Happy New Year to all my readers and followers! It’s been a good few months since I’ve managed to get on the laptop and create some blog posts. It’s been a bit of a full year, to be honest with lots of ups and downs. At the beginning of September, after a very stressful few weeks where my mental health took a serious battering, I decided to have a change of career. I’ve been supply teaching for the past five years and although I loved it, I hated the downside of not knowing how much money was coming in and the uncertainty of work at different points of the year. I had worked all through the summer holidays in a local nursery and as I loved it so much, I ended up becoming a permanent member of staff there at the beginning of November. I’m getting used to my new hours and routine now so I’m going to get back in the blogging saddle now. But first I want to share something exciting that I’ve been doing over the past few weeks!
Back in August I finally got round to doing something I’d wanted to do for ages. Although baking is my passion, it has been a long awaited dream to actually turn it into more of a business and to take it to the next level. When my younger child (he’s now 19, eeeeek!) leaves uni in a couple of years time, Mr SmartCookieSam and I are hoping to move house and to open up a tea room or coffee shop. We love the Isle of Arran and can see ourselves there but we might end up somewhere else. Who knows? I enrolled on a patisserie and confectionery course at my local college, York College. It’s in three parts and last term, up until Christmas was the introductory part. It felt really exciting going back to college, albeit for three hours every Wednesday night. I had been to York College before when my children were little as I did my AS Level French evening class there. It also felt strange to be going back there as a student, rather than as a parent as both my children went there before uni!
On my first evening session I was feeling very nervous and anxious as the traffic was bad getting to college and I arrived late. I don’t like being late, especially on my first session when you need to find your way around. I needn’t have worried as when I got there, the class tutor couldn’t have been nicer and the other students were lovely and friendly. We were shown all the equipment in the purpose built industrial kitchen. I was impressed with the accurate and spacious ovens, although the hotplates and the extractor fans didn’t help my menopausal hot flushes one little bit!
For our first session we made a chocolate tart with a sweet shortcrust pastry. I’ve made shortcrust pastry before but we were shown a gorgeous recipe for a rich chocolate tart perfect with raspberries and a dollop of creme fraiche or cream. I was very impressed with how it turned out. I took it home and made sure both Mr SmartCookieSam and my daughter got a slice. The rest went to work where I left it in the kitchen for my work mates to help themselves to.
The following week I was back at college to bake Sticky Gingerbread with a cream cheese frosting. I had made sticky gingerbread before and to me this wasn’t really patisserie. Having said that, I did enjoy baking it and this too went down very well at work when I put it in the kitchen. I had a piece myself and felt that it tasted better for leaving it for a couple of days to help the flavour improve.
We ran out of time to decorate the gingerbread in class so we made up the icing bag of frosting to take home. We were allowed to take some chopped stem ginger pieces home with us as well to sprinkle on the top of the traybake. I did this at 10.00pm once I got home from class. I then cut the traybake into pieces ready to take to work.
Week 3 of my course had me in tears. These were tears of joy I hasten to add! For, after one disastrous attempt at choux pastry a few years ago, I finally managed to make chocolate eclairs. Once again we ran out of time in class to decorate them but we made up some creme patissiere to fill the buns which I put into a piping bag to take home. I wasn’t at work on the morning after so I got up bright and early to fill and decorate the eclairs. I had both dark chocolate and white chocolate Callebaut couverture chips to melt but unfortunately the white chocolate seized on me. I used dark chocolate throughout including some more in my baking stash.
We ended up with two chocolate eclairs each for breakfast then I put the rest into the fridge. They lasted until the day after when the rest were demolished at work!
Leading up to Halloween we got to make Carrot Muffins/ cupcakes. Again, I found this easy as I’ve made loads of cupcakes before. I improvised with the cream cheese icing and added cinnamon to it. We had fun decorating our cupcakes with Halloween themed sugarpaste decorations. I made mini pumpkins, witches hats and spiders. Halloween isn’t really my thing, so I made sugarpaste carrots for the top of the other cakes.
