The Daily Spud

...there's both eatin' and drinkin' in it


So I’ve been baking for the past 2½ days in Ballymaloe with Rachel Allen.

Rachel Allen Bakes

Rachel Bakes

Well, when I say I, I mean myself and 60 other people, and when I say 2½ days of baking, that consisted of 3 half-day demonstration sessions with Rachel and 2 half-day practical sessions, getting down and dirty in the kitchens of the Ballymaloe Cookery School and loving it.

As a result of my endeavours, I have learned a number of things.

(1) Sponge cake (among other things) is not beyond me.

Sponge cake, crispbreads and eclairs

Sponge cake and more

(2) I want a Kitchen Aid stand mixer (ok, this I knew already). The previously mentioned sponge cakes seem to be a very good reason to own one.

(3) You can fully line a loaf tin using a single sheet of greaseproof paper and a few strategic cuts. If I had learned this before, I had forgotten.

(4) Cling-film is useful stuff when it comes to avoiding too much handling of shortcrust pastry – tipping bits of lightly processed pastry dough onto a piece of cling-film and then gathering it up to form a coherent mass was neat.

(5) You can boil an unopened tin of condensed milk for three hours to reduce it to toffee and store it until you feel the need for same.

(6) White soda bread dough is even more versatile than I thought – I really rather liked the idea of using it as the base for a cheat’s focaccia.

(7) I really should make flatbreads more often. A simple dough of flour, baking powder, water, oil and seasonings, a couple of minutes of kneading and straight onto the pan to cook. All you need then is curry.

(8) If you think you’ve rolled your dough thinly enough for crispbreads, you’re wrong. Go back and roll some more.

(9) The number one ingredient in choux pastry would appear to be elbow grease.

(10) When mixing crème chantilly, do not shake the sieve-topped container of icing sugar so hard that the lid drops off and into the cream mixture, along with the rest of the container contents. Oops.

Around the Ballymaloe cookery school gardens

Around the cookery school gardens

I think I can summarise the course neatly by saying that it was a lot of fun and I ate a lot of cake. I’d like to have had even more hands-on in-the-kitchen time, but maybe that just means I’ll need to go back for a longer stint the next time. Apart from anything else, Ballymaloe makes for a lovely setting in which to spend a few days, with its pretty gardens and restored coach-house accommodation. It’s even better if you have a fine set of housemates staying there with you, so thanks to Gnasher Amy, Ciara, Mike, John and Andrea for the sharing of pasta, pesto, vino and more. Meanwhile, I do believe that I have some new baked goods to try when I get home.


  1. oooh…I’m totally eyeing those eclairs! Sounds like a fun class and thanks for sharing those awesome tips (especially loving the one about white soda bread being used as a cheat’s focaccia!)

  2. Lucky you!! I have been a fan , ever since I bought her first book! I also have her recent book: Bake & I loved every show of her that I saw on TV, on the BBC!!

    I was looking at the Ballymaloe website & there is a long waiting list if you want to participate in her bake sessions!! I think that she teaches us very well!!

    Nice pictures too!

    Thanks for those usuful tips too!

  3. Phyllis: oh the eclairs were good – I was so proud of myself! And I’m definitely going to give the cheat’s focaccia a whirl…

    Sophie: she was charming in person – I have the Bake book and that’s what prompted me to sign up for the course (which I booked as far back as last Christmas)

  4. Those pictures look scrumptious. A friend of mine met Rachel Allen at EP and said it was the highlight of her weekend. I bet she’d of died at a chance to do this course.

  5. How much fun! I am glad you are feeling all empowered in the “bake shop” and that you need a stand mixer. Of course you need one:) For the choux, too–much easier than stirring madly with a wooden spoon!

  6. This looks like great fun – hard work but worth it!

    I very nearly did a Prue Leith pastry course in London earlier this year, wish I’d got round to it now as my pastry skills are RUBBISH. I do however own a Kenwood Prospero standing mixer and can attest such a gadget is great fun and can be used for so many jobs previously thought dull or too much work.

  7. I want to go, too! Talk about fun while learning and the end results are edible. Your summary of lessons is a great teaser for the class – would you be willing to share the “soda bread dough as base for cheat’s focaccia”? Oh, and the flatbread, too? Heck, just scan and post your class notes!

  8. What fun! It looks like a lovely place. Your #9 lesson totally cracked me up! =)

  9. Very cool about baking with Rachel Allen. I’ve lived without my kitchenaid for 18 months now. It’s the thing I miss the most, aside from my chocolate lab. I would buy one here but the prices here on this side of the pond are like 5x!

