I have participated in many culinary classes in the past but this was to be a lecture rather than a hands-on experience. We were taken on a journey of the evolution of French pastry from the earliest preparations, through 20th century decadence, to modern technology's influence on today's chefs.
Guided by the literature on French pastry we learnt that the distinction between cooks and pastry cooks was recognised in the Middle Ages. It all started off with the pain d’épice which was traced back to ancient times (as far as the Egyptians) and was brought to Europe from China by the Crusades. As they brought back the recipe and the spices, this distant ancestor of the ginger bread was spread over Europe during the Middle Ages.
In 1358 we find the first mention of the gateaux de Savoie, the posh French description for sponge cake! Apparently Nostradamus was the first person to write a recipe containing marzipan in 1555.
The first ice creams were served at the wedding of Catherine de Médicis and the future Henri II, along with pâte à choux, light pastry dough invented by Popelini. Who knew it was thanks to Catherine de Médicis, who not only brought with her Italy's white gold of the time but also the know how - or as the French would put it, the savoir-faire - of incorporating the new discovery called sugar into delicious recipes.
The world-famous French macaron made its entrance in 1552 but supposedly there is a recipe dating from the 12th century by the Abbaye de Cormery claiming this iconic invention.
In the 17th century, Anne of Austria brought chocolate to France from the Spanish court, and the concept of "pièces montées" (decoratively mounted confectionery centrepieces) made its entrance in Versailles. Vatel whipped up the first Chantilly cream, yet it wasn't until the 19th century that French pastry began to really take flight, quite possibly because patisserie was a privilege coveted by the aristocracy until then.
Today in 2017 la pâtisserie française is much more a chemical science than intuitive ingenuity. Not much space is left for improvisation although creativity still plays an important role especially in the presentation of such delicacies. Le savoir-faire comes avant tout!
Smashing view from the new Cordon Bleu building in Paris
Back to school and ready to take notes!
Who's who of Cordon Bleu chefs!
While others were busy signing the Treaty of Paris in 1815 and
the act confirming the neutrality of Switzerland was signed on the same day,
Monsieur Antonin Carême was making culinary history!