I have a love affair with France’s croissants and famed pastries, and every time I visit Paris I eat my way around the city’s countless boulangeries. I have never, though, had an interest in learning to make these buttery delights because baking is not my thing.
My husband, on the other hand, is adept in this arena, and it was his idea to take a French baking class during our recent visit to Paris. I agreed to join him, but requested the class focus on croissants, as I envisioned him whipping up a batch of these flaky delights at home – whenever the craving hit!
The class we selected was held at La Cuisine Paris, an established cooking school located in the heart of Paris. It offers a variety of hands-on French cuisine classes, taught in English, so it’s geared toward visitors. In addition to the croissants class, there are sessions devoted to making macarons, mastering French souffles, French bread basics, classic French sauces, poultry dishes and more. They also have walking food and market tours. And if you can’t get to Paris, you can take one of the school’s online video classes. Or do a Zoom class for the live format.
Each class format differs, but all involve sharing tasks and efforts with others to produce the end delicious results. The kitchens at the school resemble home kitchens and the equipment used is what most people would already own. This makes it easier for participants to be able to replicate the dishes at home.
Our instructor for the class was Chef Segolene, a vivacious and enthusiastic woman, who made our group of eight immediately feel comfortable. She set the tone with her easy-going, upbeat manner, letting us know that we would have lots of fun, while learning some new skills. And of course, we would be able to reap the rewards of our efforts!
The “Roi” or king of the Parisian breakfast table is the croissant and making the perfect one of these French icons involves time and technique. Chef Segolene told us that the key is in the dough, which needs to be comprised of butter with an 82% fat content. “It’s all about the butter and the more fat, the better,” she said. “That’s why the croissants taste so good!”
There are sixty (yes, sixty!) layers in croissant dough. The entire process to make croissants takes 48 hours, as the dough needs to rest after each step. Because our class was only three hours in duration, Chef Segolene prepared some dough ahead of time for us to use. But, we did make dough from scratch to learn the process, however, our dough wasn’t obviously going to be ready in time.
First, we had to mix together flour, salt and sugar to make a “fountain.” This entails forming the mixture into a circular shape with built-up walls. Next, we poured water and melted butter into the middle of the fountain, crumbled in the yeast and mixed it until it dissolved. Flour and liquid came together to create a dough, which we kneaded into a ball. The ball was then wrapped in plastic and put in the fridge.
Preparing the butter block came next, which involved placing the butter between two pieces of parchment paper and pounding it with a rolling pin to form a thin rectangle. Pounding it was actually very therapeutic! The butter is then refrigerated until cold and firm.
A series of steps ensues with the dough – rolling it out into a rectangle, placing the butter block on the dough and folding it to create five layers, then folding it again. Chef Segolene gave us a tip when using a rolling pin: put your whole body weight into the motion, not just your shoulders. This was an “aha” moment for me, as I realized I had been mainly using my shoulders and thus tiring quickly.
To shape the croissants, you roll out the dough into a rectangle, then make triangles. However, if making Pain au Chocolat, you create rectangles, and for pinwheels, it’s squares; both of which we also made and augmented with chocolate sticks and chips, raisins, nuts, cinnamon, jam, pistachios, etc.
The shaped dough is placed on a baking tray and brushed with egg wash, and left at room temp for two hours until they look and feel puffy and have almost doubled in size.
The croissants are then baked in a preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes until they turn golden in color. The trick is to create steam in the oven for the baking process by initially spraying water into it. While waiting, we made a sugar syrup, which we used to glaze the other pastries to give them a shine.
As the croissants baked, the aroma in the kitchen was heavenly. Chef Segolene finally announced with much fanfare that they were ready and out came the piping hot beauties. One buttery, soft and flaky bite sent me into a swoon. They were easily in the running for some of the best croissants we had in Paris! And the best part is that we left with a full bag of goodies to take with us and nibble on during our stay.
Though the process of making croissants was complex, Chef Segolene gave clear directions and explanations, with plenty of tips and tricks. The pace was perfect and she encouraged questions and comments, as well as took the time to assist us when needed. Never once did I feel intimidated or that I wasn’t able to follow along, which gave me a confidence boost in the baking department.
And now to turn this experience into a habit back home!www.lacuisineparis.comDebbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries spanning all seven continents, and her stories appear in numerous print and digital publications.