“But the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know, and I felt I had just gotten my foot in the kitchen door.”

~Julia Child, My Life in France

Rain was threatening to break through the overcast sky as our bus made its way through the early morning streets of Paris. Herb and I were headed with our tour group to Le Cordon Bleu in the 15th arrondissement, about a 25-minute drive from our hotel. The renowned culinary school was a place I had never imagined myself, and I could barely contain my excitement at the thought of taking a class where Julia Child had so famously studied.

French for The Blue Ribbon, Le Cordon Bleu’s name dates to 1578, when members of the French Order of the Holy Spirit were awarded the Cross of the Holy Spirit, which hung from a blue silk ribbon. As the story is told, the group became known for its extravagant banquets called “cordons bleus.” The Order was abolished along with the monarchy during the French Revolution, but the cordon bleu name lived on, becoming synonymous with excellent French cooking and haute cuisine.

In 1895, journalist Marthe Distel, who had founded a French culinary magazine called La Cuisinière Cordon Bleu, opened Le Cordon Bleu culinary school along with Chef Henri-Paul Pellaprat. Today Le Cordon Bleu is considered the largest network of culinary and hospitality schools in the world, with 35 institutes in 20 countries and more than 20,000 students of over 100 nationalities.

Le Cordon Bleu Paris

We entered a modern glass and aluminum building with the blue-ribbon logo emblazoned at the top and waited in the two-story lobby. A friendly woman from the school welcomed us and called our names and kitchen assignments. There was a large kitchen on the first floor and a smaller space upstairs, where Herb and I were directed along with nine others from our group.

Looking up, outside Le Cordon Bleu Paris.
A display of flags representing countries having Le Cordon Blue culinary schools greets visitors inside the Paris flagship school.

The light-filled, pristine kitchen was decorated with white and blue tiles, the color of Le Cordon Bleu’s logo. Individual work stations were waiting for us with an apron, dish towel, hat, recipe booklet and pencil. Ingredients for our macarons were pre-measured in mixing bowls at our stations and in small saucepans on our cooktops. Herb and I would be working together to make the batter and filling, which would be used for our individually-created macarons. The woman who checked us in explained that we were welcome to take photos and videos of everything and everyone except the chef.

Our cooktop and mixing station in Le Cordon Bleu’s upstairs kitchen.
My pastry chef “wardrobe” and recipe booklet.
Ready to make some macarons!

Making Macarons Part 1 – The Ganache Filling

Chef Frédéric Deshayes greeted us with a warm smile and a friendly demeanor. He told us he had been baking macarons for 40 years and had been an apprentice under the “father of macarons” in Paris when he first started. Macarons, he explained, came to France from Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries. And while his demonstrations evoked the effortless rhythm of a seasoned pro, he was quick to point out that making macarons is an extremely labor-intensive process. Comments and knowing looks flashed across the work table as we all seemed to now understand why a single macaron at a bakery is so expensive.

The first step was making the ganache filling, which Chef Deshayes demonstrated as his two sous chefs walked around the room, offering to help and answer questions. I found a blank page in my recipe booklet and took notes as quickly as my official Cordon Bleu pencil would write!

Making the ganache filling by first warming the cream and then adding pre-measured ingredients of white and milk chocolate and feuille de gélatine.

Making Macarons Part 2 – The Shells

With our filling transferred to a pan and placed in our individual refrigerators, we moved on to preparing the meringue shells. There was vigorous hand stirring – whip until the egg whites stick to the whisk – and electric mixer whirring and spatula folding until the batter is soft and shiny. After we received approval from Chef Deshayes, Herb and I split our batter into two piping bags and piped small circles and hearts – pipe, press, turn – onto our baking sheets, letting them dry before baking.

Our pre-mixed batter.
Herb whisks the batter by hand before letting the electric mixer complete the task.
My piped shells…ready for baking.

Voilà!

Once the shells were baked and out of the oven, it was time for the final step: flipping one row of shells to use as the top of the macaron “sandwich,” trying to carefully match like sizes as much as possible for a good fit. We removed our ganache filling from our refrigerator and once again used a piping bag, this time to pipe the frosting onto the bottom macaron layer before placing the final shell on top.

My finished macarons were far from looking like the perfectly-shaped treats prepared by Chef Deshayes or the tempting displays in Paris boulangeries, but they tasted great. And from the comments in the room, everyone in our group seemed to feel the same way about their creations.

My macarons.

