Monday, 12 March 2012

Wow! Look what I made : Pastry @ Eckington Manor Cookery School


Over the years, Mike and the boys have got used to my obsession with cookery and all things related. They don't sigh anymore when they ask what I would like for Christmas/Birthday etc, and simply go to my Amazon wishlist, where I have usually bookmarked books, bakeware or some other thing for later consideration and possibly purchase. This Christmas however, they surprised me with a gift voucher for the cookery school at Eckington Manor. As our kitchen is currently out of action due to building work - and I was suffering baking withdrawal symptoms - it seemed like a good time to use this for the weekend and get away from the general chaos and mess that has descended.
Lower End House Accommodation
I'd never heard of Eckington Manor before. It's a 260 acre working farm in the Worcestershire countryside, now owned by Judy Gardner, who has also created a fantastic cookery school and luxurious, 5 star B and B accommodation. When I first looked at the details of the cookery classes the school runs, I was overwhelmed by the choice, but the one that caught my eye straightaway was the Introduction to Pastry, which is sponsored by Baking Mad.com.

Banana Millefeuille
I've had a bit of a love-hate relationship with pastry. I always used to love making it with my mum - a rich buttery yellow dough that enrobed sausage rolls and mince pies at Christmas, or fruit pies throughout the rest of the year. I'd very often get told off for nibbling on bits of uncooked dough as we rolled it out. When I first made it myself, I was able to faithfully replicate it. But somewhere along the way, I lost my mojo, turning out tougher, greyish pastry with increasing frequency. Over the years this has got worse, and I've tried everything to get it back, with with variable levels of success. A pastry course, with a professional pastry chef, therefore seemed like A Very Good Idea.

Coffe Choux Buns
And it was. The day was structured around making four different recipes: a quiche lorraine using shortcrust, fruit tarts using sweet pastry (and with make your own creme patissiere), coffee choux buns, and finally, to show some of the ways you can use ready made puff, a banana millefeuille.

The course is taken by the wonderful Caroline Richards (who trained at Claridges under Nick Patterson, who in turn was trained by Pierre Herme). The cookery school facilities are fantastic, and arranged so that you share a workbench and oven with one other person. There were 10 of us alltogether. The demonstration area at the front of the class is flanked by two large screen TVs, and Caroline has a microphone attachment, so that you can see and hear everything that goes on.
My perfectly cooked sweet pastry tart shells - can't believe I made them!
The day itself is fairly fast-paced as there is a lot to fit in. It starts at 9.30am and finishes at 4.00pm. In that time, you cram in making your own shortcrust pastry (under Caroline's watchful eye  it was great to have guidance on the all important rubbing in stage), lining a flan ring, baking it blind and then filling the quiche lorraine and baking, then making the sweet pastry, and the creme patisserie. The final event of the morning was making the initial mix of the choux pastry before breaking for a delicious two course lunch (with wine if you're that way inclined). After luch we finished off the choux, piping it into buns and finishing with some slivered almonds, before baking it off.
Choux buns before baking, glazed with eggwash and sprinkled with almonds
Then we assembled the fruit tarts and made the banana millefeuille (learning how to sandwich the puff between baking sheets so that it doesn't rise and stays crisp, and then glazing with icing sugar).

At the end of what seems like a long day, you then get to parcel up your goodies and take them home. If, like me, you're staying overnight, you can store them in one of the fridges and retrieve them the next day. The school has its own cook shop as well, so you can take home more baking related souvenirs if you want!

Quiche Lorraine using a flan ring!
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the course, and it has certainly helped me to get my confidence back with pastry. For me, the real benefit was having Caroline on hand as we worked, to ask for guidance on whether the pastry had come together properly, was rolled out thinly enough, was baked properly etc, etc. Never having done choux before, it was also a real bonus having Caroline on hand to show me exactly what to do. I am also a convert to flan rings - never using one before but won over by the ease with which you could simply lift it off the cooked pastry! I can't wait to revisit some of the recipes and also try out some of my own.
Cookery school reception and cook shop
Finally, a quick word on the accommodation. We stayed for two nights, having decided to make a stay of it with the boys (on the Saturday, Mike took them to the East Midlands Safari Park, so they had a great time feeding giraffes etc). The rooms are lovely, and I can't thank the staff there enough for helping to make our stay a comfortable one. Especially when Sam, on the Saturday night when we had booked for the restaurant, decided to have the screaming abdabs for nearly three hours. They helpfully offered to set a table for us in a discreet, private dining area of the accommodation and bring our meals over from the restaurant, thus making everyone feel much more comfortable. It was a lifesaver and very much appreciated.
One tired but pleased and happy baker!
I can't recommend this course highly enough, and I already have my eye on a cake making course later in the year which happens to be on my birthday! The setting for the cookery school is lovely, amid the beautiful Worcestershire countryside, and it's easy enough to get to for just the day (not far from junction 7 and 9 of the M5 or junction 2 of the M50).

As work on my kitchen is progressing, I'm hoping to be back in it by the weekend. It's been a long couple of weeks and I sense a baking frenzy coming on... :)

Susie

4 comments:

  1. Wow these look so good...I love fruit tarts. I want to go to Eckington Manor now too...where is it? :-)

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    1. Hi Laura, it was fun. Eckington's not too far from Worcester itself. Absolutely beautiful place!

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  2. Wow everything looks so great! You must have had so much fun, that Banana Millefeuille sounds especially yummy!

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    1. Thanks Gem, yes it was fun, frantic but lots of fun. I learnt so much too. The banana millefuille was lovely, well, it all was. And one of those things that when you know how to do it, it's quite easy! Will therefore be making it again, or maybe with strawberries, blackcurrants, raspberries, etc etc :)

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