Cookery Course – The Whole Story – Day 1

I haven’t been procrastinating. After returning from the cookery course I had two more days off, then worked for the rest of last week. Then on the weekend, when I wanted to write up this post, I felt I was coming down with something, and by Monday I could hardly speak. Turns out I have a head cold and throat infection. Today I’m feeling a little better and getting bored, so I brought the laptop to the couch to finally finish the cookery course story.

Just let me quickly tell you about the rest of my week in the UK. I’d been looking forward to chocolate twists, and would you believe it – every Costa I came upon was sold out. Food-wise, I had 4 hot meals in 9 days, everything else was mainly M&S salads and sandwiches, yogurts etc. The reason for that was that I was OK having lunch or tea somewhere on my own during the day, but I just didn’t feel comfortable going out for dinner alone. And that also captures the mood for the whole trip, really: I didn’t like travelling on my own. Now knew this before I went, but people kept telling me it would be OK. Which it was, but I knew beforehand that I’m just not one of those people who easily meet other people and get to chat, although I have to say people were way friendlier than here and would make small talk at the supermarket (everywhere, basically), which you don’t really get here. The upshot is I would travel on my own again, but not for nine days.

The last two days, the Puddings & Pastry cookery course, made up for everything, though. Let me get the superficial stuff out of the way first: all the chefs I saw there were very easy on the eye :-D. With that clarified, here’s how it went.

One the Friday night we had a welcome drink and meet & greet with the other participants, and I met really nice people. On Saturday morning we had an absolutely amazing breakfast at the cookery school’s B&B, and then we went into baking mode.

I had a very nice baking partner-in-crime, and we started off making dough for spelt bread. The first thing that amazed me was that hardly any of the participants had used (or even seen) fresh yeast before. Here in Germany it’s what we mainly use, and you buy fresh yeast in little 42 g cubes at the supermarket for about 0,12€. I learned that in the UK you don’t come by it that easily.

Now, if you remember, one of the reasons I decided on this course was that I didn’t like handling yeast dough and making shortcrust pastry, as both never do what I need them to. The bread loaves my partner and I made lacked a little something, but we had a good laugh about it. It showed that I was attending the right course, though. Although our dough didn’t rise as well during proving as it should have, it had no negative influence on the end result. I’m looking forward to making this recipe at home, because I have only ever made spelt bread with a really dry dough that makes for a dense bread. This dough was a very moist, actually quite wet, dough that on first sight you’d think something had gone wrong with. But no, just knead it for 10 minutes by hand, and you’ll get the most airy, fluffy bread.

Our spelt bread was formed into two differently shaped loaves…

…that ended up looking like this (left). On the right is the chef’s (perfect) version.

Next on the agenda, while the bread was proving, we made pecan shortbread. Very easy, very delicious, and again, the dough – as all the doughs we made that weekend, by the way – made by hand, no kitchen machinery in sight. I might actually try to keep doing that at home as well, because you do get a better feeling for the consistency.

Three tricks we learned (and probably everyone except me and the other course participants already knows about):
1. Don’t just form your dough into a sausage and cut it, but roll it in clingfilm, ever tighter, until it’s a really tightly wrapped dough sausage with as little air pockets left as possible.
2. You can freeze the dough at this stage, then when you take it out, cut it into thick slices, remove the clingfilm after cutting, and bake from frozen.
3. If your shortbread is uneven around the edges after baking, take a cookie cutter to it and make it pretty.

Pecan Shortbread (amateurs’ version left, chef’s version right)

The first pudding thing we made were lemon possets. Extremely easy to make, unless you live somewhere where you can’t buy double or heavy cream (52% fat). Like, Germany… I checked with the chef for alternatives to double cream, and he told me two. I will be making these really soon, so you’ll have to bear with me for the whole story on the alternatives. When finished, our chef sprinkled them with cracker sprinkles, which I’d never had before either, and which was a fun touch.

I hope you’re still with me at this point. I’m just realising that this will be one gigantic post if I want to cover all of day 1 in it, but I’d rather do that than draw this whole thing out over several posts…

Shortcrust pastry next. The second one of my demons. I’m actually quite looking forward now to trying this at home. We made Goats Cheese & Roasted Mediterranean Vegetable Quiche with Savoury Custard. It all seemed so easy, I was a little on edge at first, waiting for the typical things to go wrong, like the dough breaking. Didn’t happen, most likely due to the proper kneading and getting out the air.

Here are the two tricks I told you about in my previous post (again, some or many of you may already know this, we didn’t):

1. Keep the overlapping dough until after the final baking, then take a speed peeler and carefully peel off the overlap.
2. To get the quiche/tart out of its mould, take an appropriately sized dish/glass, put the mould on top, and the outer rim of the mould will just fall off.

We also prepared chocolate chip cookie dough, sweet pastry and pastry cream for the next day, then came my personal highlight – chocolate fondants. I was never really keen on these before, because I don’t like dark chocolate, but these things… oh my… I’m a convert!

My version to the left, chef’s version to the right.

Another nice little trick we’ve learned here – keep the cut off overlap from any shortcrust or sweet pastry you’re making and use for dessert presentation: turn into fine crumbs and sprinkle a little bit on a plate to place ice cream or clotted cream on top; this way it won’t slip on the plate.

On this note, I’ll leave you with any food cravings you might now have, sorry! Roundup of day two to follow shortly.