I’ve walked by (and into) many bakeries in my day, especially living in the Village back when the old-school places were still trying to hold on to their space as increasing rents threatened to drive them out so the next Marc Jacobs store could find its home. While others looked forward to window shopping the hottest new trends in fashion, I held on to the vision of pastries that lined the windows of the bakeries along Bleeker Street and throughout the neighborhood. The treats in the window seemed to have been made by magic — their layers, textures and tastes holding the secrets of centuries’ worth of dedicated practice and artistic perfection.

Are you ever surprised, once you’ve eaten something, to learn of how it’s made? Lately, it has been happening to me quite a bit in my Pastry & Baking Arts class. For instance, cannoli and sfogliatelle. Who knew to make cannoli you had to wrap dough around a metal rod and drop it in hot oil until huge blisters developed on the shell? I didn’t. I just loved picking one up and biting into the textural combination of a crunchy shell and creamy filling with chocolate chips. Then there’s sfogliatelle, those layered “lobster tails.” Who knew you had to roll dough out very thin, coat it with lard, roll it up and then eventually slice and form layered cone shapes that are filled and baked? I didn’t. I just loved looking at them and wondering how in the world they made all those onion-like layers in the baked dough. New York City’s famed San Gennaro Festival isn’t until September 16, but now that I know how cannoli and sfogliatelle are made, I luckily don’t have to wait to feast on those two delicious Italian treats!

Among the traditional cookies and cakes in the bakery windows, there were always these fruit tarts that just looked so pretty sitting there. Well, this past week we made those tarts. Using the pâte brisée (flaky dough), we blind baked the crusts, then added our custard and designed our fresh fruit tarts. The following class we used pâte sucrée (sweet dough) to make our own frangipane tarts. The class was broken into four groups and we made an assortment of differently flavored tarts — rhubarb cheese with crumb topping, apricot cognac, apple walnut lattice, grigliata umbra, pastiera napoletana (the Italian “Easter Pie”), pizza rustica and cheesecake (Italian and French). I was assigned raspberry almond and as much as I had wanted to make the banana walnut, mine came out looking beautiful and tasted pretty good too!  Check out the photos of all of our tarts. It’s almost as good as looking through those bakery windows.

Next up: Pies, Galettes, Linzer, Scones, Tartlettes and Breton!

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