It’s no secret, travelers crave authentic experiences. And, authentic food experiences is one way to understand a place from a local’s perspective.
But finding those off-the-beaten-path experiences is not always easy. Visit.org, a partner we now work with, reached out to collaborate on our shared vision.
Visit.org offers immersive and impactful travel experiences with do-good organizations worldwide. Travelers can book an authentic experience and 100% of the hosts’ revenue is invested back into the local communities.
At Authentic Food Quest, we are on a mission to help people explore the local flavors on their travels. Together, we share similar values around authentic and immersive travel experiences.
On a trip to France, we teamed up for a Paris baking class, with the non-profit organization, La Soupe Aux Cailloux.
This unique experience focuses on healthy eating and sustainability, as tools for learning and sharing community through food.
Read about making strawberry pie, the “French way” in a unique baking class.
What is La Soupe Aux Cailloux?
The organization is based in the west suburbs of Paris, in the city of Nanterre. Funny enough Nanterre is the city where I was born. Talk about a come back to one’s roots!
Established about six years ago, La Soupe Aux Cailloux is a non-profit organization, which works closely with the support of the Nanterre City Hall.
Their goal is to bring together the local community and teaching about food and healthy cooking with seasonal, local products, and where possible organic.
The name of the organization has an interesting story. It is actually both a fable and a cooking technique.
La Soupe Aux Cailloux: A Fable
The organization got its name from the fable about “La Soupe Aux Cailloux”.
The story is about an old lady who teaches the secret of happiness. The lady goes to a foreign village to ask for food and shelter. But unfortunately, no one responds to her requests.
She decides to make a soup from stones. Intrigued, a young boy comes to check what she is making. And the old lady is wondering if she could get a bigger pan. The boy goes to talk to his mother to get a bigger pan. The mother intrigued by the soup comes check what the old lady is making. Then the old lady mentioned that with some carrots it would be better. The mother brings her some.
People from the village, curious, start coming out. And each time someone comes, a new vegetable is brought to the soup. Everyone from the community brings something to eat and the villagers end up sharing the soup happily together.
As you might have guessed, the fable is about sharing and bringing the community together.
La Soupe Aux Cailloux: a Cooking Technique
La Soupe Aux Cailloux is also a traditional way of making soup. It comes from the eastern part of France. While cooking, a stone is put into the soup and is used to mix the vegetables together while all the ingredients are simmering.
During the cooking process, the stone keeps agitating the soup and makes for a smooth texture in the end.
How Does La Soupe Aux Cailloux Bring the French Local Community Together?
La Soupe Aux Cailloux offers three different activities to the local community.
- First, there is a children’s workshop where children cook and learn about grains and vegetables they don’t usually eat.
- Secondly, they have a “tables d’hotes”. Two to three times a month, they propose a menu that people from the community prepare, cook and eat together. The food is sourced locally at the markets (vegetables), the organic stores (dairy) and through the local producers (dry products: oil, grains, pasta/rice, etc).
- Thirdly, the organization runs a deli store where they sell organic products. The items are mostly dry products like oils, condiments and dry goods.
Overall the organization emphasizes more a more vegetarian menu and encourages eating less meat and fish for economic and sustainability reasons.
New from La Soupe Aux Cailloux, is a fourth activity for visitors. This new baking workshop is offered in partnership with Visit.org.
The new activity is a cooking class to learn to make French pastries. The profit from this workshop is invested into developing cooking workshops and programs so that more locals can benefit from a balanced and healthy diet.
Cooking & Baking Experience at La Soupe Aux Cailloux
We had the chance to participate in a workshop with the community. With about 10 locals from Nanterre, we prepared the different dishes based on the menu planned by the chef at the organization.
The organization uses a commercial kitchen provided by the City Hall. Everyone from the organization has access to the kitchen and can participate in cooking and preparing food.
The emphasis is on simple dishes that can be cooked at home. The point here is: “it doesn’t have to be complex or expensive, but it still can be really good!”
We really enjoyed mingling with the local community. It was eye-opening hearing the locals passion for healthy eating and responsibility for the planet and future generations.
Strawberry Pie The French Way: Tarte Aux Fraises
Although we made a full meal, our main experience was around the desserts. We learned how to make a scrumptious strawberry pie the French way.
What makes it special: Crème Pâtissière
The “crème pâtissière” is the filling used in the strawberry pie. This is a rich creamy custard that is used in many French desserts. It’s what gives it a smooth taste.
This recipe on how to make a “crème pâtissière” is simple and precise enough to follow. The key lies in letting the preparation thicken enough without burning it.
Besides the “crème pâtissière” all you need is a pastry shell that you fill with the “crème pâtissière” before layering the fresh strawberries.
What you need
1lb of fresh strawberry
1 unbaked pastry shell (9 inches)
For the Crème Pâtissière
- 1 cup or 250ml of whole milk –
- 1 vanilla pod, or 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ cup or 50g of caster sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 tea spoon or 10g of plain flour
- 2 tea spoon or 10g of corn flour
How to make the strawberry pie
Total time: 15 minutes
Total baking time: 25 mins
Cook the pastry shell separately for about 20 to 25 min at 350F.
In the meantime, slice the strawberries and prepare the crème pâtissière.
Making the crème pâtissière – about 10 mins
1- Bring the milk and vanilla to the boil in a saucepan then remove from the heat
2- Mix the sugar, egg yolks and flours together until thoroughly incorporated
3- Pour 1/3 of the warmed milk over the egg mixture and whisk vigorously
4- Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan with the milk and continue to whisk over a medium heat
5- Cook until the mixture boils and thickens being careful not to let it burn on the bottom of the pan
6- Remove from the heat cover with cling wrap to prevent a skin forming. Allow to cool and place in the fridge until needed.
Once the pastry shell is baked, fill the bottom by spreading the crème pâtissière for a thickness of 1cm or about ⅓ inch.
Then place the slices of strawberries on top the crème pâtissière. Add the fresh mint on top of the strawberries. And it is ready!
Taking this Paris baking class at La Soupe Aux Cailloux , was a fun and enjoyable food activity. It was a very local experience and the cuisine was accessible by all – no chefs, just people passionate by food coming together with the community.
Living up to their origin story, everyone came together. Locals genuinely had a great time connecting. Recipes were shared and the atmosphere very convivial.
One of things that was very surprising was to note the level of concern about the food in France. For many in the U.S., the food in France is exceptional and the products of high quality. To hear the level of passion around the local and organic products was unexpected.
Learning how to make the strawberry pie and the delicious crème pâtissière was the highlight of the experience. Not from chefs, but from ladies in the neighborhood, each with their own techniques.
If you want to learn how to make French pastries in a Parisian baking class, book this authentic baking class.
Have you ever taken a baking class on your travels? What pastry or dessert did you learn to make?
Savor The Adventure!
To learn more about the secrets of French baking, see the simple recipes in this book!
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Claire, ex-engineer, is a digital nomad and content creator at Authentic Food Quest. Since 2015, with her partner, Rosemary, they travel the world in search of the best local food experiences. Their mission is to help you enjoy the best local specialties on your travels or via recipes in your home kitchen. Favorite country for food: Vietnam. Favorite local dish: Hainanese Chicken Rice. Favorite way to keep fit: Cycling. Claire is responsible for the website and the fun food & travel videos on Youtube. She is also co-author of Authentic Food Quest Argentina and Authentic Food Quest Peru, available on Amazon.