Local cooking classes and demonstrations are a great way to learn the tricks of the trade from master chefs. The classes are often small and the chefs seem more relaxed in a teaching setting, as opposed to a stressful restaurant kitchen.
Tonight, I was fortunate enough to attend a French pastry baking demonstration by Chef Michael Maddox, formerly of Le Titi de Paris (suburban Chicago), a local favorite for many years. Chef Maddox demonstrated three standard French holiday desserts, including an apple bread pudding, a fruit strudel, and pumpkin creme brulee. Although seeing the desserts made in person was quite fascinating, learning a few tips about baking is what really made the event enjoyable.
5 Baking Tips from French Chef Michael Maddox
1) For Creme Brulee, try light or dark brown sugar (instead of white granulated) on top for a more caramelized taste.
2) To prevent sweets from sticking to a baking dish, lightly rub butter in the bottom and on the sides of the dish then sprinkle with sugar (sprinkling with flour can leave a not-so-pleasant floury taste).
3) When making bread pudding, be daring with the bread. Instead of day-old French bread which is customary, don’t be afraid to try day-old croissants, danishes, or even donuts!
4) When flouring your board prior to rolling out your dough, avoid dropping or sprinkling the flour as if you were sprinkling cheese on a pizza. Instead, toss the flour in a sideways motion — as if you are tossing dice in a game of craps — to create a “dusting” effect.
5) For overcooked sugar, glazes, etc. that have burned and stuck to a pot …. boil water in the pot for a few minutes to loosen the burned item away from the sides or bottom.
……And One Major Takeaway…..French desserts or pastries don’t need complicated ingredients…but rather just the opposite. Many French desserts are extremely simple, requiring only a few of the freshest, seasonal ingredients, combined with creativity, a very sharp knife, and, if you’re like me, a little practice.