Eating and making pastry are two very different things and each requires a certain set of skills. In a recent media tour of the Peninsula Hotel's pastry kitchen, where food journalists tried their hand at the art of pastry making, we discovered that making croissant and liqueur macaroons could be lots of fun - provided you have a good oven, a fine fridge, good corn starch and first-rate French butter. Above all, you need an unbridled love of butter, dough and chocolate.
The best thing about being in the pastry kitchen is its classic aroma, a scent that fascinates any pastry lover. Heaven is inhaling deeply as a batch of newly shaped croissants goes into the oven and the newly baked set comes out, filling the air with a delicious fragrance that has you hungering for more.
Every morning, the hotel makes hundreds of croissants. And this morning Yoann Mathy, the Peninsula's new pastry chef, is showing us how the best croissants are made.
He removes a large piece of dough in plastic wrap from a fridge where it's been resting for the night.
After being pressed with a roller machine, the dough is turned into rectangular sheets about 10 inches (25 centimetres) wide. The chef places a big slab of imported French butter on top of each dough layer until he's has four or five layers, which are then pressed again to create rectangular sheets.
He stands back to show us the rectangular sheets of laminated, layered dough about 10 inches wide, stuffed with fatty French butter ready to be cut into triangles (about three inches wide at the base and five inches long). These now have to be folded into rolls. The impressive quantity of butter is what gives off the delicious aroma. Those not used to French butter would be surprised to see just how much of it is mixed in the dough. That's why you need to wash your croissant down with tea or coffee.
The difficult part of making a croissant is folding it into a shapely roll. First, we need to stretch the four inch-long triangle by five more inches and then start folding from the triangle's widest end. The trick is to make sure that the pointed end is tightly attached to the body so that it doesn't break free from the roll while in the oven. The new pastry chef can fold 20 rolls in less than a minute. We manage just a few pieces and it takes us far longer. Ultimately our creations are grouped with other pieces on a big plate and viewed by the pastry chef, who nods in approval at our shapely and perfectly done rolls. They go into the oven together. I have no idea how the roll gets its crescent shape in there, but I guess the curved shape must have something to do with the number of rolls each croissant has: the more rolls, the better a croissant bends in the heat.
Next to the croissant section is the chocolate room where one lady is creating several kinds of mouth-watering delights ranging from chocolate marshmallow to liqueur chocolate to chocolate sculptures. We fancy trying the liqueurs but instead we've chosen to have a go at the chocolate and cherries in liqueur macaroon, as it looks easy to make.
This light biscuit is a mixture of icing sugar, ground almond, sugar, water, eggs white and cocoa powder. The fillings are 60 per cent chocolate, cream, vanilla, trimoline and cherries in liqueur.
The hardest task is making the shapely little domes. We start by putting the macaroon mixture into a pastry bag, and then squeeze it out gently to create little domes on the wax paper. We leave it to dry for a few minutes before putting it into the oven.
Mathy explains that what makes the macaroon so special is the fillings, which come in different flavours corresponding to the biscuit's colouring. For example the lemon macaroon is yellow.
After a day of cooking, we've learned from the pastry chef that the key to making good pastries is not design, but the taste - "the most important aspect to perfection," he stresses. "Making a nice and tasty pastry is by far the most important goal."
And if nothing else, the class has taught us a thing or two about French pastry. At least, we know that the folds of a croissant are there for a reason.