Paris – French Pastry Class with Les Secrets Gourmands de Noémie
I happened upon Noemi’s cooking school by chance. After mentioning to a Parisian acquaintance that I am interested in food she recommended Noemie’s cooking school in the 17th arrendissement. When I checked Noemi’s website, Les Secrets Gourmands de Noemie , I got quite excited. Noemie is the real thing. I registered for a French Pastry class to be held in the morning, after the Christmas holiday.
Noémie is a trained pastry chef, having completed her training at the prestigious Lenotre Institute. She graduated with the highest honors: the Grand Master Class Diploma Lenotre and later worked under the direction of Meilleurs Ouvriers de France where she learned and refined the rigorous techniques required from a French pastry chef. In her career she also worked with great chefs at the Le Pavillon Elysée Lenotre.
Noemi says she developed her love of cooking and appreciation for fine foods in her mother’s kitchen and has fond memories of visiting her grandmother in the country picking fresh vegetables and ripe fruits right in the back yard. When she was only 12 she had her first formal fine dining experience at a gourmet restaurant and that experience left a lasting impression on her.
Noémie’s cooking school is a beautiful space on the ground floor of 92 rue Nollet in the Batignolles neighbourhood of the 17th arrendissement in Paris. The covered Batignolles market is a few doors down on rue de Moines and several boulangeries, pattiesseris, fromageries, cafes, salon de thé, flower shops and one vegetable market after another line the streets on the way to the school. This is not a touristy neighbourhood. It’s a real French working quartier where you can observe French life as it really is for locals. Late afternoon they pick up their baguettes on the way home for dinner, still warm from the oven (never more than 2 hours after they are baked says Noémie) and on Fridays there is a line up at the flower shop.
The school/workshop is situated on a narrow side street, flanked by a real estate office and a beauty salon on each side. It is easily accessible by metro line 13 (Brochant station). The workshop spacious, bright and beautiful. Done in silver gray and hot pink it is welcoming and well designed for the hands-on classes Noémie offers. It is colour coordinated to the last detail. She somehow managed to find even to find a fine microplane grater with a hot pink handle.
The kitchen is equipped with all of the best and the latest and she kept her equipment and appliances at top end residential quality rather than install commercial grade equipment. Noémie wanted to show her students how to cook with what we have at home, since commercial grade appliances work differently than the appliances in our home kitchens. She has Miele ovens (2), a large home style refrigerator, a cooling fridge (she needs it under the circumstances, to quickly cool things to fit everything within the class time frame) Siemens dishwasher, Kitchenaid Artisan Mixer, stainless steel pots and pans and every smaller kitchen gadget you can think of. I have to admit it reminded me in some respect of my home kitchen at Trail’s End, not in the colour or layout necessarily but in how it was equipped. One of the best features in the kitchen she says, is an under the counter space to insert baking trays horizontally into sliding slots, one above the other. This extend the counter space significantly. You know how in commercial kitchens they have the stainless steel shelving units on castors they slide trays with food onto? This serves the same purpose and is neatly tucked below the counter. Noemie said she installed one of these in her home kitchen as well.
The class takes place around the large center island covered with silver gray quartz. It is clean and cool and spacious and it’s fun sitting or standing around the counter sipping a Nespresso, talking, watching, measuring, mixing, sifting, piping, whipping or separating eggs.
Noémie can take about 8-10 students per class and sometimes the classes are smaller and you feel like you just had a private class experience. After taking one class I immediately registered for a second, it was that much fun. Noémie is also not limited to pastries. She has had considerable work experience related to the seafood industry and developed an expertise in that field as well. She teaches French cooking classes that include a market tour where she takes you to the local market of Batignolles, introduce you to its best craftsmen and shows you how to select the best products of the season. You then go back to her workshop/kitchen to cook (and eat) an appetizer, main course, and dessert.
We arrived for class at 10:00 am and were offered a cup of espresso made in her silver Nespresso machine (purple pod, Arpeggio). Before starting to work she asked us to wash our hands at the sink at the back of the room. We were provided with the recipes and class was conducted in both French and English. When I cam back for a second class the next day I was the only English speaking student and I asked her to teach the class in French. I enjoyed hearing the language and understood most of it, asking for clarification when I thought I did not understand something. Noemie is fluent in both languages and was very accommodating. The recipes are given to you in your language (English or French).
In the first class we learned how to make chou pastry and crème brulee (pistachio, probably the best I have tasted). From the chou pastry we made individual Paris Brest, a doughnut shaped pastry filled with Paris Brest pistachio cream. It was very rich but delish. The second thing we made with the chou pastry was what the French call chouquettes, little puffs topped with a type of rock sugar, a form of coarse granules of sugar sprinkled on top. Noémie says this is Sunday breakfast in France, chouquettes with coffee. I can get used to that quite easily.