We packed up our aprons, hats and dish towels – souvenirs of this extraordinarily fun and rather surreal morning at Le Cordon Bleu – and boxed up our macarons. Chef Deshayes wished us well as he handed out certificates acknowledging our participation in the class.

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to recreate these delicious macarons at home, but I do know that when I give it a try, I will have a little help from Chef Deshayes’ distinctive voice – pipe, press, turn – and images of that lovely Parisian blue-and-white kitchen playing in my mind.

18 Comments

  • How fun is this? Happy to see you wore bleu to accent your apron perfectly! Anxious to hear of your results when you make macarons at home 🙂 Bon appetit.

    • It was SO much fun, Deb! The bleu was purely coincidental, but yes, it matched the Cordon Bleu apron – and kitchen! – perfectly. I don’t think I’ll be attempting them at home any time soon, but it’s on my “on day” list. Having all the ingredients ready for us and the chefs nearby made it so much easier to tackle in the class. These are definitely a “special occasion” labor of love.❤️

  • Wow wow…there’ll be not one but two Cordon Bleu macaron chefs in your home kitchen!! How lovely to work together on this, for two memories are twice as likely to be accurate when you are working at home. Your macarons look delicious – the hand made touches are charming and you achieved that small detail at the base (is it called the foot?) which defeated me 😊

    What a super way to spend a morning!

    • Hahaha, Gill, I think the term “macaron chef” is a bit lofty for us, but we both had a great time! Herb is a terrific cook, but I’m the baker in the family and was really proud of how he dove right in. Truth be told, he did a much better job than I did with all the vigorous hand stirring. The batter had to be stirred to a specific consistency before we were allowed to move on, let alone use the electric mixer. Thanks for the kind words about my finished macarons. I’m not sure how the detail you mention came about – and word “foot” wasn’t discussed, so you may know something we weren’t taught – but I was just happy they were so tasty!

  • Memories! I took a class years ago at a little cooking school bordering the Seine. I’ve been making macarons ever since. The trick stateside is to weigh all ingredients, age your egg whites for 24 hours, and carefully turn your batter until it drops from your spatula in one piece and looks like molten lava. There are some great recipes on the internet, including savory macarons for cocktail hour!

    • Jennifer, I’m happy to have rekindled some fond memories! Thanks so much for sharing your macaron-making tips here. Our chef-instructor was also adamant about how the batter looked at each stage of the process, although he didn’t use the phrase “molten lava”! I will add your recommendations to my Cordon Bleu recipe booklet.😊

  • Hi Mary,

    You captured the experience – I can almost taste them 🙂 That was such a fun way to start our journey! Sending our best wishes to you and Herb.

    • So great to hear from you, Hillary! Many thanks for the kind words. I can still taste those macarons as well, and I have a feeling this is one of those experiences that will stay with me for a long time. Greetings from both of us to you and Brian!

  • Your cooking class reminded me of Le Corn Bleu cooking classes on Regent some years back. wonderful instructor
    not only cooking classes –he also took us to food markets in Barcelona and Bordeaux.
    Macarons are my favorite.
    How did yours taste??? Looked like so much fun seeing the both of you with your Le Cordon Bleu aprons.
    Thank you for sharing.

    • Jacqueline, your Regent cooking classes and market visits must have been fantastic! After our experience at Le Cordon Bleu, I’m convinced that taking a cooking class while traveling is a wonderful – not to mention, delicious! – way to connect with local culture. Our macarons tasted really great. I think the ingredients we were given along with the fabulous instruction really helped us create delicious, although imperfect, results. Wearing those great aprons may also have helped a little!😉

    • Jeff, thank you! Our humble macarons would never have measured up to those enticing multi-colored displays at Ladurée, but they were quite tasty!

  • What fun Mar! I can almost taste them. Yumm! Such a terrific experience and a great story. Thanks for sharing it with us!
    xoxo
    Mar

    • Thanks so much, Mar! It was even more fun than I’d imagined and quite a feeling of accomplishment to see – and taste – the end results!❤️

  • What a fabulous experience Mary! Reminds me that so many of my great memories of travel have to do with food. We hired a chef to give us cooking class in our VRBO in Lucca. We made an entire multi-course meal and it was so much fun and so delicious. So glad you enjoyed and learned a new skill (theoretically anyway). 🙂

    • Lauren, thank you for sharing your Lucca cooking class story here! It sounds like a fantastic experience and is another great reminder of how we can learn so much about a culture through its food…and trying our hand at cooking! I really treasure the time we spent at Le Cordon Bleu – special memories to include along with the recipe for making macarons.😊

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