Thursday, May 9, 2013

Making Biscuits, Scones and Friends in Manhattan

While I was in New York City last week, I took a pastry class at Le Pain Quotidien’s Bleecker Street Bakery to learn how to make biscuits, scones and shortbread cookies. 

I’ve always had trouble making scones and tried dozens of recipes without finding one I really like. 

The class promised to help aspiring bakers find their biscuit hand. Since I was certainly aspiring (thanks to my one word for 2013), I registered before I could change my mind. 

I wasn't sure what to expect or how skilled my fellow students would be. 

In the bakery’s kitchen, floor to ceiling windows faced the street. With my hair scrunched under a black baking cap and wearing a white apron, I felt like I was on display. 

But I soon realized that not much holds the attention of New Yorkers for very long. A few people – who I’m sure were tourists -- stopped to gaze at us rolling out our dough, but they quickly grew bored and hurried on after a few minutes. 


My fellow biscuit-makers were all local New Yorkers -- two via Paris and one via London – but they all assured me they were baking novices. 

We were handed bowls with dry ingredients, containers of eggs, milk, vanilla and pre-cut pieces of butter to combine into dough with our pastry scrapers. 

I wasn’t sure I believed my fellow bakers as I watched them proficiently combine their ingredients with their pastry blenders and confidently shape the dough into perfect mounds. 

My pastry dough scraper was quickly covered with the dough that was all over my fingers and I felt like a messy baker. My dough also seemed to be misshapen. 

The instructor chuckled and said “Well, your dough looks like a little mountain in the middle when it should really be flat all the way across,” as she deftly patted it into shape. 

Even though I reminded myself that this wasn’t a competition, I was pretty sure I would have ranked last in the class with my baking skills. 

As I snapped a few photos of the instructor’s samples, the girls laughed and asked if I was going to claim the instructor’s work as my own. I told them it was indeed a tempting thought.

Pastry instructor Brie's cheddar scones and apple scones (honest!)
My fellow bakers were so confident that two of them asked the instructor if they could top their savory scones with the cheese instead of using it all in the dough. 

She said she’d never been asked by students to change a recipe but told them to feel free to experiment. 

After we made vanilla shortbread cookies, cheddar and scallion scones, apple scones and cream biscuits, we all gathered around the communal table in the bakery’s dining room to enjoy the fruits of our labor. 

Jars of fig jam and raspberry jelly and hazelnut and chocolate spread were set out for us to spread on our biscuits while we chatted and ate.


The NYC girls told me how they have their groceries delivered to their doors. They said there’s no reason to go to Target or cook dinner or buy paper towels. Delivery service is their go-to for easy living. 

They talked about half-hour subway rides to get to work. They talked about living in Paris or London before moving to New York, as if it were a city next door instead of an ocean away. 

They talked about living a few blocks from the bakery in the heart of Manhattan. I admired these cosmopolitan girls.
New friend Aris is a native New Yorker.

I brought home the recipes we made and attempted the vanilla shortbread cookies. It was easy and delicious when I made them in class. 

But the ingredients were measured in grams instead of cups and tablespoons so I converted them online. 

As I peeked in the oven, the cookies were a puddled flat mess. When I tasted them, they were far too salty. 

I’m sure something was lost in translation. But instead of trying to figure out the recipe, I drove to the store and bought a kitchen scale. 

I will try making the cookies again. 

I thought of the pastry girls and how the communal table coaxed everyone to get to know each other once we sat down. 

I am inspired by this entertaining idea of a gathering table filled with just scones and jams and coffee and good conversation. 

And I can't wait to invite some friends over to join me at the table.

With pastry class instructor Brie in the bakery's kitchen.

7 comments:

  1. Mmm those scones sound delicious. What a fun way to learn and make friends! I so admire your adventures and aspirations.'
    Christy

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  2. Wow - what an experience - I'd have loved doing that! I enjoyed seeing you in the pictures. Your scones will be great!!!

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  3. What a wonderful experience, Valerie! Thank you for sharing it with us.

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    1. It was such a fun experience! To take a baking class in New York was a sweet dream come true!

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  4. That looks like fun! Very New York!
    Deedee

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  5. Reading this is making me hungry!! And making me want to take a trip to NY just for the food!! Thank you for sharing this experience. :) - Shawna

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    1. Hi Shawna,
      The pastry class made me realize how much there is to learn! It has inspired me to keep reaching for more!

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