I’m the farthest thing from a connoisseur of French food. I know the basics, enough to get me through a few weeks of traveling in France. But, when I walked into a French cooking class, with a group of bloggers, and learned I would be helping to make pâte à choux, my first reaction was “what the heck is that?”
What is Pâte à Choux
It was a bit chaotic when our group walked into the small demo kitchen just off of Place Bellecour in the heart of Lyon. We were traveling together on our Viking River Cruise. This was the last full day of our trip, and we had gotten to know each other pretty well. Perhaps too well.
As we put on our aprons, and all wondered where to put the dozen or so cameras that joined us in our class, our instructor started speaking, very fast. It was all a bit confusing as to what was going to happen. Our instructor handed us a sheet up paper with the ingredients and steps to make pâte à choux.
I slunk off to a corner to Google pâte à choux, not wanting to admit that, as the food blogger of the group, I had no idea what we were about to make. The choux part of the name is merely the light and fluffy pastry dough that is used to make loads of different French pastries, like eclairs and profiteroles. Okay, now I started to feel more in my comfort zone.
In this case, we learned to make the pastry, the crumbly part on the top, and Chantilly cream for the inside, and a fresh salted caramel sauce to top it off. I was in French cooking class heaven, even if I remained a little hesitant.
Learning to Bake at a French Cooking Class
I am often intimidated by cooking classes. I love to eat, and I love to learn how particular dishes are made, but we don’t cook much at home. We used to, when we had a kitchen, and ingredients. But, it is hard to cook on the road. And, our tiny Bangkok apartment has two electric burners, no oven, no counter space, and not a lot of kitchen essentials. We don’t even have a mixing bowl. Cooking is just something I am becoming less comfortable with, not more.
During our French cooking class, I was happy to take a back seat and document the class, allowing others the hands-on experience. And, this cooking class was a bit unique. Instead of each of us receiving our own station, and making our own pastries, we all rolled up our sleeves to help during different parts of the process. Although this may be a little strange if cooking with strangers, our group was used to being together. Even the non-bloggers in our cooking class knew us well enough.
So, as our instructor rattled off rapid fire instructions, in a heavy French accent, and we were left to figure it out, we all got to work. On one end, Erin from The World Wanderer got wrist deep in the crumbly bit for the top of the pastry. Then, helped to roll it our then, and use a pastry cutter to make pastry rounds.
Eric, and his new friend Tim, took turns stirring the dough. And stirring, and stirring. First, on the stove top, and then in a cooled metal pan, to ensure the choux was the right consistency. Eric did not have the same hesitation as I did when it came to participating in the class. Perhaps because he knew if he wasn’t participating, he had to take the photos and videos.
Everyone helped to create the little dollops of dough with a pastry bag, even Erin’s mom. This is why there was no consistency in the pastry dollops. Our instructor did her best to help guide us, but this was not an easy task.
We helped to make the Chantilly cream in the bright orange Kitchen Aid Mixer. One of the last steps in making the pâte à choux is filling the pastry shells with the cream. At this point, most people in the class were a bit tired of helping. We did a lot in a short amount of time, everyone running all over the demo kitchen. Up to this point, I was happy to let others do the work, but I stepped up.
When I was in high school I worked at TCBY, the frozen yogurt store. As part of my job, I had to decorate cakes. I was not very good at it. But, I did it. In this case, I grabbed a hold of the pastry bag and filled those pastries with delicious, and pretty cream. My TCBY training came flooding back!
Our instructor also taught us how to make salted caramel. Not only was the process of making the caramel pretty easy, but she taught us how to write with the caramel in order to decorate the plate. First, she demonstrated the process, and it seemed at least possible that we could do something similar.
I always see plates at fancy restaurants with sauce decorating the plate in swirls and dots. Here was my chance to learn how to do the same. Let me tell you, it’s not that easy. Particularly when using a thick caramel that hardens with each minute. When I started on my plate, the first few dots were pretty easy, and I thought “I’m a natural.” I was so proud of myself. Then, I realized that caramel writing is not an exact science. In the end, I was happy with my #EAT plate.
Eric, on the other hand, did not do so well. I’m not sure what he was trying to write, but it was terribly messed up. In the end, he spread the caramel all over his plate, and used his finger to decorate, similar to Tom Hanks in Castaway.
When all was said and done, and as much as the French cooking class was a bit of a whirlwind from start to finish. I was happy with the pâte à choux we made as a group, which I think was all due to the filling of the pastry with the fresh cream (you know, my part).
In the end, I happily enjoyed the results of our French cooking class, as I messily knocked back a couple of pâte à choux with a glass of sparkling wine. The perfect way to finish one of the last days of our cruise.
We were guests of Viking River Cruises for our French river cruise, but all opinions, and yummy sounds, are as always, my own. Our Veranda Stateroom aboard the Viking Longship Buri starts at $1,999 per person.
Check out our post that debunks 5 Cruise Misconceptions.
Check out our video on our French cooking class in Lyon:
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.