I recently received a number of enquiries for suggestions on baking classes so I decide to share some of my experiences and findings here.
George Brown College Continuing Education's Bakery Arts Certificate Program
This is where it all began for me. Four years ago, I started working on completing the requirements for the bakery arts certificate program at George Brown College offered by their continuing education department. It took me three years to complete the course requirement because I limit myself to one or two courses per term. The cost of the classes is cheaper than many private cooking school but it can still add up quickly. After completing the compulsory courses, it became clear to me which branches of bakery arts that I had the most interests in. Therefore, my choice of elective courses definitely reflected this decision. I took Chocolate Works (mastered the skill to temper chocolate without using a thermometer), Cakes--Classical To Modern, Breakfast Bread (made laminated dough until it became second nature), and Asian Baking.
Personally, I was very happy with this program. It provided me with a solid understanding for baking which helped me to continue my exploration in this field on my own and with other pastry chefs. To be fair, the quality of each course depends on the teaching style of the instructor. Fortunately, I had a chance to learn from some excellent teachers.
In most classes, students work in teams of two. Therefore, getting along with your partner in terms of personality and working style would make your experience much better. EC and I were partners for 6 courses and I was grateful to have her as a friend and partner.
Ecole Lenôtre Hands-On Workshops For Home Cooks
When I travelled to Paris in 2004, I took a couple of half day hands-on classes at Ecole Lenôtre. I chose the Pain d'Epice course and Opera course because they involved a great variety of skills. See my Paris Fooding Adventure posts for detail information on this experience.
There are many cooking classes offered in Toronto. Whether you decide to take a course from your local grocery store, Wilton-certified cake decorating course, or private cooking school, cost can vary a lot based on many factors. Things that I would look for or questions that I would ask include:
- Is this a hands-on or demonstration class?
- What is the student to instructor ratio?
- What equipments/tools/materials am I require to bring to class?
- What is the baking background of the instructor?
- Do students get to take home what they make in class?
For a basic general baking course, I highly recommend the 10-week Introduction to Baking course offered by George Brown College's Continuing Education department. It is very beginner-friendly and it offers a good overview of different disciplines within the pastry world. Taking this course would equip you with good basic knowledge before embarking on the more specialized workshops/classes listed below. I personally have not had any experience with any of them. If you have attended their classes, I would love to hear from you!
- Great Cooks offers classes taught by some famous chefs in the Toronto dining scene. Keep your eyes open for Joanne Yolles' pastry classes.
- JS Bonbons has chocolate classes at their Dupont location. Their chocolate classes are taught by Jen Stone herself. They also have guest chefs appearing at the school.
- La Bamboche posted a sign at their storefront on pastry classes offered at their store. I'm very curious but have yet to look for more information.
- Wilton certified cake decorating courses are offered at Michael's (various locations). McCall's School of Cake Decoration is also another popular choice for cake decorating classes. My friend EC took a series of cake decorating classes from Michael's and had good things to say about it.
- Upstairs At Loblaws also offer hands-on or demo baking classes. Since classes and instructors vary in every store location, my best advice is to keep looking until something catches your eye.
However, after all that I said, my advice is to eat, experiment, and learn. Classes are useful to provide you with the basic knowledge but it is up to the individual to develop a hunger for a lifetime of learning. I love to write down notes on interesting flavour combination and inspiration. Tasting the great works of other pastry chefs opens my eye of the endless possibilities out there. After all, there is a certain element of artistic creation in the world of pastry, no?