My Hero knew how much I’d enjoyed my day in the cookery school with Angela Hartnett last year and I found two similarly lovely treats in my Christmas stocking this year - a cookery class and a craft class of my choosing. Yesterday was the first - “Mastering Patisserie” at Daylesford Cookery School.
Only four of us in class today, which was a bonus. The first question was “is there anything in particular you’re hoping to learn today?”, to which I answered “macarons”.
Bingo! Macarons were on the schedule and we settled in with a cup of coffee to watch chef James demonstrate sweet shortcrust pastry, which was going to be the base for a chocolate tart. Whilst that was in the oven, he outlined the first steps in the next recipe and offered a few tips.
There was going to be quite a lot of whisking throughout the day and after a brief discussion about the benefits of a variety of tools and machinery, it was time to set to work. (The answer is a large balloon whisk, by the way and we used that simple hand tool more than anything else!)
There followed my biggest disappointment of the day. Given that there were just four of us in the kitchen with something like a dozen workstations, I wasn’t that happy to be working in pairs. Of the three other students in class, two were mother and son - her birthday present from him, to share a day together (nice idea). So, the young woman who’d arrived shortly after me and I made the other pair - that was fine and we worked “respectfully” with one another, but there’s no doubt, I would have been more comfortable and gained more from the day had I worked alone.
Anyway, that little social dilemma worked through, we started work on the next dish: Earl Grey Tea delice with blood orange and rhubarb jelly. As usual in these places, all the ingredients were weighed out ready and most equipment on hand and we were soon soaking gelatine, whisking egg whites and folding melted white chocolate, working our way through the recipe. Having admired the swift and efficient way James had sliced the rhubarb, I was given a quick knife skills lesson - which was maybe a pointer to another class I could benefit from!
I failed to mention that during this time, we’d also whipped up and baked a quick Genoese sponge base for our delice (as you do). We quickly prepared the ring moulds and poured in the Earl Grey and white chocolate mousse before it set and left it in the fridge whilst we got on with the important part of the day - or at least, the part I was looking forward to.
The macaron mixture was incredibly straightforward, being mostly a meringue which I can do in my sleep after all those Sunday lunch pavlovas! These were to be lemon and lime flavoured, and the dry almond mix of ingredients were weighed out and combined there, ready to fold into the meringue, so I need to refresh my memory as to what was actually in the bowl. In no more than ten minutes, we were piping small circles of the wet mix onto parchment lined baking sheets and watching as it settled into neat domes. Whilst it “oxidised” and the surface of each dome lost its stickiness, we had lunch.
As we’d been busy with our macarons, James had been preparing a simple but delicious dish of pasta with olive oil, parmesan, wild garlic and black peppercorns - perfect!
Of course, we were all eager to see how our macarons were doing - when we took them out of the oven, we were all thrilled by the results. The drying time before lunch had resulted in that characteristic “foot” and I have to say, I have no idea where the idea that macarons are difficult comes from!! I think they were the easiest thing we did all day.
Possibly the trickiest process was creating the fourth and final recipe - Hazelnut Paris-Brest. this was a choux ring filled with a praline crème patisserie filling and drizzled with caramel. I’d made choux pastry before but James offered some invaluable advice which we eagerly accepted. As a result, the mixture was a lot wetter than I’d made previously and I will try to remember to add much more egg than before for a lighter, crispier pastry. Making the caramel though -oh dear. All four of us struggled to get that to work, as both pairs managed to crystallise the sugar rather than caramelise it. Thankfully, James was on hand to rescue the situation!
He’d been busy whilst we were working, cutting the chocolate tart from the first demonstration this morning and sandwiching his macarons with lemon curd.
It was time for afternoon tea! The chocolate tart was delicious - not too sweet and most certainly light and airy in texture and far from the dense, brownie-like filling I expected. I’ll make that one again for sure.
All that remained was for us to finish off our Paris-Brest pastries, piping the crème patissiere filling, drizzing the caramel and sprinkling the praline
sandwich our macarons together with lemon curd…
and finally, use the most enormous blowtorch to free the delices from the metal rings and reveal their layers (some of which were only just poured in time as the gelatine set, it seems!)
We boxed it all up to take home and I did my usual reflection on the day - there was no doubt, we had created some good things. Had I learned anything though?
I think it mostly gave me confidence to try some of these precise and meticulous kitchen skills a little more. I really didn’t like working in a pair but thinking through the day, perhaps we couldn’t have done so much alone - maybe we needed one to be whisking the egg whites whilst the other stirred the custard? If that’s the case, perhaps it would have been better to have come as a pair? I don’t know. But by not actually doing every part of the process myself, I am aware that I don’t actually know how a couple of things came together and I need to recreate those recipes myself in my own kitchen to reinforce the skills I acquired.
I was also surprised by the organisation here compared with Cactus Kitchens, where I took the class last year. Cactus provided a well equipped workspace with utensils and ingredients on hand, together with plenty of support throughout the day - no sooner did we put down a spoon than it was whisked away and returned, clean to the same place. Here, James did most of the clearing up - I know there were just four of us, but even so, that was quite a task for him in addition to the demonstration and teaching. I seemed to spend the day looking for things - tea towel, spoons, spatula… Quite how it would work with a full class, I’m not so sure.
Anyway, with the benefit of discounts offered for cookery school students, I just had to take a look in the shop, didn’t I? Of course, all was looking lovely and Spring-like, too.
I think “Mastering Patisserie” is possibly an exaggeration, but I certainly overcame the mysteries of the subject and my book group (and my Hero) appreciated the fruits of my labours last evening! The question is, what flavour macarons shall I make next?