t eat all your pastries in one or (even two) day/s!

Bonus about Lenôtre? The mid morning snack that just sort of appears…

Verdict? Again, impressed by this place. Professional yet not intimidating. Gorgeous kitchens, amiable Chefs and always interesting company.

Pavillon Elysée Lenôtre
10 ave des Champs Elysées
75008, Paris

103 thoughts on “Making croissants and pains au chocolat at École Lenôtre (Paris)”

  1. Wow, a minimum of six hours, now I understand why they are so amazing:-) What a wonderful experience. Sounds like your trip is more then memorable:-)
    Take care, Terra

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  2. mmmm!!! I was disappointed when each video came to an end! Especially the last one – what a tease! Class sounds like great value. If you have time, I’d recommend a class at La Cuisine Paris as well! I’ve done a pizza, macaron and cocktail class there and I’m dying to do their market class!

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  3. They look fantastic. I can’t believe all the effort that goes into making them. I guess the hefty price of a pain au chocolats is justified after all.

    I took a course at Lenotre once to make the Feuille d’Automne cake. It was a great experience but I never made it again. I would happily take another course though.

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  4. Gosh! I’m so envious! And Whoa!! the amount of butter in the croissant?! If that’s the real amount for a good croissant … we’ve been cheated all this while by our bakeries 😛

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  5. I love the idea of doing a cooking class when you travel. Next time I’m in Paris I’ll have to add this to the list.

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  6. Oi!

    “Whilst I am interested in the technique of making pastries, I am pretty sure I will never make them at home.”

    🙁

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  7. Mardi, I LOVE THIS! I make croissant and pain au chocolate for special brunches. I adore the process.
    A proper French croissant is a delicate beauty. The behemoths that are sold in lousy commercial American grocery stores don’t do the real pastries justice.

    Thank you so much for doing this research for me! I just checked my notes and I had 50 gms/croissant, too!

    Oh…and I once attended a croissant demo, and the secret to that chef’s croissants was not one, but two types of yeast to get the maximum lift, and thus, maximum airy flakiness!

    The only difference that would have made this post better for me is if I were there with you!!!
    xoxo

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  8. This is so neat!! Thank you so much for sharing this! I would love to take a class like that, how much fun!

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  9. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post! You are living out one of my life’s dreams and it may be the closest I ever get. This looks like it was such a wonderful experience Mardi. Thank you for taking me along with you. The videos were a great touch.

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  10. What an awesome experience! There is nothing quite like a French pain au chocolat! Great photos and videos.

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  11. Holy crap, that’s a lot of butter! I’m not surprised though 🙂 I’m actually not a huge fan of croissants and viennoisseries, but I imagine that it must have been really fun to learn how to make them! I love the slideshows!

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  12. Wonderful! Making croissants is on my lifetime list of things to make…one day, it will happen! I have plenty of counter space and fridge room. I’ve been reading up for a while….one day….

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  13. I’m not wishing myself ill, but should I ever fall into a coma and medical science has trouble rousing me, please instruct my doctors to play the pain au chocolat video. This is one fantastic post.

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  14. What a super class! Those croissants look fabulous! All that butter! While in Aosta I watched our Zio Antonio’s pastry chef’s make them for his bakeries. Of course, filled with Nutella:) We had them every morning for breakfast. I’m paying the price now;)

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  15. It’s not until you realise the butter load in the croissants that you come to understand the French paradox… all that food, butter and other fat and yet obesity is not a problem. Vive la France.

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  16. The butter! The rolling! The chocolate! Oh my goodness, you have inspired me to take a class! Thank you!

    So happy I found your blog”

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  17. Omg, when we made puff pastry and croissants in culinary school I remember being just … amazed at the amount of butter we were using. And I vowed to never eat the stuff again, lol. And I’m not making it at home either, I’m with you!! You definitely got more individual attention than I did, I sure could have benefited from that as my results were less … photogenic than yours to be sure!

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  18. Lucky you! I’ve been a lot of time in Paris, but i never took a class there… I know when i’ll live there in a couple of years i’ll have all the time in the world but i envy you! I’m glad for you =))

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  19. Going to Paris next Summer. Sounds like an informative course. I made croissants one time and all I can say is that they were a labor of love and took much longer than six hours. Perhaps I need this class.

