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In the French kitchen with kids: Les Petits Chefs learn to make rough pastry and caramel

This term, Les Petits Chefs are trying something a little different. They’re helping me test recipes for In the French kitchen with kids (Appetite by Random House, Sept 2018). I couldn’t think of a more perfect opportunity to test my recipes with the actual target market of the book and I’m thrilled my administration are supportive of this endeavour (they loved the idea of the boys working with these recipes!).

For this series of posts, I won’t be sharing the actual recipes (you’ll have to wait for the book for those!) rather, I’ll be focussing on showing you the skills I’m teaching the boys and the things we’re learning together as we make the recipes.

I’ve been working on a kid-friendly, yet authentic tarte tatin for many months now (in various iterations – large, small, different types of caramel etc…) and finally have found one that I’m happy with – the big test was, can kids make this (mostly) independently? Because that’s the focus of the book – getting kids – and their parents – (back) in the kitchen and showing them that real French food doesn’t have to be complicated.

So this week, we started out by making caramel. Yup. Sugar and water over heat. Closely supervised, kids can be a part of this at various levels (even if they are only the timekeepers – a very important job when making caramel! – they can be involved).

We measured our sugar…

Measuring sugar for making caramel with kids on eatlivetravelwrite.comAdded our water…Adding water to sugar to make caramel for tarte tatin with kids on eatlivetravelwrite.comWe let it sit on the heat and swirled occasionally…

Swirling a pan to make caramel with kids on eatlivetravelwrite.comI made myself the timekeeper but should have assigned that task to a boy because I ignored my timer for maybe 30 seconds and the caramel was a *little* too dark… Real life, people.

Learning how to make caramel with kids on eatlivetravelwrite.comWe talked about why that happened and how to avoid it (i.e. make a child the timekeeper!) and then, what to do next and how it might affect our recipe. We learned that super hot caramel will set immediately when it touches cooler surfaces (baking dishes). Science, people!

Meanwhile, we practised peeling and slicing apples…

Peeling apples with kids on eatlivetravelwrite.com Slicing apples with kids on eatlivetravelwrite.comWe sliced them a few different ways to see how we liked them best in the final version (and got to snack on both the leftover bits and peels). Having something to taste/ snack on is always a good idea when you have kids in the kitchen.

We worked with both store-bought and from-scratch pastry…

Cutting pastry rounds with kids on eatlivetravelwrite.comAgain, while *I* think nothing of making pastry from scratch, I’d hate for that to be the reason someone doesn’t try one of my recipes. Making tarte tatins with kids is a pretty big deal for many people so if they need to use store-bought pastry to make it happen, bring it on!

That said, while our tarte tatin were baking, we did work with my rough puff pastry recipe…

We measured flour by weight and volume…

Scooping flour with kids on eatlivetravelwrite.comWe chopped butter into tiny pieces…

Cutting butter with kids on eatlivetravelwrite.comWe grated some butter to see how that would work…

Grating butter with kids on eatlivetravelwrite.comAnd we got to work on our pastry…

Rubbing flour into butter with kids on eatlivetravelwrite.com Rough puff pastry coming together with kids on eatlivetravelwrite.comConditions were not ideal (butter a little too warm as was the room – but hey, all a learning experience) but the boys managed to make beautiful pastry!

Rolling rough puff pastry with kids on eatlivetravelwrite.com Folding rough puff pastry with kids on eatlivetravelwrite.comThey took home a small amount to play with  as well as two of these:

Mini tarte tatins made by kids on eatlivetravelwrite.comWe had some issues with the fruit sticking (the boys were pleased to read that in the recipe it actually says “this happens far more than you would think“) but I showed them how to fix that.

The boys were pretty pleased with their efforts but then I showed them the image that the lovely Dara shot of this dish last week and they all decided that they needed whipped cream or ice cream! Kids will be kids… 😉 As for me? I learned a lot and I think what we made in just under an hour was pretty impressive!

Stay tuned to see what the boys learn next week!

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9 Responses to In the French kitchen with kids: Les Petits Chefs learn to make rough pastry and caramel

  1. Diane Zwang January 19, 2017 at 23:03 #

    What a great idea. Glad that your school is supportive of the process. Bake on!

    • Mardi Michels January 20, 2017 at 06:31 #

      The school and the parents have been unbelievably supportive over the past 7 years – I wouldn’t be writing a kids’ cookbook without their support!

  2. Denise @ Urbnspice January 20, 2017 at 15:01 #

    Good for you! I love having kids in the kitchen with me. They are willing little helpers, aren’t they? I look forward to your book. Cheers

    • Mardi Michels January 23, 2017 at 06:36 #

      Thanks so much – and yes, willing helpers who are more likely to eat what they make 🙂

    • Mardi Michels January 24, 2017 at 11:35 #

      Thanks! It’s a great way to do my job and work on my cookbook (something that rarely happens!) at the same time!

  3. Jessica January 20, 2017 at 15:19 #

    What great test subjects for your cookbook! And I like that you are trying different methods, like chopping verses grating the butter for homemade pastry and then also trying out store-bought pastry. As much as I love making everything from scratch, I agree it’s not always do-able if you don’t have all the ingredients or pastry making just isn’t your thing. I look forward to more behind the scenes action. 🙂

    • Mardi Michels January 24, 2017 at 11:34 #

      Yes they are the best testers I could possibly hope for – what other cookbook author works with her target audience every day?

  4. Janice January 21, 2017 at 09:55 #

    I think your students are officially way ahead of me! Whenever I make a rough puff, it oozes butter in the oven and becomes quite the mess. I almost lit my oven on fire once and spent well over an hour struggling to get butter off the floor of my oven 🙁

    Anyways, a quick tip for making caramel, I find it’s safer to start with the water in the pan and then add the sugar because sometimes, if you do the reverse, the sugar doesn’t dissolve properly and then by the time the syrup is beginning to colour, that little bit of undissolved sugar can induce the rest to crystallize and that’s when you end up with a pan of crystallized sugar. I think starting with the water helps. 😉

    • Mardi Michels January 24, 2017 at 11:33 #

      Gotcha re: caramel, we have a little trick of our own to help the sugar dissolve 🙂 Your puff sounds… uh… buttery!

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