Christmas Baking Class Week 1 (part 1) – Fruit Mince

Fruit minceI don’t know where this year has gone, but Christmas is almost upon us once again. It seems that the older I get, the quicker each year seems to go! This year I’m actually a bit more prepared than usual. I’ve already got quite a bit of Christmas shopping done, which is great. I’ve been buying things when I’ve seen them, which should hopefully mean I will avoid the last minute rush just before Christmas, making things less stressful and much more enjoyable. I will be working over the Chritmas/New Year period (except for public holidays/weekends) so anything that I can do now rather than later will make the holiday time more relaxing. That is the plan at least anyway.

Of course, there is  all that wonderful Christmas baking to be done. Last year I was up to midnight a few nights in a row madly baking for work and Christmas gifts (and I still have the scar from a bad burn that resulted). I’m going to try and avoid the mad rush and late nights this year by doing what I can ahead of time. So on that note, last week I started another cooking class with Sarah Brigden (babyCakes) on Christmas baking. In our first class we made Fruit Mince and Frangipane tarts, with a cinnamon pastry. Fruit mince is best made at least a week before you want to use it (although it will keep for months), and so that is what I did today. I have to say that by the end of the day my kitchen was smelling very Christmassy! You can make the fruit mince to suit your own tastes, I used dried cranberries and blueberries in my dried fruit, but you can use whichever you prefer (just don’t use anything too wet like prunes etc). If you don’t like glace cherries, use something else. Like candied fruit peel? Add it in (I don’t, hence there isn’t any here). So now I’m even more prepared, with jars of fruit mince in my fridge ready for Christmas baking in December.

I also made the frangipane tarts today (but with raspberries rather than fruit mince) and I will put those up during the week (pastry is great to make ahead and freeze until you need it as well, I think I’ll have to do that next weekend). But for now, here is the recipe for fruit mince. Make it now and by Christmas the flavours will have developed and it will be ready for whatever you want to use it in.

Click here for the recipe

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Holiday time – my trip to France

 

Carcassone
Carcassone

First off my apologies to my regular followers for my absence. I recently returned from a two week trip to France (to visit Jerome’s family) and though I thought I had been so organised by preparing posts to go up while I was away, I hadn’t counted on getting sick when I got home. Between jetlag, heading back to work and succumbing to one of the winter bugs that have been doing the rounds, I didn’t get around to cooking or writing for my blog.

I’m back and recovered now, and ready to get cooking again (after tomorrow’s rent inspection that is). Just in time for The Great Australian Bake Off tonight, which I have been looking forward to for months. I hoping to try to replicate some of the dishes they bake in the weeks to come so if you like baking look out for that.

But for now, I thought I’d share some of the food highlights from my trip to France. The first was a highlight of the whole trip and was a private cooking class with Chef Jean-Pascal Vallee at his cooking school/holiday retreat and spa Domaine du Lac de Sorin. The location (in the Vendee region) was beautiful and if you are ever looking for somewhere to stay, the cabins looked gorgeous. But I was just there for a cooking class; with Jerome to translate (the classes are held in French).

Kitchen where class was held
Kitchen where class was held

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Pastry making class week 5 – Mille Feuille with Rough puff pastry

 Mille Feuille

Of all the types of pastry we learnt during the 6 classes I attended, this is the one that I enrolled for and really wanted to do. I was supposed to attend a Mille Feuille class with Sarah at babyCakes last year, but unfortunately it was cancelled due to lack of interest. So I was thrilled when Sarah told me about the 6 week pastry class at TuartCollege, which included a class on Mille Feuille using rough puff pastry.

I’ve really enjoyed this 6 week course and have found my confidence with pastry has really grown. I can’t wait to give full blown puff pastry a try when I have time at home. But in the meantime, it’s great to now have this quicker rough puff pastry up my sleeve. It tastes great, with the flaky layers, rise and crispness you expect from puff pastry, but in a lot less time. Yum.

Next time I make it at home, I will take step by step photos of the folding and update the post. But for now at least, here is the recipe.

Click here for the recipe

Pastry making class weeks 3 & 4 – Rhubarb and raspberry lattice tart

Rhubarb berry lattice

Week 3 of the 6 week pastry making class I have been attending was all about chocolate pastry. We learnt how to make a chocolate pastry which was cooked and then filled with ganache. The pastry was the same recipe as the sweet pastry we learnt in week two, but with the addition of 40g cocoa in place of some of the flour.

