|Up Avenue de l'Opera is Foucher. They do pate aux fruits right.|
The French love their chocolates and elevate them to a form that I have never seen before. One day a few years ago, I was walking by an abandoned storefront on the rue de Castiglione and noticed that something new was going in. Was it going to be a perfume store? Another designer handbag store? I noticed display cases and the furnishings were so ornate - it looked familiar and yet, so fancy.
|Interior shot taken by me does the store no justice, you have to go see it yourself.|
Ladurée, the brand best known for lovely teas, pastries, beauty supplies and the macaron had decided to open a chocolate shop near the Tuileries. Suffice it to say, I was happy to return a few short months later to see it open and full of chocolates with little else, even the pastries were chocolate - chocolate croissants with gold foil, pain au chocolat with chocolate pastry and some of the prettiest boxes of pralines I had laid eyes on. In the back of the store I noticed a few people standing around a big table whisking away at cake batter. They were learning how to make some sort of amazing chocolate tart and I was determined to join them.
Lately, I've been seeking out cooking classes when I travel. I have had the grand luck of having some amazing instructors and learned some great things. My experience at the Marquis de in Ladurée was in the same league. I learned a ton about making confections and about myself.
Let's talk about the class. The website is hard to navigate and although they tell you there are workshops held every Thursday night and Saturday morning, they don't necessarily tell you what you might be doing. It took three web browsers and two laptops to get the pdf version of the schedule to come up for me.
|Bonus. Lots of lovely pastries to have for le petit dejeuner.|
I emailed the store and started corresponding Jonathan who coordinates the workshops for the store. I paid my 84 Euros (105 dollars and change) and set my alarm for early. I wore comfortable clothes and shoes for class and enjoyed the short walk from my hotel to the workshop. I arrived around 850, and was one of the last to arrive. We were offered coffee and chocolat chaud and chocolate pastries while waiting for the workshop to start.
Before we set off to work, Jonathan gave us a tour of the store (en francais), but he did some translating for me. The store is all about chocolate - it has the usual delicious stuff such as a complete range of pralines, their flagship disks with the marquis embellishments in various flavors and chocolate bars that we all covet. They are Ladurée, so expect to see macarons, however the macarons are filled with chocolate ganache instead of your typical fruit and cream flavors and the pastries are all chocolate. It is truly amazing to behold.
|Our gracious hosts.|
Our instructor was name Aurora and she had been working as pastry chef for a few years. Before we started work, we were given clean aprons and asked to wash our hands. Each person had a station with a recipe, pen and water and tools we would need to complete our project - making chocolates.
|This was not easy - skim coat the chocolate, mush in the paste, smooth it out and then skim coat chocolate on the top before cutting into "squares".|
The workshop focused on making TH's favorite thing in the world - orange filled chocolates. These were almond paste mixed with orange rind and then dipped in chocolate. We learned to prep the work surface, how to smoothly put down a layer of chocolate as a base (think skimcoating if you do such work), incorporate the almond with the orange to form a paste and to try and neatly and smoothly set this sticky concoction into a mold.
That took patience, something I lack.
And then we smoothed chocolate on the top, sort of like a crumb coating on a cake. After that dried, the paste was cut into small squares in anticipation of dipping them in chocolate.
|They were more like trapezoid or parallelograms.|
The great thing about chocolate, it hides a multitude of sins. It is like the faux-wrap dress of the food world.
Tempering chocolate requires a lot of work, time and elbow grease. Like most things, it needs a little pampering. You overheat it and it is crumbly and burnt and a drop of water will cause it to seize up. Tempering chocolate requires stirring a an even rhythm to keep the chocolate melted, not splashing it up sides so it creates seed for the chocolate to grab onto and solidify. It took me a while to get the hang of it, but it also took three times of reheating the chocolate in the microwave (!) to achieve that beautiful consistency with the lovely glossy sheen.
|My final product. My team loved them and so did TH.|
We then dipped the marzipan squares in the tempered chocolate and garnished them with a piece of candied orange. Those trapezoidal attempts at neat squares started to look much more like squared off chocolates. The base helped shape the exterior and by the time we were done, things looked pretty fancy.
Ladurée provided us with lovely take out boxes much like the ones they use to package their own chocolates. We were also allowed to keep our leftover almond paste, which I carefully carried home and hope to use soon. It was an amazing morning where I learned a little patience and a lot about chocolate.
The Chocolate Workshops at the Les Marquis de Ladurée are held Fall, Winter and Spring on Thursday nights and Saturdays in their gorgeous store at 14 Rue de Castiglione. If you arrive early I recommend having breakfast at the Castiglione around the corner on Rue St Honore or walk up to Eric Kayser on Rue Danielle Casanova for a quick bite but save room for a pain au chocolat and the chocolat chaud.
Many thanks to Jonathan and Aurora for leading this workshop and to my patient Parisian classmates. I had a blast.