A Puff Pastry Extravaganza at The Cookery School at Little Portland Street
Women in the Food Industry Ambassador, Antonia Lloyd, gives us the lowdown on a half-term workshop at one of London’s leading cookery schools where the art of puff pastry is demystified and they whip up all things buttery and flaky: sausage rolls, Provençal tart, Portuguese ‘pastel de nata’, mini croissants: you name it, they made it!
The Cookery School at Little Portland Street, has a focus on sustainability and education and is run by dynamic founder Rosalind Rathouse who has been teaching cookery for over 50 years. With its jargon free celebration of home cooking, there are a fantastic range of inspiring classes for amateurs as well as professional certificates for those wanting to enter the industry.
The 5 day crash course has transformed amateurs if you look at recent reviews into domestic gods and goddesses that understand how to adapt with ingredients and overcome any minor mistake; the teen cookery camp is something that ideally would be available to all young people today – taking them from baked bean to brilliant roast chicken and roast vegetables – to help promote healthy cooking from scratch; and there are also a plethora of individual sessions that can be arranged for groups. You name it, they’ll teach it: pasta and gnocchi, sausage making, croissant and brioche, afternoon tea, meringues and macarons, with clear confidence boosting sessions and an emphasis on reducing food waste and using quality produce.
Dropping into a day’s workshop, you can see why the school is a success: the classes are fun, educational and incredibly tasty – what you cook in the morning forms the basis for lunch!
Taking my two teenage daughters with their friends proved a real hit of a half-term activity. Without any prior experience in puff pastry or croissant making, we arrived to find Rosalind and her pastry chef Maddy ready to reveal the secrets.
The key to great puff pastry is keeping everything very cold and enjoying the ‘roll n’ fold’ process which is less tricky than it sounds. Following demos from Maddy, the girls and I made an initial dough with strong plain flour, a 50p sized knob of butter, lemon juice, salt and water. Then while this chilled, we bashed our fridge cold butter into a postcard shape using a rolling pin –a wonderfully cathartic activity for releasing energy all round. To do our first ‘roll n’ fold’ we were shown how to roll out the chilled pastry dough into a rectangle with edges like a 4-sided star, place the bashed butter in the middle, and then fold the pastry stars over the butter to create a neatly covered parcel.
We then rolled out our parcel into 30cm long strips and folded the top down a third and the bottom up to the middle thereby creating a 3 layered package. This formed a miraculous 3 layers of pastry. Turning the pastry once clock-wise, we did a second ‘roll ‘n fold’ before it went into the fridge for chilling. The butter is enticing but the maths is also alluring and where the delicious mille feuille or ‘thousand layer’ cake gets its name. The sums on puff lamination are as follows: fold one is 3 layers, fold two is 3 x 3 = 9 layers, fold three is 9 layers x 3 = 27 and you continue until you get to six layers which is 729 layers of buttery goodness – the classic for puff. Should you dare a 7th fold for a very delicate pastry you would reach a dizzying 2187 layers of laminated loveliness!
Leaving our pastry to chill, chef Maddy used her own fridge fresh 6 folded puff to show us how to create savoury morsels for lunch: pastry was rolled and filled with a chicken and herb mince and folded over for neat mini sausage rolls that were egg washed and baked. For a Provençal tart, we simply layered up a beautiful square of puff pastry, keeping an inch border clear, with caramelised onions, a basil ‘mattress’, and copious amounts of halved cherry tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and fresh herbs. Both came out of the oven golden and sumptuous for our lunch and were served with a green griddled cos lettuce and anchovy dressing salad that Rosalind prepared.
The Cookery School didn’t miss a trick teaching us how to put our new folding technique to use in another delicious way – we put together a croissant dough in the mixer which only differed slightly containing yeast to help it rise and therefore only required half the number of roll and folds (a mere three to puff’s six making it very time efficient for a weekend breakfast).
From a chilled prepped croissant dough, Maddy showed us how to cut triangles and roll into perfect mini croissants; prepare a thick vanilla custard to spread on the dough with soaked sweet raisins, roll into a roulade, and cut into pain au raisin; and place irresistible dark Valhrona chocolate nuggets along the edges of the pastry and roll into perfect mini pain au chocolats. The irresistible French breakfast feast was demystified and the prospect of our own pastry chilling to take home and create our own later in the week was almost too much!
The pièce de resistance was the afternoon’s Portuguese pastel de nata session which is a trickier prospect altogether. To achieve the lightness and perfect circle on the base, Maddy showed us how to massage the puff pastry into the cases using a circular motion with a slightly wettened thumb – my daughter was a dab hand at this and picked it up instantly.
Where a few of us struggled with the consistent finish, Maddy tightened our technique and after pouring a delicious custard infused with lemon and cinnamon into the moulds, they were baked at a fiery 300C. The results were astonishing – a crisp, buttery pastry base with a warm, just wobbly custard centre: heaven.
To say that we had a good time is an understatement: it was a puff pastry and croissant extravaganza and I like to think, it went beyond half term; we all became part of some kind of secret pastry club that will last a lifetime.