Culture Trip: French Food Made Easy

My yearlong culture trip continues to be both enjoyable and fascinating. If you’re new here, I’ve committed to engage in and highlight the color and culture of a different country each month. 

This first venture was Spanish flamenco dancing. I enrolled in classes and chronicled the progress (or lack of :-)) on social media and my blog. 

Next up, cooking French food. Four weeks of butter, cheese and bread was nothing short of delicious. Here’s how you can learn to be a chef gastronomique. 

Baking French croissants   Baking French Croissants

France is synonymous with food. Their culture takes the art of dining to a new level. 

In fact, UNESCO declared French cuisine a “world intangible heritage.” Well deserved. 

When learning to cook French food, starting with classic dishes proves to be easiest. Cooking schools provide classes on how to prepare national favorites such as coq au vin, French onion soup or freshly baked croissants. 

French cooking school

Two friends and I signed up at Cozymeal in San Diego to learn the art of making pain au chocolat and croissants; a typical breakfast in France served with butter, jam and coffee. 

Cozymeal features culinary experiences in 120+ cities nationwide and offers online classes. Here is their website: CozyMeal.

Our teacher, Fran, graduated from the Cordon Bleu culinary program in Paris. She was kind and patient. Necessary utensils and ingredients were supplied. The class was small with only 12 students. 

We each received a printed ingredient list and step-by-step instructions.

Not being a baker, I thought turning out the golden, flakey layers would be difficult. While the process was time consuming, under Fran’s tutelage it was easy and fun.  

 Croissant Recipe

Dough ingredients:

2 tsp. instant yeast

1/2 cup warm water

3 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 1/4 tsp. table salt

2/3 cup whole milk

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

1 egg (for egg wash applied before baking)

Butter layer  (yup, layer!)

2 sticks + 3 Tbsp. room temperature, unsalted butter, diced

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour


Combine the flour, sugar, instant yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Heat the water and milk to 130F.  Add the dry ingredients. Add three Tbsp. of melted butter and stir with a wooden spoon until dough starts to come together. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 3-4 minutes until the dough is smooth. It should be moist but not sticky. Form dough into a disc shape, cover with plastic-wrap and place in the fridge for 30-45 minutes. 

Make the butter layer: 

Using a wooded spoon or spatula, beat the two sticks of butter and the all-purpose flour about 60-90 seconds until smooth and spreadable like peanut butter. Scrape the butter mixture onto a piece of parchment paper and shape into a 7” x 7” square and 1/2” thick with rolling pin. Enclose the butter in the parchment paper like a packet and chill in the refrigerator while you roll out the dough. 

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and lightly sprinkle with flour. Roll the dough into a 12” x 12” square. Take the butter layer out of the refrigerator, peel off the parchment paper and lay it in the center of the dough so it resembles a diamond in a square. 

Fold each corner of the dough over the butter layer making sure the butter is completely covered by the dough. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  

Take out and roll dough into a 20” x 8” rectangle with the shorter side facing you. Fold the bottom 1/3 of the dough into the center. Fold the top 1/3 into the center. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes. 

Repeat the prior step. Cover and chill the dough in the refrigerator for another 30-45 minutes.  

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Roll to 20” x 8” rectangle again with the shorter side facing you. Fold the top 1/4 of the dough to the center. Fold the bottom 1/4 of the dough to the center. Then fold in half like a book. Chill for another 30-45 minutes. 

Time to shape the croissants. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Cut it in half and place one half in the refrigerator. Roll out the other half to approximately 12” x 10” and 1/4” thick. 

With the wider end facing you, use a knife to place a small mark at the bottom of the dough every four inches. Across the top of the dough mark every two inches.  

Use a sharp knife or pastry wheel to “connect the dots” and cut out triangular shapes. 

Starting at the wide end, roll up each triangle into a crescent ending with the pointed end across the top. 

Place croissants onto a parchment-lined tray spacing at least three inches apart. Cover the tray loosely with plastic wrap and let rise to almost double the size  — 2-3 hours.   

Pre-heat over to 400F. After the dough has risen, brush each pastry with egg wash and bake for 10 minutes at 400F. Rotate the tray and bake an additional 7-8 minutes at 375F. 

Et voila! Manger!  

Onion soup

French Onion Soup

Exploring French cooking at home is equally fun. There are many cookbooks to choose from. 

The cookbook I use is “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by the queen of the cuisine, Julia Child.

Julia Child cookbook

She brought French recipes to the American public with the release of her compendium in 1961. Subsequent cookbooks and PBS television shows followed. Her casual, playful demeanor made preparing French meals less intimidating. 

I highly recommend Child’s cookbook. You’ll get such pleasure from creating these European dishes. You can order it here: Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1 .

Having made croissants in the Cozymeal class, I opted to try French onion soup on my own. It’s been a staple in France for centuries, originally a peasant food, until it was introduced to the royal court at Versailles in the 1700’s.  

Now the soup is on brasserie and café menus across France.

One reason for the savoriness is the quality ingredients such as real butter, a fresh baguette, and gruyère cheese. The onions cook slow and low in butter and oil, creating the rich flavor indicative of this soup.    

Julia Child’s French Onion Soup Recipe

1 1/2 pounds OR 5 cups thinly sliced yellow onions

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 Tbsp. oil (I used olive oil)

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. sugar (helps the onions brown)

3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 quarts beef bouillon or stock (I used chicken broth)

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 Tbsp. cognac 

1 French baguette, sliced 3/4-1 inch thick

1 cup grated gruyère cheese

1 cup shaved Parmesan cheese 

Salt + pepper


In a heavy-bottomed, 4-quart saucepan with a lid, add the butter, oil and onions. Cook on low heat with the pan covered for 15 minutes. 

Uncover, raise the heat to moderate and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook for 30-40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep, golden brown. 

Sprinkle in the flour and stir for three minutes. 

Off the heat, add the boiling beef broth, wine and season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30-40 minutes or more. Check the seasoning. 

*A side note from me. While beef bouillon is what Child’s used, those who don’t eat red meat can substitute. I’ve made this soup with chicken broth and I’ve made it with vegetable broth. Both were good. 

Just before serving, stir in the cognac. 

Ladle soup into bowls. Place a round of French baguette on top. Sprinkle generously with each of the cheeses. Brown under a hot boiler until bubbling and brown. 

Bon appétit !

Fun fact: when eating in France, it’s common for the host to say “bon appétit” before the meal, to which guests are expected to respond the same. 

Tip: dine at a French cafe or restaurant in your area to taste and see how a French trained chef prepares traditional dishes.    

Related Posts:

Culture Trip: Twelve Countries, Twelve Traditions. Spanish Flamenco Dancing.







Leave a Reply