Perfecting Patisserie with John Whaite
Nestled down a winding country lane in rural Lancashire, just a stone's throw from the M6 motorway, is the amazing John Whaite's Kitchen Cookery School. Situated on his family farm, just outside the village of Wrightington, John's cookery school sits within a beautifully renovated cattle barn (but more on this later). It is my second time visiting and I am just as excited, if not more, this time around knowing what a brilliant day I am going to be in for.
I arrive a little bit early and find John greeting one of the students in the courtyard. It makes me smile - for someone who won Great British Bake Off in 2012, went on to study Patisserie at Le Cordon Bleu in London, and has amassed a wealth of technical knowledge and skill, not to mention published four recipe books and become a well-known face on British television (and breathe, Daisy!), John is the most genuine, down-to-earth and lovely person you could meet, who really does treat everyone as though they were a friend. I feel so lucky to be in his company today and cannot wait to get inside.
When I step through the door of the cookery school, the smell of fresh coffee and the cosy, industrial interior welcomes me in spades.
I love it here, and would happily come back again and again! In fact, many of John's students return more than once and on today's class there are three of us 'returners'. One lady informs us that this is her seventh time on one of John's classes and, after a day spent learning from John in the comfort of his state-of-the-art kitchen, it's so easy to see why. John greets me with a really welcome hello and I get all jittery again. We are all invited to sit down at the large wooden farmhouse table, which is nestled perfectly in the window and gives lovely views out to the courtyard and the stretch of fields beyond.
Everyone hungrily tucks into the delicious croissants that John has laid out on the table, layering them with John's homemade jam. I am slightly embarrassed to tell everyone about my intolerances as I whip out a jar of homemade granola that I have brought with me, though it's met with sympathy and kindness (I need to stop worrying so much, but always feel a bit odd telling everyone that I am an intolerant baker!). I dollop my soya yoghurt on top and we all get to know one another while John busily prepares everything we need for the day. Everyone is super friendly and we are all really excited to get started.
When we are finished we all jump up and gather around the large island in the middle of the kitchen. It is neatly equipped with state-of-the-art ovens, with induction hobs nestled into a beautiful, large wooden worktop. We each have our own drawer with the necessary utensils that we need for the day. The kitchen itself is warm and inviting, and filled with so many beautiful accessories whilst still retaining many of the barn's original features from its days of housing cattle some 400 years ago. A handwash station has been created from a disused cattle trough and some low concrete walls still remain, giving a hint as to where the cows used to sleep. These now act as the perfect dividers between spaces in the kitchen, including the gorgeous dining space.
Our first task is making salted caramel, which we will set in the blast chiller (I've seen these on Australian Masterchef and have always wanted to use one!). Once set, they will be placed in the centre of our domes. John shows us first and we get to work in pairs. The great thing about learning patisserie, or any technical baking element, with John is that he breaks down each step and teaches you in such a down-to-earth and engaging way. No question is too silly and he explains the science behind getting the sugar to certain temperatures and why certain ingredients work better than others. I find myself scribbling notes in our recipe pack handouts already - I don't want to forget anything! John walks around as we have a go ourselves and is making sure that we don't over cook, over-stir or get too distracted from the task ahead!
Each class has a maximum of 10 students, which is the perfect number of people - giving enough space for us all to gather around while John demonstrates each step, whilst all the while creating that perfect balance of feeling relaxed where needed, but still with a buzz from all the activity.
Next we make our mirror glazes, which we leave to set on the benches around the dining table and will be used to finish off our domes later. I have always been nervous of the more technical aspects of patisserie, but John has this incredible way of simplifying the trickier elements so that they feel more like 'steps' in a process, rather than daunting hurdles to overcome.
During this time, and in between showing us what to do, John has expertly whipped up a large Foccacia, which is 'proving' as he teaches. Before this is ready, and somewhere close to midday, John assembles a beautiful Victoria Sponge, which he made earlier that morning and he fills it with tangy lemon curd and whipped cream before cutting generous slices for everyone. It's gratefully received, and enough fuel to keep us all going until lunch.
Next it's time to make our white chocolate mousse, which we put into sphere moulds and get into the blast chiller to set. We'll pop these out later when it's time to assemble the domes. Each dome will sit on a chocolate sable breton base, so we make these next, rolling out the dough to give us enough for six bases. We score each with a circle cutter and get them into the oven to cook. It all smells so delicious and I don't want to throw anything away so I even wrap up the baked off-cuts to take home with me later.
There is a large Le Crueset casserole pot of Minestrone soup, filled with gorgeous seasonal vegetables, that has started to bubble away on the hob next to me and gorgeous aromas start to waft around the kitchen. Feeling hungry, we decide to down tools before making our Macarons and we all sit around the table together with John.
Bowls of steaming soup are passed around the table and we all get stuck in. It is delicious - he and Paul checked my dietary requirements with me after booking onto the course and went out of their way to accommodate me. It feels like the perfect, heart-warming dish to accompany a sunny winter's day mid-February.
John produces the large, rustic Foccacia that has just come out of the oven as if by magic, and everyone tears off a piece. It's the perfect time to pause and enjoy our surroundings. Prosecco flows, John joins us and we all chat like old friends, talking about new restaurants, a shift in dining trends and the best places to buy local baking supplies.
Next it's onto Macarons. I have never been taught how to make these and have had mixed successes (and failures) in my own kitchen at home. It's a revelation to be shown how to make them properly and I can't wait to make them again.
Finally, it's time to assemble our domes which have been patiently setting in the blast chiller. The assembly is the most nerve-wracking part. Popping the mousse spheres out, we tentatively place them onto their chocolate sable breton bases and take it in turns to pour our beautiful mirror glazes over the top. Watching the glaze cascade down over the domes is, quite frankly, the most satisfying and mesmerising thing I have ever done and I am delighted to see my own reflection in the glaze once it's clinging to our perfect half spheres. Next we carefully pick up each individual dome and tentatively press cacao nibs around the bottom of each one for a bitter textural crunch. It pairs beautifully with the sweetness hidden within our white chocolate and cardamom mousse domes.
Next it's time for a mass clean-down, so we box up our delicious patisseries, roll up ours sleeves and get to work! Everyone is happy to get stuck in and the kitchen is clean in no time. After a group photo with John as a lasting momento of the day, we all say our goodbyes and walk out into the farm courtyard, where the sun is just beginning to go down as we are getting into tea-time. The views out to the fields is so tranquil and I can't wait to make my journey home to share what I have made and relay every detail to M and my lovely in-laws.
It has been the most incredible day and I feel so privileged to be have been in the company of John and so many other like-minded bakers. Every aspect, the patient whirr of the mixers, the light streaming through the barn windows onto the large wooden dining table, chatting with John and the others, learning an abundance of new skills, presentation techniques and making some new friends along the way all makes John Whaite's Kitchen Cookery School a very special place indeed. I cannot wait to come back!
For more information or to book yourself onto one of John's classes, please visit: http://www.johnwhaiteskitchen.com/.
If you've time spare....Hop in the car and get yourself down the lane to the the amazing Too Good Farm Shop. It's just two miles from the cookery school and greeting you at the shop front is a beautiful range of fresh flowers and plants. And when you get inside, you'll see their amazing selection of fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables, the freshest hen and duck eggs which you can buy by the box or tray, speciality ingredients, including vegan treats, and a brilliant range of spirits and wines. It's a must-visit and the perfect end to a day at John Whaite's Kitchen!
Follow them on instagram for the latest colourful, seasonal inspiration: @toogoodfarmshop