The owner of the chateau in our vintage postcard is an award winning Paris chef. He welcomes guests for dinner, to stay and… to learn from him the secrets of perfect Parisian pâtisserie.
Would we be brave enough to try something very new? Of course!
A very tasty idea
We signed up for a cookery lesson with Pascal Senèze of Château de Blavou and it turned out to be a very good idea indeed.
Pascal welcomed us into his beautiful Château and we quickly discovered between us enough English and French to be understood.
The afternoon would be spent learning how to make croissants and croustillant au chocolat (just two of the many pâtisserie lessons on offer). We won’t reveal of Pascal’s culinary secrets but this is how we got on.
Butter and a bit more butter; Croissants!
With hands washed, aprons on and friendly dog expelled from kitchen, our first task was to separate the flour to make two pools. Did you know at this stage the yeast and salt cannot touch, or the yeast will die? We copied Pascal as best we could, rubbing the yeast with a little water, before mixing it into the flour.
We mixed, and pummelled until the dough was acceptably elastic. After the dough was rested, Pascal bought in the biggest slab of butter we have ever seen from his pantry.
After an enjoyable bit of butter bashing to soften it up, we stretched the dough ready to encase the butter in an envelope shape. No soft corners were allowed; Pascal made sure all measurements and shapes were precise and perfect, as you would expect from a great chef.
French croissants are folded, rolled, rested a certain amount of times. Each time they are rested, finger dents made in a corner remind the chef how many folds have been completed.
We discovered why a large brush was part of the equipment. It’s very important to brush off dry flour between folds, as if left it can stop the croissant from rising properly.
There is a handy technique to rolling a croissant and great pride is given to producing even sizes. Here we failed Pascal, but a natural teacher he was tolerant of our feeble attempts, gently encouraging us to improve.
A few of our creations were carefully packed, ready for baking the next day. Pascal may be pleased to hear we did remember to brush with them with egg yolk, and of course they were delicious. Unfortunately we ate them before remembering to take a photo. Have you smelt freshly baked croissants? You don’t fiddle about with a camera, you reach for the jam!
Croustillant au chocolat
This marvel is made with whipped egg whites, oceans of cream, high quality chocolate and a couple of secret ingredients.
We watched, completely engrossed as Pascal whipped, blended and coaxed.
Happily two individual croustillant were made alongside one large enough for a dozen lucky people.
It is hard to describe just how incredible they tasted. Rich, smooth, light, wonderful.
Pascal was remarkably patient and kind throughout our course and we are inspired to replicate these two lovely recipes in our home.
Thank you Pascal!
After our cookery lesson, Pascal gave us a tour of the château and grounds.
Château de Blavou
In 2015, after years of success and awards in Paris, Pascal decided to leave the city for a different life in the countryside. While living in Paris, Pascal enjoyed a holiday home a few miles from Belleme. When Château de Blavou was put on the market he decided to buy it for his next challenge.
The 19th century chateau and outbuildings needed considerable restoration but after a lot of hard work now offer stylish, spacious accommodation for visitors.
The basement of Château de Blavou is considerably older than the main building. Here ancient walls and arches have been cleared to reveal and simple ancient space.
Upstairs tall windows light elegant rooms softened with un-plastered walls and wooden beams. A turret with views across the lake and meadows hosts a sunny breakfast room.
Upstairs generous bedrooms are styled with a firm nod to history but with nice new bathrooms. Pascal and Isabel keep visitor numbers very low with just three suites, so the chateau becomes home during your stay.
A place of peace
Hunting is common on the Orne but when we asked Pascal if he hunted he explained that ‘no, this is a place of peace’. Within his land the wild animals are safe.
As we walked up a drive three horses came over to say hello.
Pascal proudly introduced us to his handsome Percheron herd, a breed native to the Perche region. The unusual colouring of pale mane and a dark body is not permanent; as the horse matures their colour becomes either all grey or all black.
Our tour included a good snoop around cottages and a large hall for hire (hired for weddings and parties) and a few buildings still under renovation, left over from the chateau’s time as a school.
We were sorry to leave (kicking ourselves for not booking to stay) as the late afternoon sun made the chateau glow gold, a romantic lead in this pretty, peaceful estate. We will be back.