As a long-time fan of La Farm Bakery in Cary I had designs to figure out what the secret is to their delicious goods. So if you hadn't heard, La Farm does baking classes from time to time. And while they aren't cheap ($75), they give you access and advice to their Master Baker, Lionel Vatinet over the course of a 2.5 hour lesson. And I don't know about you but I've always found baking to be a bit of a black art. While I can cook pretty decently in the kitchen, mixing flour, water, eggs, butter and more doesn't leave you a lot of lee-way to fix up any mistakes. So it was finally time to take La Farm's Rustic Pastries class and see what their secret is!
La Farm's classes start pretty early (5:30pm) so I had to rush a bit after work. Check in at the counter and then hang out in the dining room to wait for class to start. Thankfully things have slowed down in this very popular and busy cafe, I sip on a glass of vino in anticipation. Eventually Lionel does pop his head out and starts directing people to the back room, kitchen and bakery. We all wash our hands and then pull on spiffy, white La Farm Bakery aprons, we are now sort of official! The class is a mixed group of young and old but perdominantly female. Lionel gets things going with an introduction and he is definitely French given his accent. We do some quick intro's around the room and it's time to start baking!
The classes at La Farm are a nice mix of demonstration and hands-on. On the schedule for tonight is a fruit tart, crepes, profiteroles and chocolate mousse, yum! In some cases the recipes we're making tonight (chocolate mousse, chilled pastry dough) would take more time than what we have allotted for the entire class. So we start the recipe and then Lionel already has the mostly finished version in back for us to enjoy. He's definitely a passionate and engaging guy, I make the mistake of telling him I'm a food blogger so yes, I'm going to get some needling! We start with the crepe batter and it's always interesting to hear how these basic ingredients (flour, egg, butter, milk, water) can be used in so many different ways. First tip, the batter must have the right consistency so cut in some alcohol to thin it out if necessary. The batter goes in the fridge while we move on the to the next recipe.
The profiteroles are next, Lionel mixes the batter, puts it into the pastry bags and the class goes about, squirting it on the aluminum trays for baking. We add some rock sugar on top and it goes into the oven. During all these demos, we learn a bit about Lionel's childhood. While his mother wasn't a professional cook or baker, she encouraged their activity in the kitchen which resulted in one son becoming a chef, the other a baker. And oh yes, a pinch of salt is 235 grains (inside joke).
We move on to pastry dough which is flour, sugar and COLD butter. Lionel demonstrates first but it's a lot of manual labor. Squeezing and "sanding" the butter into the flour so it's blended into a soft, yellowish dough. Our versions get wrapped up and placed in the fridge and then we have some pre-made chilled dough chunks brought out. We roll them out, add some raspberries and blackberries and voila, fruit tart! It's funny to see all the different, odd shapes created by the students, mine looks some place in the middle. Lionel calls these creations "rustic tarts" which allows for the various imperfections and uniquities of our tarts. Into the oven they go and we move on to the mousse.
Lionel pretty much demo's the mousse on his own but it looks so simple. Melted chocolate from a double boiler, butter, sugar and eggs. He whips it into a lovely frothy mix and the chocolate bowl goes around so everyone gets a taste. I'm not a huge sweets fan but I'm looking forward to this dessert! About 2/3 of the way in, a basket of La Farm breads with some delicious spreads are brought out for us to munch on since it's a long class. We get some drinks and coffee and then continue on.
The next step for our class is to take a hand at crepe making. I've tried to do this at home and it's always a mess for me. We go into the kitchen by the stove and Lionel demo's a couple for us. Spoonful of batter swirled around, wait about a minute and then flip! Brown the other side and out of the pan. It all looks so simple but maybe he has some magical crepe pans!? We all take a shot at it and mine comes out decently. It's tricky getting a nice even pan of crepe batter and the flip takes a bit of a skill but it mostly works for me. We grab the plate of student-made crepes and it's back to the prep area.
At the table, Lionel has the profiteroles, ice cream, chocolate sauce and almonds. It's now time to eat our hard-earned snacks! We nosh family-style, I do a profiterole with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce, dee-licious! The pastry has some slight sweetness and airiness like an eclair. A scoop of rich chocolate mousse and I'm done for the evening. While I'm a little bit lactose intolerant, these sweets will be worth any future discomfort! As things wrap up, Lionel passes around some cards for his upcoming book on bread-baking, we grab our baked fruit tarts, the chilled pastry dough and a mystery loaf of bread. And on the way out, it's bizarre to see the always-busy La Farm bakery empty and quiet.
All-in-all a fun and educational food experience! And now that I've taken a class here, I can see why people come back for re-visits. Baking is truly an art and requires a lot of repetition and experience. So much of what makes good pastries awesome are minute details and the ability to see and feel when what you're making is ready to go. And that's where somebody with the amazing amount of experience that Lionel has can be a huge help. While I'll probably never be a master baker like him, hopefully I'll be just a little bit better after my class at La Farm Bakery, bon appetit!
4248 Northwest Cary Parkway
Cary, NC 27513