I haven’t made these again since the class as it is just too much chocolate for me (I know, I’m strange). However the recipe for the sweet pastry (including the note on how to make it chocolate) is here and I have previously posted a recipe for chocolate ganache here.

Sorry about the photo
Sorry about the photo

Last week we made apple and berry lattice tarts which was something I was really looking forward to (I love anything with berries in it). This tart uses a very short pastry that is equal parts flour to butter. It can be used for either sweet or savoury baking and for this tart the filling and pastry are cooked at the same time. The basic filling recipe can be adapted with many different combinations of fruits, with our teacher Sarah Brigden (from babyCakes) recommending rhubarb and raspberry . I didn’t  really eat rhubarb growing up (my Dad doesn’t like it). However it is now one of my favourite fruits to use in desserts (along with citrus and berries) due to its tartness. So I had to give it a try.

The rhubarb filling is wetter when it cooks than the apple filling, so it seems to take a bit longer to cook the pastry as a result. The end result though is delicious. The tart, tangy sweetness of the rhubarb and raspberry contrast the rich buttery pastry perfectly. I would definitely recommend giving this one a go. The pastry is a bit trickier to work with than the other sweet pastry we learnt in week 2, so I wouldn’t recommend it for a first attempt at pastry. But if you give it a little time to rest in the fridge, and return it to the fridge when it gets too warm, it is easier to work with.

I have found that with practicing at home outside of class, I am getting a lot better and quicker at handling pastry. Also, with all the classes I have attended over the last year, I have found that if I try and replicate the recipes fairly soon after attending the class, I remember the specific techniques and tricks a lot better.

Click here for the recipe

Pastry making class week 2 – Lemon tart (and apple rose tarts)

I have been looking forward to the Australian version of the Great British Bake Off ever since I heard it was being filmed. However I am starting to wonder if, when they advertised that it would air after Easter, they meant Easter 2014!

While waiting, I have been revisiting the original British version and discovering the blogs of some of the past contestants. One of the things I have wanted to try for some time are Mary-Anne’s (Season 2) apple rose tarts. I found Mary-Anne one of the most interesting contestants on The Great British Bake off, with her recipes utilising unique techniques based on a lot of research and historical recipes (and a collection of over 900 cookbooks, which puts my 200 to shame). I thought these tarts were beautiful so I decided to try the apple rose component today while I was making a batch of Lemon Tarts from my second pastry making course (with Sarah Brigden from babyCakes).

Lemon tart
Lemon tarts

I won’t repeat the instructions here, as they are already provided so well by Mary-Anne on her site Time To Cook – Online. As I just wanted to try the roses today, I made the sweet pastry that I learnt in class, and a crème patisserie recipe that I had previously learnt from Sarah (which I will post in a few weeks). I followed Mary-Anne’s instructions to make the apple roses (although without returning them to the oven to bake). Although they are a little fiddly, they are very effective and I’m sure they get a bit easier with practice. I quite liked the freshness of the apple after poaching them in the apple syrup and not baking them further.

As long as you chill the pastry well before rolling it, I think this pastry is quite easy to work with. I like adding some orange or lemon zest to the pastry for an extra citrus hit. The citrus filling is beautifully creamy and tangy and I certainly recommend giving these a try. And the apple rose tarts look beautiful and very effective, and are not too difficult to achieve. Next time I will give Mary-Anne’s apple custard filling a go as well and bake the apple roses.

apple roses

Click here for the recipe

Fairy princess cake decorating class and my attempt at a cute/cuddly lion

Lion cake topper

A few weeks ago, I took my mum to another class at Wild Sugar Rose as an early birthday present. This was another modelling class, and we all learnt how to make a fairy princess to decorate a small cake or cupcake.

Cupcake with crown

I have found from the classes I have been to that I really enjoy the modelling work the most, particularly modelling animals. I think you can get a bit more character into the animal models than the human ones, particularly as a beginner (I have seen some incredibly amazing figures from experienced and talented cake artists). It is also really nice to go to the classes with my Mum, and reminds me of when we used to go to porcelain doll making classes together.

Fairy princess

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