It was ever so fitting that Ketmala’s Kitchen took longer than expected to find. Like all true culinary gems, it was hidden. Hidden within rolling farm hills and tucked in the woods on a one way street. While the tricky location may have caused my baking buddy and me to arrive just a few minutes late, we were still greeted by Ketmala Phoumalavong with a traditional two cheek kiss and classic smile that we already knew well from her popular blog. Five other attendees of the intimate class welcomed us enthusiastically, with no regard to the tardiness, and after snapping a group photo, we hopped right into the macaron action.
Thanks to a Personal Chef career and a childhood filled with mimicking her parents’ cooking in their French kitchen, Ketmala is no stranger to culinary instruction. It was trips to local bakeries, markets and cheese makers that taught her to appreciate high quality ingredients and she was quick to preach their importance before diving into the hands on portion of the class. Everything that can be made from scratch is made from scratch, including vanilla flavoring. When Ketmala can’t get her hands on matcha tea to use as green food coloring she reaches for the next most natural option and upholds this standard for every element of her cooking.
Attention to detail is stored right next to quality ingredients on the importance shelf when it comes to creating a macaron masterpiece. Ketmala assured us that her stickler baking procedures, like sifting flour twice or pounding the tray to release air bubbles, add only a few minutes to the process but make a world of difference. She encouraged my fellow classmates and me to develop our own stickler procedures, after citing an example of her sister who insists on sifting the flour three times, not two.
Baking is not my strongest point, so Ketmala’s method of running through the macaron process first by herself while we all watched, then three more times while we took turns pitching in, was pleasantly tactful. When she called upon our class for volunteers, there was only a moment of hesitation from my anti-baking self before I jumped in to dispense the delicate macaron dough. I even felt that there was no chance of embarrassment as I proudly raised my hand to admit never using a food scale. One other weighing virgin popped her hand into the air and Ketmala gladly invited us to relinquish our precise proportioning fears. Just 110 grams of all natural sugar later and I was a pro!
Everyone’s self control was being tested to the max as the sweet scent of Parisian-style treats filled Ketmala’s cozy kitchen. Although the class description promised warm fuzzy happiness after just one bite, I was already there with a simple sniff. Were it not for the joyful company and captivating instructions from Ketmala, more than ten macarons would have “mysteriously disappeared” before reaching the decorating stage. However, that would have been a shame since finishing touches rest a shelf above quality ingredients and attention to detail in the macaron masterpiece world. The final steps included everything from matching up the outer shells to picking an appropriate filling and sprinkling colorful accents on top.
When the time came to dig in, Ketmala sat right alongside her gracious guests at the intimate dining table, poured a few cups of tea to those who requested it and chatted onward as if we were just a bunch of friends reuniting after a brief separation. While the conversation relied heavily on macaron talk, we chatted about upcoming vacations, family members, delicious experiences and more in between each satisfying sample.
Ketmala was eager for feedback and nothing but compliments came pouring out. They weren’t your usual compliments either. From the baking novice to a modern day Julia Childs, each attendee had more than one lesson to take away from Ketmala’s Kitchen and I knew it must be the same for her diverse collection of cooking classes, a calendar that is everchanging. I was quick to review every option just moments after arriving home from the Fancy French Macaron Class so I could choose my next lesson and invite new friends to partake in the culinary gem of an experience.
All photographs credited to Angela Corrado.