Treat yourself to Dessert School!
Discover the secrets of master chef Alain Chartier, world champion ice-cream dessert maker !
What’s on offer here at the Ecole des Desserts is something quite unique: a top chef teaching you how to make some of the world’s greatest desserts. And not just any top chef: Alain Chartier holds the prestigious title of ‘Meilleur Ouvrier de France’ (‘best craftsman in France’ – and in this case, an ice-cream master); he is world champion of ice-cream based desserts! So whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned cook, you’ll be able to try your hand at being a chocolatier, pastry chef or ice-cream maker in a great, friendly atmosphere. School was never this much fun !
Time to meet THE dessert expert
We’re going to the Ecole des Desserts, which is just outside Vannes, to meet Alain Chartier in person and spend half a day in dessert heaven. As soon as you open the door you are assailed by the delicious aroma of chocolate and freshly-baked cakes. To get to the 'classroom', students pass through the shop, filled with a mouth-watering array of macaroons, frozen dessert verrines, (individual desserts in a glass) marshmallows and chocolates. The cookery workshop takes place right next to the premises where they make the delicious desserts that are sold both here and in the shop in the town centre. We begin with a cup of coffee – there are a dozen or so students altogether, and the regulars have already donned the special ‘Ecole des Desserts’ aprons. Emblazoned across the wall are the words: 'Vous êtes ici dans la cuisine d'un chef' ('You are in a chef's kitchen') – somewhat scary if you’re not in the know! But in comes Alain Chartier, who smilingly greets us with a really warm welcome. We’re all given a little booklet containing today’s recipes. The lesson is perfectly straightforward: the chef is going to demonstrate each recipe, one step at a time, and then it will be our turn to make our own dessert.
Exceptional desserts – the secrets of a French chef
This is the place where all desserts and sweet treats will reveal their secrets: tarts, ice creams, mille-feuilles, fruit cake, charlottes, meringues… and of course, the house special – macaroons. Today’s selection is Black Forest Gateau, and Alain Chartier starts by giving us a little lesson on cocoa: where the beans come from, the stages in ripening, roasting, the different types of chocolate…our ‘best French craftsman’ could talk about chocolate until the cows come home! Then it’s time to make chocolate sponge, ganache and whipped cream. The great chef takes us through each stage, showing us exactly how to do it, and inviting us to try the mixtures as we go, so we can taste the differences in flavour. Some of us are busy taking notes, while others are making sure they remember every last detail by taking photos.
I made it myself!
Little by little we relax in the friendly atmosphere and we’re ready to get down to business under the watchful eye of the chef. There follows an hour filled with weighing scales, mixers and icing bags, as we all happily design our own version of Black Forest Gateau: some like it round, others go for a rectangle, Amarena cherries to the left, brandied cherries to the right... A dozen different ways of assembling this dessert, all using only the highest quality ingredients and each with a totally unique result – to the great delight of Alain Chartier, who takes the time to fully appreciate each individual creation. And who could resist blurting out that famous phrase so synonymous with success: "I made it myself!"
Not just any cookery workshop
The Ecole des Desserts offers a range of differently themed workshops all year round, based on sweet specialities: Verrines vary with the season; Trésors de Bretagne is all about local specialities so kouign amann, Breton shortbread biscuits and Breton buckwheat pancakes; there are special workshops for children and of course, the best-selling macaroon workshop! Everyone is more than happy to take home the results of what they have learned during these three hours: what better way of telling everyone all about the experience and memorising the recipes so we can make them again at home? The smiles on everyone’s face show that the workshop is a great success. "Former ‘pupils’ come back to buy ingredients and then come back again for me to taste the desserts they’ve made!" Alain Chartier tells us. And for this creator of flavour, the friendly, sharing relationships he also creates are ‘the cherry on the cake’!
Text: Marielle Yeurc'h