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Saturday, 23 August 2014

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Cakes fit for a queen

MARKING 60 years of The Queen’s reign, the Diamond Jubilee will be celebrated all over the country next weekend, with a host of parties, parades and special events.

Deciding I was in serious need of some patriotic fervour, I set about looking for a local event.

Scouring the internet, I discovered page after page of Jubilee Lunches, village festivals and street parties, but it was a ‘Cakes Fit For A Queen’ Course at LucyCooks’, cookery school in Staveley, that caught my interest.

Advertised as a day baking a variety of delicious cakes and desserts, I was sold, and foolishly ignored the warning ‘you’ll need to be competent in the kitchen’.

Place booked, I received an email detailing the cakes we would be making and a daunting list of skills that the desserts would require.

Including Macaroons, lemon meringue cake, sachertorte and an aptly named ‘princess’ cake, the menu was designed to finely tune our expertise in pastry making, chocolate tempering, patisserie, moulding and presentation.

With my baking skills stretching to the odd rice crispy or fairy cake, I arrived at the cookery school brimming with nervous anticipation.

Met by a cheerful receptionist, I was shown to the ‘Aga room’ where I joined the rest of the class, for tea and homemade scones.

And quickly discovered that my team members were a mix of experienced bakers, and restaurant and café owners, looking to expand their menus.

I did feel slightly intimidated, and utterly out of my depth, but the relaxed atmosphere and friendly chatter, soon washed away my trepidation.

Brews finished, it was time to be introduced to the chefs; Drew Norris and Tim Bestwick, who I was impressed to learn, have won a number of culinary awards and worked in many prestigious kitchens around the country and abroad.

If I was ever going to become ‘The Queen of the Dessert’, as the course promised, they were the guys to assist my transformation.

Whisked off to the state-of-the-art cookery theatre, we were handed the day’s itinerary and told to take a seat for a demo by Drew.

Layers of sponge, cream and jam, covered with green marzipan and red roses make up a traditional Swedish princess cake. And after a detailed presentation from Drew, we were off to our own work stations to attempt the resplendent, regal treat.

Strategically choosing the station next to a Garstang café owner, I planned to get as much help as possible, while having a sneaky glimpse at the competition. Luckily, baking the cake base proved relatively simple, but the custard filling was a real challenge.

“Once your custard becomes thick, remove it from the heat to stop it from setting,” we were warned.

But after the success of my sponge, I was getting a little over-confident, and although my custard looked pretty perfect as I took it off the heat, I forgot to keep stirring, resulting in a skin forming over it, and Drew stepping in to rescue the mixture.

Despite a few silly mistakes, such as forgetting to separate my egg yolks, things did get better.

A Viennese speciality, sachertorte, is a chocolate cake invented by chance, by Jewish Austrian Franz Sacher in 1832, basically a chocolate torte with dark chocolate icing. Drew’s demonstration seemed pretty easy to follow and my attempt turned out quite well.

And it seemed I was on a roll, as both the slightly more difficult lemon meringue cake and macaroons went similarly smoothly, meaning I was asking for Drew’s opinion rather than his assistance.

All four desserts out the oven and setting on cooling racks, we had lunch, freshly prepared by Tim, then it was back to our stations to decorate our desserts.

For many bakers, icing their cakes is a chance to show off their creative talents. But having no artistic bone in my body, this part of the session was the bit I had been dreading.

The meringue, macaroons and sachertorte required little decoration, but to my horror, the Princess Cake relied on it’s unique, garish appearance.

After a brave attempt, and covered head to toe in red and green food dye I admitted defeat, allowing Drew to pick up the pieces. My cakes certainly wouldn’t have won any awards for their appearance, but thanks to Drew’s thorough instructions they definitely tasted the part.

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