What was my favorite part of our trip to Provence, France and Geneva, Switzerland? Hands down, cooking school! Within the first week, we spent 2 1/2 days in Paris, primarily eating very well, doing the tourist thing and revisiting sights we have seen a half a dozen times during our seven years living in Europe. It simply felt good (and comfortable) being back on the continent as we remembered what we most enjoyed during our travels. Before heading south to Lyon for the Rhone River cruise, we spent the morning at Le Cordon Bleu Paris making chocolate macaroons.
The class began by selecting from the 12 cooking stations and getting dressed in our aprons and hats. Chef Eric Verger demonstrated the mixing and baking process, to include using a pastry bag to press the cookie dough into perfectly round half dollars. The most important instruction was to not overmix the dough or the cookies will crack during baking. I took copious notes during the demonstration, intending to get this right the first time.
My husband was a superb sous-chef, but Chef Eric and his assistants insisted that everyone get a chance using the pastry bag and making their own tray of cookies, so I agreed and let him try it out for himself. If you’ve never used a pastry bag, you may need some practice to get a feel for how much pressure to use for a single sized cookie and to ensure you removed all the air out of the bag. One by one, we each created rows of chocolate circles making sure they didn’t touch. One of the assistants stopped by my tray and inquired, “Is this your first time making macaroons?” I said, “yes, it is.” “Wow. That’s really good. They are all the same size.” Consistency is probably the most difficult part of making macaroons – you don’t want a tiny top to a big bottom. After all, your OREO cookies have equal tops and bottoms and your macaroons should too! Keep in mind, I’ve been practicing using a pastry bag for probably 24+ years. My girlfriend, Susan taught me the basics of cake decorating when our boys were toddlers and we were making Barney, Winnie the Pooh and tractor shaped cakes. Over the years, I have gotten far more adventurous and also use a Pampered Chef cake decorator press (unfortunately, it is no longer available) with frosting, whipped cream, deviled eggs or pudding to make a variety of elegant appetizers and desserts.
Two large baking trays were added to the oven after we labeled them with our names. Meanwhile, we mixed the chocolate filling. About 15 minutes later, and we had beautiful and tender macaroon cookie shells. After adequate cooling, we were able to assemble the little sandwich cookies using a separate pastry bag but this time without a tip. As I mentioned earlier, the goal is to match equally sized & shape top and bottom shells. Just fill add the top and twist to press. Chef Eric stopped by my station, admiring the perfectly baked shells (with no cracks) and symmetrical little sandwiches, complimenting me, “Tres bien!” When distributing the course certificates, he delivered another compliment and a broad smile appeared on my face, proud of our little creations, but mostly his encouragement. I hope my followers can understand the importance of this experience and what his words of encouragement meant to me. After all, your family can like what you make, even your friends can compliment your entertaining skills, but when a professional chef agrees, now I can say for sure – YES, I CAN DO THIS. In the back of my mind, an idea pops up…. does that mean I could attend culinary school and be successful? Likely so, although all the US locations of Le Cordon Bleu campus closed several years ago, so it is really a moot point. It’s not like I’m going to become a professional chef, but I do love learning and making wonderful food.
Feeling good, one by one, we filled our pastry boxes with our 36 chocolate macaroons and packed up our Le Cordon Bleu insulated shopping bags to include aprons, hats and kitchen towels, before (of course) stopping at the gift shop before returning to the hotel in the coach. Now, how are we going to eat all these macaroons?!
The bad news? We didn’t eat all the macaroons before we had to pack to go home, although they were fabulously tasty. The good news? We also attended the Anne Sophie Pic Scook School in Valence, France for a culinary presentation class and session for wine and cheese pairing. I received another prize for “best in class” and a divine recipe for a poached egg over tomato chutney. It was definitely highlight #2! I had no idea culinary school could be so very much fun…
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