At the beginning of November we got to enjoy baking bread rolls and sweet fruited buns. I’ve always struggled with any form of yeast baking so I was looking forward to some useful tips and advice on how to make my bread come out brilliantly. We got to decorate our plain milk rolls with either and/ or sesame seeds and poppy seeds. As with all artisan breads, etc they don’t stay fresh for long. These were no exception, they were stale the day after but a bread roll with some soup was perfect at lunchtime. We also got to bake some fruited buns. I think they would have been nice with a glaze on top but I didn’t have time once I got home to add it on. I ate one of the buns for breakfast at work the following day.
We got to make Mille Feuilles and different sorts of Danish Pastries on week four. The Mille Feuilles were great fun to do and we ended up eating them at breakfast the following morning! Although I enjoyed making the Danish Pastries, I found it difficult to get the shapes neat in the time we had. Definitely more practice needed here but our tutor was so encouraging.
I’ve always loved Tiramisu and it’s one of my favourite desserts. I’ve made it a few times before but I always cheat by using shop bought sponge fingers to soak the Marsala or brandy in. Our tutor showed us a great way to make a genoise sponge. We made it into a chocolate one. I had had a major cake fail when trying to make a Genoise that turned out like rubber a few months back. So when I nailed the chocolate one, I felt so happy. When the sponge cooled, we made it fit into the base of the dish and soaked it in Marsala. The Tiramisu also asked for skills in separating eggs and whisking up egg whites. I’m a bit clumsy at separating eggs and always make a mess of it. I was ok this time, though and even managed not to drop any eggshell in the bowl!
Once the Tiramisu was layered up and in the fridge setting we had some spare time before the end of the lesson. Our tutor suggested making shortbread biscuits. I chose to make spiced ones with cinnamon. As I hadn’t eaten any tea before my class, I ended up scoffing a warm shortbread straight off the tray! At home the following morning I was off to work early but came home to find some Tiramisu gone. It turned out both Mr SmartCookieSam and my daughter had eaten some for breakfast. Although I was trying hard on my pre-Christmas diet, I ended up splitting the remainder of the pudding into three and having some myself. I could have eaten the whole thing twice over.
The next session was at the end of November and we were beginning to think about Christmas baking. Our tutor got us to make Lemon Possett first which I thought was divine! I don’t normally eat desserts when we go out for lunch or dinner as I’m usually too full. But I had to make an exception for a portion of scrumptious lemon possett with a delicate piece of melt in the mouth shortbread on the side. It was so easy to make: simply heading double cream, caster sugar and lemon juice gently to simmering point. Then lemon zest is stirred in and put into the fridge to set. The recipe made four large tubs and stayed in our fridge until needed.
Our tutor also showed us a cracking way of making sweet shortcrust pastry using a creaming method. Sounded strange but it actually worked! We got to experiment with different ways of making mince pies. I usually only top mine with stars and never bother with a lid but I tried it for the first time. They turned out a lot neater than expected. Although the mixture was very stiff and needed a cloth piping bag to help, we also got to make a Viennese topping for mince pies as well as a Florentine style one with toasted, flaked almonds. We did not make our own mincemeat (which I do sometimes if I have time) but the mincemeat offered to us was gorgeous. It definitely smelled of Christmas in the college kitchen that night!
The mince pies lasted a good couple of weeks in an airtight tin. It’s a pity I only have a tiny freezer or I could have frozen them for Christmas itself.
Once we got into December then things didn’t quite go to plan with the class. On the day of the first session in December I got a phone call and an email to say the class had been cancelled due to the tutor not being able to make it. She offered to extend the course to run the last session the week before Christmas. Then the following week I was off sick with a flu virus. I was gutted to miss out on making a chocolate yule log and some decorated gingerbread tree decorations. So I was really looking forward to the last session only to find that this too was going to be postponed until January as no one could get there! Never mind, at least I have some more fun to look forward to in January as well as hopefully enrolling onto the Intermediate Course.
Love Sam xx