On Saturday, I attended a class called "Baking Essentials" at The Essential Ingredient in Prahran Market. This class was part demonstration-based and part hands on, and best of all, it also involved tasting the goods!
The class was led by Loretta Sartori, a distinguished pastry chef who now does fantastic work teaching basic baking skills to disadvantaged young people through the Jesuit Services Gateway Kitchen, the results of which are sold under the brand name Abbotsford Biscuits. Loretta is the lady in the white coat in the first photograph.
The Baking Essentials class aims to teach participants how to make a range of basic pastries, cakes, fillings and decoration materials which can be mixed and matched to make a whole range of different baked goods.
One of the items that we "made" in class was a spinach and ricotta spiral. Due to time constraints, the base streudel dough had already been made, and the class simply rolled and stretched the dough, filled it with a ready made spinach and ricotta filling, and rolled it into the spiral. The dough was interesting to work with, as it felt just like a cool, clean sheet, and was very thin once stretched out. We had pieces of this spiral for lunch with a pear and baby spinach salad and a glass of bubbly, and it was delicious:
In teams of five, with allocation of tasks, we made a flourless chocolate cake, which Loretta then decorated with the ganache and hazelnut praline that she had demonstrated to the class:
This cake tasted as good as it looks!
Loretta demonstrated rolling puff pastry, making puff pastry discs, sponge, creme patisserie and sugar syrup, and how to put it all together as Diplomat Torte:
We also had a piece of the saute apple tart pictured below for afternoon tea:
Loretta demonstrated making frangipan and her "1, 2, 3" sweet shortcrust dough to make this tart. The "1, 2, 3" stands for 1 part sugar: 2 parts fat: 3 parts flour. I actually enjoyed this more than the diplomat torte, despite its relative simplicity. If you like the look of this tart, Loretta's recipe is posted online here (scroll down to the bottom to find it).
Loretta also demonstrated a classic almond tart using puff pastry and frangipan:
This is what it looked like inside:
This was not really my thing taste-wise, but it looked quite spectacular.
As far as other "hands on" activities, we were presented with a detrempe and a slab of butter and combined them to each make a 1.25kg slab of puff pastry up to the first book turn stage, and took it home to complete. We also each made Loretta's "1,2,3" sweet shortcrust pastry and streudel dough to take home.
Loretta verbally shared some baking theory with us along the way, including the uses of different strengths of flour and why pastry chefs use certain techniques. I also learned about a cool commercial pastry tool called a "docker", which acts like a many-pronged fork for pricking holes in pastry bases in a commercial kitchen.
For the limited time available (5 hours, including lunch) and the class environment, we managed to get through a lot, and we were given a number of useful recipes (including some not demonstrated in class) to take home and try for ourselves. It was not as "hands on" as my William Angliss cake decorating course, but it was conducted over a much shorter timeframe. I definitely learned more from this class than my Savour experience, because unlike the Savour class, the format allowed participants to gain a clear idea of the whole of a process, not just a small part of it. Which class format is best for you will depend on what you are hoping to get out of it. (For example, many of my Savour classmates had been given the class attendance as a gift, and were only there to have some fun, so the gorgeous take-home products were a bonus.)
It was interesting that I had previously attempted to make the majority of the components that were covered by Loretta's class for Daring Bakers! It was also interesting to see how Loretta's techniques for the various components varied from those which I had previously seen or tried.
Overall, I enjoyed this class, and found it "hands on" enough that, together with the terrific theory tips given by Loretta, I learned some valuable lessons in baking. Loretta has a number of other classes at The Essential Ingredient, and I am considering doing another one on the strength of this experience.