In the second class we made macarons. I have never made macarons before (macaroon in English, macarons in French:) and it seemed fussy and difficult to make. I was amazed at the beautiful macaroons we produced in this class and it certainly took out the intimidation factor. I think my foodie friends and I will do an operation macarons when I get back from this trip (right Val?). I did learn a few secrets about making macarons from Noemie.
The chou pastry we made in the first class is a very useful recipe to learn. You can use it to pipe eclairs, chouquettes, cream puffs, Paris brest and French crullers or build up a croquembouche or Gateau Saint Honoré. Chou pastry is very light and airy made with flour, sugar, milk butter and eggs. Yes’ it’s rich, but still has a light texture. Chou pastry is apparently the “it” pastry in Paris right now. I mentioned La Maison du Chou that we visited on the food tour of Saint Germain, where they sell only cream puffs and only in three flavours (vanilla, chocolate and coffee).
On to the baking. Noémie says that when you bake you have to measure everything by weight to ensure consistency and accuracy. We measured the ingredients for the chou pastry and lined them up in a French kitchen mis en place method (meaning getting all the ingredients prepared, measured and ready for the cooking). Chou pastry gets cooked twice. First the milk, butter, sugar are melted and flour added all at once and cooked in a pot on top of the stove. Then you pipe the dough into shapes and bake in a hot oven (400℉) until nice and golden. For piping the dough Noémie has sheets of paper pre-marked with the shapes she needs, then she lays a piece of parchment over and you can see the drawn out shapes underneath. This way you pipe the dough onto a clean, unmarked sheet, but can be guided by the shapes drawn underneath. This was especially helpful when we piped the macaroons.
The vanilla custard gets the vanilla flavour not from liquid vanilla extract but of course from fresh vanilla beans. Apparently gastronomes and chefs in France like to use vanilla from L’ile de Réunion, an overseas French Department island in the Indian Ocean east of Madagaskar. Madagaskar is known as the source for some of the world’s best vanilla. The vanilla we used was aromatic and perfumed and the pods were dark brown, almost black and shiny. What I find interesting and new is that she keeps the vanilla pods after she scrapes the vanilla beans out of them. She rinses the pods and lets them dry for a couple of days in a container on the counter. When she has a sufficient number of dried pods she grinds them to a powder and keeps them to flavour food or add it to sugar to make vanilla sugar. I have tucked vanilla pods into sugar containers before but never tried to grind them into a powder. What a good idea.
For the vanilla custard we warmed the milk with half the sugar (otherwise it sticks to the bottom of the pot) and beat the eggs with the rest of the sugar until light and fluffy and then added cornstarch. The yolks were orange coloured from truly free range eggs. I noticed that here in France eggs are not refrigerated and the yolks are always beautifully orange coloured, never pale and anemic looking like what we often get at home.
The vanilla custard is turned into a Paris Brest cream by the addition of praline paste, chopped pralines and soft unsalted butter. Oh yes. Praline paste, pistachio paste and other beautiful nut pasts are easily accessible here but you have to buy them at rather large quantities. You can also buy the praline seeds prepared (praline chopped into coarse ground). Noémie gave me a list of sources where you can buy all these items. I intend to check these places out before we leave and will report my findings. My friend Laura mentioned in a comment on another post that you can find pistachio paste at the amazing La Grande Epicerie that I wrote about before. I am definitely going back there.
So we piped the chou pastry into doughnut shaped circles for the individual Paris Brest pastries. We piped two rounds around each other and a third round on top of the two, which gives the pastries height during baking. When you cut the baked pastry in half you cut it just below the top third layer, so it is larger on the bottom than on top. Confusing? It’ easier to demonstrate than to explain.
On to the crème brulée. This surprised me but Noemie bakes the creme brûlée dry, not in a bain marie (water bath). Most crème brulée recipes instruct to place the crème brûlée in a pan filled with hot water. Noémie bakes it a very slow oven (200℉) and the brulée comes out smooth and creamy. So much simpler.
We went home with everything we baked, nicely packaged in white boxes provided by Noemie. My husband said these were the best macarons he has ever tasted. Congratulations to Naomie.
Once I get home to my kitchen I will definitely reproduce some of these recipe and will provide more details with recipes. Did it whet you appetite?
Les Secrets Gourmands des Noemie
92 rue Nollet
75017 Paris, France
Tel: 06 64 17 93 32
Subway Line 13 : stations Brochant or La Fourche