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  20. Great post and interesting to know what you would get on the course. Croissants were the first French recipe I ever cooked and they certainly didn’t look that neat! I’ve got better and they are lighter but still not neater. Maybe with a chef standing over me I would have to get them all the same size and shape. The only thing that stops me making them more often is the amount of butter, delicious but so much…sigh.

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  21. WOW, Lenotre is quite posh too, isn’t it? I will be in Paris a week from now and now inspired to take a class! I do not speak French but am wondering myself whether I can manage like you did… learning by visual observation alone. I’m scared!

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  22. Hi! I so want to take this pain au chocolat class when I am in paris next week but i can’t for the life of me figure out how to book… there doesn’t seem to be anything on their website (i had to translate it into english first). Can you tell me how I can book? Do I have to go to the school to book a class?
    Also, did you say they have the classes in english also?

    Reply
      • I have taken more than 15 classes at Lenôtre, including Chef Philippe’s croissant class. I have loved most of my classes, and continue to make most of the pastries and viennoiseries at home.

        Two things I would add: First, I did attend one of the so-called “English” baking classes. The only difference from the French classes was an extra copy of the recipe and instructions in English. The chef/prof spoke no English. Lenôtre recipes are always cursory and not even always accurate. They need to be annotated in class to be useful. I ended up acting as interpreter for the two anglophones in the class.

        Second, you suggest reheating croissants in a microwave. Not a good idea. It will make them soggy or rubbery. Heat them in a toaster oven or full oven. Note: This applies to classically made croissants and other pastries (danishes, etc.). You may be able to microwave supermarket croissants. They contain dozens of additives that might withstand microwaving.

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        • Thanks so much for your feedback – wow – 15 classes? Amazing!

          As I said I cannot vouch for the English language classes but have since heard from friends that they really enjoyed it so perhaps it depends on the chef/ class?

          Re: microwave, well obviously that’s not how I’d choose to enjoy them (and yes, they are not the right texture but as long as you know that, it’s fine). As it was just me in Paris that summer on my own and it was hot, I didn’t want to heat the full-sized oven for one pastry, you know?

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          • Hey Randy and Mardi!

            Sorry for the late reply, but thank you for the advice! I think £130 would have been a lot to throw at something I would have not got the benefits out of, so thank you!
            I have signed up for the macaron class, and mille feuille class at the Lacuisine Paris, and a choux pastry class at the Patisserie a la carte.

            I’m going on friday for a week by myself, staying on rue la fayette, so any tips on places to check out would be great!

            Thanks for the advice x

          • Hi Leila,

            That’s so great you signed up for the classes at La Cuisine – I am doing a mille feuille class this month too – maybe the same one?

          • Sorry for the add on comment again! I just read the link on the three macaron classes you did, very helpful!

            I worked at the Hilton here in the UK as a dessert chef for a year, ( handed my notice in last week to travel and start my own bakery!), so I can make macarons, but wanted to learn ‘the French way’, and see if there were any extra tips I could pick up from the masters, but after what you and Randy were saying about it all being in French, I wouldn’t have understood any tips or quick comments, so would have been a waste of a lot of money.

            I found all your breakdowns of the methods really interesting. I’ve used both Italian and French meringue methods at my work, but still can’t see the subtle differences, so I’m interested to see them side by side (I’m doing the intensive technical macaron course at Lacuisine where they make both types of meringue in the lesson).

            The way I made them at work was to mix the almonds and icing sugar together, whip half of the egg whites until foamy/just turning white, and mix that to the dry ingredients. Leave that aside in a big bowl. Boil the sugar while you’re whipping the other half of the egg whites, pour that in once it’s 118*C, wait for it to cool, then fold it in to the almond/icing sugar/meringue mixture, and fold over with a scrapper. Note that at work we used dried powered egg whites for this recipe, never liquid.

            I love the technique you showed of drawing patterns and butterflies on the shells, too cute! I’ve done it with polka dots where I’ve used a different colour macaron batter, is it essentially just the same thing? They look awesome!

            Thanks for all the tips. Will be looking at your blog to check some fun things to do while I’m over there! x

        • Hey Randy,

          I’m going to Paris later this month and looking at doing a macaroon class here hopefully. My level of French is advanced beginner/lower elementary, I can hold basic conversations, do you think I might struggle to keep up with the tutor?
          I have looked on the Lenôtre site for English classes but can only see something about them starting in 5 months…

          Any advice would be much appreciated! Thanks! x

          Reply

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