Lets go to Paris shall we? Just for a little while, and just in our heads. Lovely Paris, broad boulevards, gorgeous architecture, the small winding streets of Le Marais and the pep and the quirk abounding. A quick jaunt to Paris is one of my favourite London things to do. It is such a joy to hop on the Eurostar in central London, and just over 2 hours later arrive in central Paris. A whole new world greets you off the train.
Le Marais is one of my favourite places to stay when I visit. Previously the Jewish Quarter (and it still is to a large extent), Le Marais is very central and has many lovely restaurants, bars and cafes. Many designers have moved in, and yes, the chains are moving in now, but Le Marais still retains a charm and a gorgeousness that reels you in.
I spent a night at Hotel du Petit Moulin, a 17 room boutique hotel. In a 17th century building (and former boulangerie where Victor Hugo would buy his bread), I went to try a package that they were offering with La Cuisine, a cookery school just outside Le Marais facing the Seine and île Saint Louis, that small island in the centre of the Seine.
Hotel du Petit Moulin already has much to recommend it. Each room is individually designed by Christian Lacroix, and the breakfast room / evening honesty bar is one of the most cheerful and gorgeous rooms that I have ever seen. It is located in one of the most charming areas of Paris and is within walking distance of some terrific places to eat and drink. My room was beautiful and eclectic, and very comfortable. A free standing bath was accompanied by Hermes toiletries. Breakfast was classic French, pastries, yogurts, fruits, jams. I loved the whole hotel experience.
At La Cuisine I had a choice between making baguettes or croissants and breakfast pastries. Why make croissants when you can just buy them everywhere? Right? But homemade croissants are so good, so flaky, so rich with butter and they have to be eaten very fresh. Best out of the oven. And worth every ounce of effort. Yes, even corner shops sell croissants, but they are a bit lacklustre, aren’t they? Usually made with margarine and not butter, and only seeing a human hand when you go to eat it at the end.
Ah yes, but how do you know? In the shop or bakery, how do you know if they are made with butter or margarine? You can trust your nose and your taste buds of course, but you can tell with your eyes. Are the croissants straight or do they have a curve in them? Curved croissants are made with margarine, you see, and straight ones are always made with butter. Those are the (actual) rules.
Straight croissants rule. Croissant pastry is pastry that is delicately layered with butter with painstaking effort and organisation. Butter trumps margarine, no contest. For flavour, texture, and to quote a much used phrase “I would rather trust a farmer with my food, than a pharmacist”. Not only this, but freshness is key, you must eat your croissant within a few hours of them being baked, as traditional croissants are pure and have no preservatives.
Making croissants and breakfast pastries is fun. They take a while, and like most baking projects have rigid steps. But you are rewarded with wonderful golden flaky pastry, and better still you can play with them and be as creative as you want. The classes at La Cuisine are small and taught in English. My teacher was enthusiastic and knowledgable and taught us not only how to make the perfect croissant, but many other things that we could do with the croissant dough like pain au raisin, pain au chocolat and pain suisse (with pastry cream and chocolate chips_. We also experimented with delicious pastries made with pistachio paste (YES) and apricot jam. We experimented with shapes, and shaped them as rolls in and baked them in muffin trays.
I left the class with a joyful bag of pastries in hand planning kitchen adventures with croissant pastries of my own. And planning my next return to Paris, and my next stay at the lovely Hotel du Petit Moulin.
With thanks to Hotel du Petit Moulin who hosted my stay. Stays at Hotel du Petit Moulin start from €195 per room per night, based on two sharing on a B&B basis. The three-hour croissant and breakfast pastries class at La Cuisine costs €99. Booking in advance is recommended as they are popular. I travelled to Paris with Eurostar, who are currently offering tickets from £29 each way.