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