A Day at French Pastry School: Ooh La La!
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A very generous friend of mine, whom I think the world of, won cooking lessons at The French Pastry School in Chicago from a silent auction and invited a gaggle of women and their children to participate in a class last week.
And I’m telling you, it was such a treat!
Apparently, this particular school in Chicago is one of the top pastry schools in the world. Who knew?
In order to attend their regular classes, you have to go through an application process, and then pay a hefty tuition. They offer classes in pastry, cake making, and artisanal bread baking. But here’s the kicker – how does tuition of $24,000 for a 24-week pastry session strike you? It seems to me, that’s quite a lot of dough. (Says the mom who will soon be shelling out money to pay for an outrageously-priced university.)
We all came dressed according to strict “pastry code”: black pants, closed-toed shoes, and no spaghetti-strapped shirts. Then, once there, we were escorted into the training kitchen where we completed the look by donning white aprons and white paper chef hats. Most people remembered to open their hats. Some of us . . . ahem . . . didn’t catch on right away, and started out looking like French pastry roosters.
Also, see my black shirt? By the end of the class, it was a medium gray due to excessive amounts of flour, sugar and corn starch being smeared all over the front. I’m taking it as a true sign that I was fully engaged in the cooking process rather than worrying about maintaining the pristine condition of my clothes.
I had invited Spence to attend with me at first because he’s crazy about baking and has said for a few years now that he wants to be a pasty chef one day, but, unfortunately, he didn’t make the age requirement, so Logan was in by default. And, since much of baking is science, he was fascinated, soaking in every word the instructor uttered.
First, we all sat on stools while watching and listening to the teacher as he completed various elements of the desserts we were to make. Then, we all trotted back to our tables in pairs in order to attempt to recreate what he had done.
The names of the two desserts we were embarking on were: Hazlenut Dacquoise with Diplomat Cream, and Fresh Fruit and Strawberry Melba Verrine.
As their titles imply, these weren’t just run-of-the-mill brownies or chocolate chips, but rather, high-end, fancy-schmancy French deals. Each included four or more complicated components from scrumptious nut-based meringue to Pepto Bismo-colored marshmallows, which we made from scratch and used a giant egg slicer jobbie to cut them into perfect little squares. We bloomed gelatin, employed piping bags, and whipped up French pastry cream like would-be pastry pros.
After the first intense round of baking, we broke for a delicious champagne brunch. The spread included decadent items like mushroom quiche, paté, an assortment of cheeses, lox, and delicious homemade Nutella on bread, muffins, or bagels. In my haste, I may have just eaten the Nutella right off the spoon. Yum!
The room we ate brunch in was also a pastry museum of sorts, containing samples of past works of art such as cakes and chocolate sculptures completed by prior students. Can you even imagine having the skill or patience to make these masterpieces?
Then, after the meal, when we were all feeling flushed and full, it was back on our feet again to whip out the remaining components, and assemble and box the desserts to take home. This cake baking stuff isn’t for wimps!
Who knew amateurs like us could create something so stunning?
It was a lovely and fun experience where, most of all, I learned to greatly appreciate pastry chefs a whole lot more. Their job is anything but a piece of cake!