Taking a class at the Ritz Escoffier in Paris has been a dream of mine since I figured out that it was even an option for me. On our first visit to the Ritz Paris, I was blown away by the detail in the pastries. There were unlike anything I had ever seen. Sure, I took a series of Wilton cake decorating classes after I graduated college. I’ve even taken cookie decorating classes with Toba Garrett at the Institute for Culinary Education in NYC. I was captivated by the dainty, perfect, delicious pastries at the Ritz though.
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When were in Paris for Christmas in 2019, I read about Francois Perret’s buche du Noel in a magazine. That’s how we found ourselves at Bar Vendome for dessert and a nightcap. In 2021, when we couldn’t travel, I bought Francois Perret’s cookbook thinking that I would be able to recreate some of my favorite pastries at home. While I enjoyed perusing the book, the recipes felt completely daunting. I had no idea how to visualize what it would be like to recreate those perfectly round tarts, how to bake pastries that could be filled, or even how I could learn to decorate the pastries. When I took cake cookie and decorating classes, I had worked with buttercream, fondant and even royal icing, but those seemed far less complicated than Chantilly cream and caramel.
Even after reading Ritz Pastry from cover to cover more than a few times, I decided to wait until I could take a class at the Ritz Paris Escoffier. When the world started to reopen, we booked a 10 day trip to Paris. Unfortunately, there were no classes offered during that time. As we started debating spending Christmas in Paris again, I hoped that a buche du Noel class would open at the Ritz Escoffier. (It did but it didn’t align with our dates. I ended up taking it in 2022!) As it happened, we booked a long weekend trip, and I happened to notice that they were regularly adding classes to the schedule. When I saw a pastry class added over our dates (fully booked), I decided to take a chance. I emailed the general email and asked to be put on a waitlist. Not only did they respond, they agreed to let me know if a spot opened up.
On Friday afternoon, I received an email that a spot in the Saturday pastry class had opened up and they offered it to me. I immediately sent over my payment information. Tom could paddle his kayak alone in Paris for one day and I would go to the Ritz Paris pastry school.
Ritz Escoffier Pastry Class Introductions
I’ll admit – I felt like a bit of an imposter as I told the Ritz doorman that I was there to take the pastry class. He escorted me to a sitting area in the lobby to wait for the rest of my classmates. One by one they arrived – all very clearly French – but no one looking like an expert pastry chef. After we had all been checked in and our vaccine passes scanned, we headed downstairs to the depth of the Ritz Paris. My coat and camera were checked at the door, and I was escorted to one of the beautiful blue and white teaching kitchens where everything was waiting for us. Apron, recipe book, pencil, scale, and the first set of ingredients. I smiled as I watched my classmates pull out their phones and take photos of the same things I did.
As we started the class, I realized that I was the only English speaker. I was introduced to my translator, Christina, and we were asked to go around the room, introduce ourselves and share how we ended up in the class. I listened to my classmates in French, deciphering a bit of it and practicing in my head as we worked our way around the room. Almost everyone was there because someone in their life thought they would love this gift – this wasn’t a class filled with professional chefs! It was a class of people like me who loved pastries and enjoy baking. While I couldn’t get through my entire introduction in French, I was certainly proud and I felt that the effort I made was appreciated by all.
We were assigned partners, and my classmate immediately helped me feel at ease. He was excited about this Christmas gift from his partner. No, he didn’t make pastries like these at home. Yes, I tried to switch back and forth between French and English. (Christina translated quietly behind me.)
What We Made in the Pastry Basics Class at the Ritz Paris Escoffier
What I loved most about this class is that EVERYTHING, and I mean everything, started from primary ingredients. Our first task was to make the cakes for our Black Forest cake. But for a couple of pastry shells, nothing was pre-made, and nothing came from a box or a can. Antoine showed us how to make everything – and then he watched as we repeated his steps. This proved to be really useful because we were able to take notes as he went through the steps. What impressed me most was how few ingredients we used to make so many delicious things. In French pastry school, simple carries a lot of flavor.
Once we were baking the layers for our black forest cake, we moved over to making choux pastry. Again, Antoine showed us how to make the pastry dough and walked around correcting our pastry form. I loved how he wanted everyone to get it right – and I appreciate he didn’t give up on my left hand! (It’s so hard to be the odd one out sometimes.) Once our choux were in the oven, we were escorted to another kitchen for a delicious lunch and an even better wine.
I was really nervous about lunch. I positioned myself at the end of the table, smiled hesitantly, and listened to my classmates chatter on in French. At one point, one of the women turned to me to ask more about my trip to Paris. Where had I eaten? Did I enjoy French food? What were my favorites? Her kindness touched me in so many ways – reminding me of all the shared humanity in the world. We talked about her upcoming move to San Francisco, if she would be able to find good butter, and what some of her favorite experiences were in Paris. (She loves afternoon tea and thinks George V has the best but was excited to try Cheaval Blanc.)
After lunch we headed back to our kitchen and started our fillings. My partner and I struggled through making caramel from scratch (the Ritz caramel is one of my favorite things I’ve ever tasted) and laughed at ourselves as we almost burned it. We made our tortes in molds (what a great secret) and learned how to trim them and ensure they come out perfect. Our tortes were baked and then filled with a pear custard that I can still smell when I think about it. (It was the most divine smell ever.) Into the oven the pear almond tortes went.
From there, Antoine let us know that we really needed to get busy if we were going to finish everything. We learned to trim our chocolate cakes. I’m literally so mad that everything is hard in the US. Two yardsticks is all you need to get this done well. We whipped Chantilly cream until our arms couldn’t take it anymore – and then Antoine told us that we needed to whip it some more. Layer by layer, we filled our chocolate cakes with cream and cherries before putting them in the freezer to set.
From there, Antoine taught us how to fill our choux pastries with the most divine caramel and proceeded to teach us how to close them off with perfectly piped cream. When I didn’t do it correctly, he showed me the mistakes I was making. With that complete, the choux went into the refrigerator to set.
Finally, it was time to finish everything off and create those perfect Ritz pastries. A blow torch was brought out to release our Black Forest cakes their tins. Antoine rewarded us with more lessons on how to pipe the Chantilly cream, included more cherries, and provided us with some shaved chocolate to finish it off.
Our pear-almond tortes were brought out from the oven. Antoine showed us how to pipe the cream and caramel for those. We garnished them with slivered almonds. Though I was not completely comfortable with my technique, I was impressed at how my torte came together!
At the end of the class, the Ritz Escoffier staff helped us carefully box up all of our creations to take home (or, in my case, back to Hotel du Louvre) to enjoy.
Not Ready for a Class the Ritz Escoffier?
If you’re thinking this sounds like too much, I highly recommend making a reservation at the Bar Vendome or visiting the Ritz Paris Comptoir to try the pastries. Once you do that, you might be swayed to immediately book a cooking class at the Ritz Escoffier!
As I mentioned above, I loved this experience because of how much I learned, but also how I was able to engage with other people who were just as excited as I was to learn. I loved it so much that I took a weeklong pastry class in 2021 and will return again in 2022. I received some great recommendations on things to do in Paris, too. It was such a great opportunity to share an incredible experience and remember that, in spite of the distance that has been between people for the last two years, we still share a lot of humanity – and those moments are why I travel.