On a damp, gray Sunday afternoon, the sunflower yellow walls of La Bedaine stand out like a pat of butter on an aluminum baking sheet –entirely appropriate as butter is the key ingredient in the four cookies chef Alain Delangle demonstrates to the eight of us — Francophiles and home bakers — gathered for an hour in the cozy kitchen of his Berkeley French take-out on Solano Avenue.
Asked why he offers these weekly classes for free, Chef Delangle confesses with a shrug and a wry smile, “It’s a production class and I need to do the work anyway; it’s so much more enjoyable surrounded by others.” While students receive recipe sheets, they only observe as the chef does the measuring, melting and mixing. He encourages questions and describes each task he performs in a French accent as thick and irresistible as a dollop of crème fraiche. On this Sunday, we watch him make dough for hazelnut shortbread, sable Breton, financiers and American style chocolate chip cookies.
Delangle’s narration is peppered with nuggets of sage kitchen advice. For example, to grate the orange zest in the financiers, the chef recommends scraping whole oranges against a grater in a rhythmic 1-2-3, before turning to a different side, in order to avoid including the bitter white pith of the orange. The trickiest technique for the same financier is browning butter in a saucepan over high heat. He continuously shakes the pan as the butter proceeds through several stages: melting, boiling, rising while becoming foamy and finally taking on a golden hue with an accompanying swoon-producing smell.
If you’d like to take a class, cookies are the focus of Sunday sessions until Thanksgiving. In January, the chef continues with a progression of brioche, puff pastry and finally croissants. Delangle was the chef/owner of Le Charm French Bistro in San Francisco for 14 years and opened La Bedaine in 2009 as a classic French traiteur, featuring a range of French favorites to take away. Besides pastries, he offers a line of charcuterie, including terrine of wild boar and duck gizzard confit, sandwiches, soups and salads and individual dinners such as coq au vin, stuffed quail, lamb curry, duck a l’orange and veal Marengo. Each comes vacuum packed and fully cooked. All you have to do is immerse the plastic bag in hot water for 15 minutes to reheat.
In my other life as an interpreter, I am fascinated by terms that don’t translate easily from one language to another because of what we call their “cultural richness.” The name La Bedaine would definitely qualify. Chef Delangle says it means, “pot-belly” and in his logo the capital “B” actually shows a bit of a paunch. It’s not so much the literal translation as the connotation that does not carry over into English. I would wager that most Americans do not have a positive feeling about paunchy potbellies. “In France, however,” Delangle explains, “this does not refer to being overweight but to someone who knows how to enjoy life.”
Call or stop by to secure your spot. The one-hour class is free but requires a $10 deposit, which will be returned if you attend, and given to charity if you don’t.
La Bedaine, 1585 Solano Ave., Berkeley, (510)559-8201, www.labedaine.com