A Day at the CIA ~ Holiday Pies Class 2009

On the top shelf of my refrigerator is a pie plate in which sits 3 slices of sour cream pumpkin pie, all that remains of the 6 pies and various other desserts I made for our Thanksgiving celebrations this year. I don't really want to talk about that pie. In fact, I can't wait for it to go away, especially since tomorrow, December 1, is the official kick-off of Christmas cookie season and there's a lot of excitement around here about that.

But I'm not quite finished talking about pie yet. I want to tell you about the Holiday Pies Class I attended at the CIA last week. Regular readers will remember that I was pretty excited about it, and I can tell you, I was not disappointed: I loved every minute of it.

The class session I attended was filled with a delightful group of women who ranged from those who had never made a scratch crust before to others who'd made plenty but were unsatisfied with results that were unpredictable. We'd come from all over ~ I was nearest, driving less than an hour from the neighboring county. Others had come from neighboring, or not neighboring states.

{I learned that it's not uncommon for folks attending enthusiast classes to come the previous evening, enjoy dinner at one of the CIA's restaurants and stay overnight in a hotel or inn nearby, making a getaway of it. Incidentally, there's plenty to do in the area, so traveling companions who are not inclined to take the classes can while away their time doing something more to their liking while foodies indulge in the CIA class experience.}

Our instructor, Certified Master Baker Juergen Temme, was extremely gracious and accommodating in fielding all manner of questions and demonstrating techniques for the class. His trio of "pie fairies" took on the burden of scaling and prep work so that all this was done for us, leaving each student with a perfectly arranged mise en place waiting for our arrival.

But Chef Temme didn't just demonstrate the how-to part ~ he also explained the whys and wherefores, something I, as a professional baker, found particularly useful. There is the popular saying that "baking is a science," and, of course, that's true. But like cooking, there's a lot of art to it, and achieving success is found somewhere in striking a balance between the two. That's where, to me, this type of instruction is so valuable.

Over the course of the 5-hour class, we made pie crust to take home (which I was tremendously grateful for come Thanksgiving morning), classic versions of pumpkin and pecan pie, and a double-crust apple pie, all of which we took home in bakery boxes. Some students opted to make an additional cherry lattice pie, a technique that Chef Temme ably demonstrated.

During these gently rigorous hours, we were fortified with cookies prepared by an earlier pastry class taught by Chef Temme.

While our pies were cooling, we enjoyed a superb lunch in a private dining room ~ lamb and chicken kebabs, barley pilaf, fresh pasta we'd watched being sheeted in the adjoined kitchen as we rolled out our own crusts, breads, freshly made mozzarella salad, and Black Forest cake. Really, a highlight of the day. And after lunch, we returned to the kitchen to find our aprons and tocques neatly placed atop our boxed pies, our recipe booklets alongside, the benches spotless. Thank you, pie fairies.

This is my third Enthusiast Class, and an impression I had from the first two stays with me. These classes are unique in that they offer the opportunity to learn in a completely nonthreatening and supportive atmosphere from some of the most respected professionals in the field. The instructors are at the top of their game, true experts. And they're at your disposal throughout the class period. You can make mistakes without feeling foolish, ask questions without fear of condescending answers, and just immerse yourself in the experience of learning without fear of failure. There's ample help available ~ someone is always around to fix whatever goes wrong. And when you leave, you bring the fruits of your labor to show off to family or friends. All this and lunch, too.

It's no wonder that most people who've tried one Enthusiast Class go back for more. They're as addictive as Chef Temme's butter cookies.

Full disclosure: As regular readers of this blog know, last week I attended a one-day Holiday Pies Class at the Culinary Institute of America. I was there as a media guest of the CIA to report on the class experience and not specifically to learn about making pie. Nevertheless, in the presence of a certified master baker, you can't help but learn some valuable tricks and truc, and I will never, ever tire of the Enthusiast Classes at the CIA.


  1. I have wanted to take clases at the CIA for awhile now. I think after the first of the year I'm going to have to see what the schedule looks like so I can go see for myself! L

  2. Great post! Isn't the CIA fun? I attended a pastry boot camp almost three years ago, and it was one of the best weeks of my life. I can't wait to go back. I wish I were closer so I could do the enthusiast classes.

  3. Wow! That sounds amazing!
    Now I want to take a class too!
    And your pies are beautiful.

  4. Nice Blog, I like your blog and specially very good above post. Nice Shearing. Thanks.

  5. Pie? PIE? I like pie :) That looks like loads of fun!

  6. The pecan pie looks so delicious. I want to take classes at the CIA too!


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