  10. I think I should come to Ireland and do this. Why don’t you send me the money… GREG

  11. Wow, sounds like a great experience! Now I have a craving for eclairs!

  12. That must have been fun and creative! The eclairs are so puffy and glossy! Extremely tempting.
    Thanks for the tips too! :-)

  13. That’s a great list of tips – sounds like you had lots of fun! Next stop, the three month course…

  14. Vickers: there was a lot of baked scrumptiousness going on over the past few days, that’s for sure

    Jenni: for the choux, we were told that it was better to make it by hand, but having had a go, I would be quite happy to apply a mixer to the problem, especially if it meant that I was more likely to produce eclairs at short notice!

    BigSpud: oh definitely worth it, a very enjoyable way to spend a few days

    Tangled Noodle: I might stop short of scanning the notes but I’m sure I’ll be returning to some of these items as I make them in my own kitchen and of course I will share :)

    Phoo-D: it really is a lovely place and I would love to go back for more

    gastroanthropologist: yeah, they’re pretty pricey machines over on this side of the pond but it’s only a matter of time before I take the plunge and get one

    noble pig: I tell you, I was amazed by some of the things I made :)

    Sippitysup: what’s your address? (for the cheque, I mean)

    Natasha: I’m going to have to make those eclairs at home now for sure

    mom, again: I understand how you feel :)

    History of Greek Food: the glossy icing, at least, was very easy – there was a bit more work involved in the eclairs themselves, but worth it

    Caroline: oh I am so tempted to do a longer course there…

  15. Hi spud.

    Tis me john, one half of the john and andrea show. Great site you have here and right up my street!

    I have been putting into practice all that i learn’t on the rachel course since we got back from ballymaloe, andrea and the rest of the household are now addicted to pecan puffs :) My pies are coming along great and pastry is now so easy to make the way rachel showed us that i want to make it day after day.

    I too wish that we had more hands on experience in the kitchen as that was a lot of fun and hard work and what a great kitchen that we as a group had. :)

    But to those reading this and thinking the short course sounds great, it is give it a try and wow the family with those eclairs.

    Many thanks again spud for your part in a great barn group. :) And andrea says to say hello.

  16. How lucky you are! Sounds like you have great time cooking and learning with others. I’ve always wanted to attend a cooking class, but we don’t have any in my city. So I’m looking forward to hearing more of your class notes:)

  17. having just spent the last year (on sabbatical?)in full time cooking/culinary school…and now well into 400 of required 600 hours of externship (in my case @ the moment making bread)- i will tell you that you should do it! Prior, I had taken many day(s) of classes…and knew that I wanted more of doing, (less of watching) and I have gotten just that!

  18. Daily Spud

    Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    john: Hi there – have been traveling, so haven’t had a chance to start putting all of the things I learned into practice just yet but those pecan puffs are definitely on the must make list! Thanks again for your company and do say hi to Andrea from me.

    zerrin: it was lovely to have the opportunity to take the course and I’m sure that I’ll be sharing bits and pieces of what I learned over the next while

    katie: indeed the doing part is what it’s all about!

  19. That sounds amazing! Last year I came across her cookbooks and shows when visiting Ireland and have been interested in her cooking ever since. Her foods always look and sound so wonderful.

    I love your list of the things you learned. I learned about the sweetened condensed milk in Brazil while I was researching doce de leite. Apparently it is popular in Mexico to boil the can which prompted EagleBrand in the US to put a warning on their label about any possible dangers due to the amount of Mexican immigrants doing it there. I found it all very interesting though I’ve never tried it myself.

  20. Ah, you’ve added to my knowledge about condensed milk Lori! I might just try boiling a can or two sometime to see how it works out (and beware of any warnings while doing so :) )

  21. Hi Spud
    very enjoyable course & likewise I have been putting in some practise – pies, pastries, yeast breads…. its all happening. Great fun & a great bunch of people – would highly recommend

  22. Ahh so vry lucky. I’d just love to go to Ballymaloe.

  23. Mike: hello there, glad to hear that the baking continues apace!

    George: it’s a lovely spot, I was lucky indeed to be able to attend

  24. I so wanted to take in one of these classes when I was in Ireland but given the fluidity of our scheduling consoled myself with a couple of Ballymaloe books which I hope to put to good use soon. Your culinary adventure looks like such fun and the photos show what a special place it is

  25. Daily Spud

    Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    It was fun and you would have loved it! Still, I have no doubt that you’ll put those books (and all of the other books you got here!) to very good use.

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