SWEET TREATS AT BODNANT COOKING SCHOOL...
We're invited to afternoon tea at the Bodnant Welsh Cooking Centre, as long as we make our own cakes...
SWEET TREATS AND AFTERNOON TEA
The Bodnant Welsh Food Centre rests above the River Conwy, near the North Wales coast. Within its stone walls is housed a purpose built kitchen, where up to 12 students at a time can learn the secrets of great cooking.
The course we attended, "Sweet Treats and Afternoon Tea Favourites", began quietly with tea and biscuits whilst teacher Sally Owens, a member of the Welsh national culinary team, introduced herself to the 8 students.
There was one couple, who'd been given a gift voucher as a wedding present, 5 women and "Bradders", Road, Rail And Sea's baking correspondent for the day.
Sally asked the group to put on their aprons, and everyone said they felt like they were about to go on the Great British Bake Off. One, Alison, somehow managed to get stuck even at this early stage "I'm an absolute beginner", she explained, "Look, I can't even get my apron on!" She wasn't alone, though, as sympathetic murmurings confirmed that the others were also "learners".
The brightly lit kitchen had a central bench with ovens and worktops around the edge. The class was due to make Frangipanes, Bakewell Tart and Chocolate Eclairs, and the ingredients had already been measured out to save time, meaning Sally could quickly get the pastry making underway. "Firstly I need you all to wash your hands before baking the pastry, or the pastry will tell us how dirty our hands are"!" said Sally.
8 pairs of hands began pounding the flour and water together, causing Alison to tell the room that she'd had a panic dream the night before, and had only woken up after stepping into 2 tins of paint, causing Bradders to giggle and accidentally inhale some flour.
"No-one wants a soggy bottom"
Next on the list was Choux pastry for eclairs. "I think it's named after the man who invented it and not shoe leather" said Sally, smiling "But we'll see if that's the case once you've made the pastry..."
As the butter was melted into hot water the chattering stopped, and the room became filled with the sound of frantic clacking as wooden spoons mixed the flour into the pans.
"We need the mixture to be as smooth as possible" said Sally "And, as it's such hard work on the arms, you'll expend so much energy making it you won't need to feel guilty later when you're eating it."
Sally's excellence as a teacher was such that there was no real need for questions, and within a short space of time the choux mixture was done. She leaned over to Bradders and whispered that she thought her mixture was perfect, causing a teacher's pet beam that could probably have been seen from nearby Conwy Castle.
Once the ordeal of the Choux was over it was back to rolling out the pastry, which prompted a chorus of stifled screams, encouraged by Sally, as the pupils attempted to lay it onto the baking trays.
Sally noticed that Bradders needed help and sidled up to inform her that her short baked mixture would taste delicious, but would be difficult to work with, and calmly helped her place the pastry into her tin.
Cooking wires then appeared courtesy of Pam, the kitchen assistant, so that the choux buns could be taken out of the ovens and cooled without creating a soggy bottom, inspiring the group to spontaneously chant "No-one wants a soggy bottom".
The pastry for the tarts was then placed in the oven and, as the aroma of baking filled the kitchen and raised appetites, the class broke for a lunch of cold meats, salads and a glass of chilled Rose wine from the onsite wine cellar.
"...you have to decide if you're the Ritz or not."
The afternoon session began with scones, accompanied by the usual inconclusive argument as to how the word should be pronounced. Sally brought the room to order and divulged that the secret to a perfect scone, however it's said, is cold butter.
The buns, tarts and scones soon emerged golden and soft from the cookers, indicating it was time to decorate them with fruit and cream.
"Where you decided to go for afternoon tea decided what you could expect to get. So the Ritz would offer small delicate items, and other places more robust "comfort" portions." said Sally, "So you have to decide if you're the Ritz or not."
By the end of the course the counters were crowded with colourful, delicious baking. Sally looked around the room at the quietly proud faces and said,
"Home baking means you know what goes into what you're making, which is very important, especially if you have kids. You know what you're eating. And, most importantly, you can add the vital ingredient of love."
And with that Bradders and her new pals sat down to more tea and a feast of freshly cooked cakes.
We stayed as guests of Bodnant Welsh Food Centre
www.bodnant-welshfood.co.uk - 01492 651100.
Cookery courses start from £55pp, set lunch at the Hayloft Restaurant from £12.95pp, B&B farmhouse accommodation from £55pppn.
The Bodnant Welsh Food Centre is easily reached by train or car, as it's just off the main A55 coastal route on the A470 to Llanwrst.
The centre is also close to Tal Y Cafn railway station, which connects to Llandudno Junction.