It really doesn’t get much sweeter than this! We’re talking French macarons, beer brownies, bourbon pecan pie and homemade ice cream. We all know The Ritz-Carlton is one of the best places to grab a cocktail in the Queen City, but you may not know that you can also learn to bake some of the sweetest treats under the watchful eye of the hotel’s pastry chef.
The upscale Uptown hotel that hosts every celebrity who comes through Charlotte also hosts some of the most popular cooking classes in town.
Bar Cocoa, in the hotel’s lobby, is one of the premier chocolate shops in Charlotte and offers house-made pastries for guests to enjoy. They are so scrumptious that the hotel decided to offer cooking classes where participants can learn the secrets of professional chocolatiers.
The classes have become so popular that they are now offered twice a month, each with a different theme and a different roster of recipes. The intimate classes fill up fast and are popular with bachelorette parties, companies looking for unique team-building exercises and couples looking for a fun date night.
Pastry chef Crystal Broadbent heads up the Cocoa Lab and leads a lot of the classes. She says the bachelorette parties can get a little rowdy (no surprise there) and are always a lot of fun.
“You get to make all of these desserts, and we give you mimosas. You’re basically having a party in the kitchen!”
She says even the corporate types have a blast, often turning the class into a friendly competition.
“We divide the group into two teams, and each one gets a pastry chef. We make it like a Chopped competition. They decide the flavors, and then we decide the winners.”
She says no matter who is taking the class, there are always a lot of laughs.
The hands-on lessons typically start in the morning and last about four hours, taking place in the Bar Cocoa kitchen and almost always include chocolate in some fashion.
The hotel gets the most requests for the classes featuring the French macarons – except over Christmas, when people are clamoring to make holiday cookies.
Crystal is a Johnson and Wales grad and says when baking, you absolutely have to measure everything. “Accuracy is so important. Measure things out 100% of the time. The only time it’s okay not to measure is when you’re dealing with flavor, like the vanilla or the lemon, but everything else — the baking powder, the flour — you really need to measure.”
The secret to making macarons is that you have to have patience and you “gotta respect the cookie!” she says of the treat, which requires tedious and time-sensitive commitment, but is oh-so-worth it. “There are so many things you have to be careful of: the temperature of the sugar and making sure you let them dry before they go in the oven.”
While the classes tend to focus on dessert, the hotel recently launched a new line of offerings centered around the menu of the newly redone hotel bar, Kinship, which features internationally inspired tapas. Those classes are once a month on Thursday nights with the executive chef and a whole lotta Latin flavor.
No matter which class you take, everyone gets an apron, a book of recipes and everything they cooked in class — all for $150. Yes, you get to eat everything you made, and trust us, it’s a whole lot of deliciousness!
Want to take a stab in the lab? Here are the upcoming Cocoa Lab classes:
Father’s Day Desserts
Saturday, June 17 from 8:30 a.m to 12:30 p.m.
Just what Dad has wanted all year: bacon, beer and chocolate. Participants prepare and savor the ultimate gentleman’s collection of desserts, including caramel bacon popcorn, beer brownies and bourbon pecan pie.
Fourth of July Celebration
Saturday, July 1 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
What better way to celebrate the country than with some traditional American desserts? Desserts that will be made in this class include apple pie, banana pudding, brownies and chocolate chip cookies.
I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream!
Saturday, July 15 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Students can beat the heat with these cool treats and learn the secret behind Bar Cocoa’s signature honey pecan gelato. Additional flavors that will be created include vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream.
The Ritz-Carlton is located at 201 E. Trade St., Charlotte, NC 28202. To reserve a Cocoa Lab class, call (704) 547-2244; early registration is recommended.
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