The French Pastry School in Chicago's Loop turns out new pastry chefs ready for the professional world of ganache, puff pastry, mousse and much more. But it also offers classes for the nonprofessional.

In a recent class on "Introduction to Cakes & Tarts," pastry chef Bob Hartwig took 16 baking enthusiasts through several French standards. Along the way, Hartwig offered tips that anyone facing a roster of holiday baking can take into the kitchen.


_ When making a cake batter that blends more than two mixtures, don't incorporate the batters 100 percent until the final addition. Mix them just 75 percent. This helps avoid overmixing.

_ "Comb" cake batter up the inside of the cake pan with a spatula and the cake will rise better.

_ Don't poke a cake with a toothpick or other cake tester; if it isn't done and must return to the oven, then you've just given moisture a way to escape. Instead, touch the center lightly; it is done when it springs back.

_ When letting a cake cool after baking, place a paper towel on top to trap steam and prevent the cake from drying out.

For pastry

_ When making a tart or pie dough, don't mix all the way until the dough comes together. Instead, when the dough is nearly together, place it on a large piece of plastic wrap and gently mold together by hand into a ball in the wrap. This will help prevent overmixing.

_ Two strips of thin wood placed on either side of your rolling pin can help you roll more evenly. Try paint stirrers found at hardware stores. *