Whilst Christmas is well and truly over for most people, I wish to offer a slice of respite from the January blues with a suggestion for something to look forward to in 2018.
As you're probably aware by now, I'm a huge fan of Bettys - a Yorkshire food and drink brand revered for its high quality and traditional influences.
We are actually considering having our wedding reception at the York Tearoom, as it's barely a 10 minute walk from our local registry office (which is only a twenty minute walk from our house - I'm going to need some low heels...).
Alongside having their own bakery and six tearooms, Bettys also boasts a cookery school based just outside of Harrogate, which has been teaching the general public how to cook the Bettys way since 2001. Alongside offering varied courses all year round, the school is renowned for its Christmas cookery courses, so much so that my intrigue got the better of me. Early in December Des and I decided to head over and put our baking skills to the test with a Christmas Baking practical course.
We arrived promptly for a 9:00am start on a sunny Sunday morning, this slight foreshortening of our weekend lie-in was probably the only downside to the day in my opinion.
Greeted with fresh coffee, fruit and pastries, we sat down to meet our fellow course-mates and course tutors. It seemed that there was a 50/50 split between first timers, such as ourselves, and those who had already undertaken multiple courses at the school.
After breakfast, it was time for the fun to start. Having been to a couple of cookery schools, I am used to being given a recipe sheet and working through it under the supervision of an instructor who might offer directions at pivotal moments. This works well, but it can be hard to fully understand exactly where each step will take you and how this fits into the overall dish.
At Bettys, the structure was slightly different, as before each recipe/stage the exact methods were demonstrated by the Tutor at the front of the class. This was particularly useful for those of us who hadn't encountered certain techniques or ingredients before.
Each participant was given a small folder containing their own version of the recipe, which ensured everyone was able to make their own notes. Our tutor Lisa helpfully shared several professional tips that would make our lives easier and also explained the science behind why certain techniques were preferred.
During the day we baked three different Christmas treats: a spiced tea loaf with jewelled glace fruits, a chocolate hazelnut and chestnut torte and a Christmas Bakewell tart.
Armed with pre-weighed ingredients at our individual stations, we all quickly got stuck in. The atmosphere was extremely friendly, with everyone helping each other out. Whilst it was lovely to be there with Des (despite being slightly competitive), I am certain you could attend a course on your own and not feel out of place.
After a morning of baking, we all stopped for a well deserved lunch around 1pm, which had been cooked during the morning by one of the staff members in the cookery school kitchen. Alongside a modest, yet delicious, serving of quiche and vegetables, the non-drivers amongst us sampled a range of Swiss wines. This was all followed by a small dessert.
By now we had bits coming out the oven and starting to take their final form. I came into a spot of bother with the ganache for my torte, as I managed to overheat the mixture and turn it from silk into sand. This was quickly saved from disaster by Lisa, who showed us how adding a small bit of cream back into the mixture could save the day.
Halfway through the afternoon we stopped again for a short break, this time with tea, coffee and scones for those who still had any room left. I sincerely regretted licking the ganache bowl at this point, as stuffed was an understatement...
Once we had completed all three bakes, Lisa ended the day with a short sugar demonstration - showing us how to create perfect curls and candied hazelnuts. Those who still had some go left in them spent the last half an hour of the day attempting this for themselves.
Despite being on my feet for most of the day and juggling several different recipes, I found the whole experience extremely relaxing. I often find that I can not relax during normal "relaxing" activities (spa days, lying on the beach) as they give my mind space to worry or think about work. The great thing about a day of cooking was that my mind was completely engaged and my hands were busy. There wasn't a moment to slip back into my ordinary thought patterns.
The day also reminded me of how much I miss being in a kitchen and the simple pleasure of creating something for other people to enjoy and share. Whilst I wouldn't consider myself a completely novice baker, I also came away with a number of new skills and a better understanding of certain techniques - even creaming.
With the madness of Christmas approaching, between us Des and I walked away with six items to start the festive season with. Some were given away as gifts, others put in the freezer or eaten immediately. Along that line of logic the course is both a gift to yourself and to others. It's also a great way of spending quality time together as a couple. As you both get your own equipment and work stations there are no disputes about who did what how and who's job it is to do the washing (you do your own).
Finally onto the elephant in the room - the cost. It's not cheap. However, I honestly do believe the whole day is pretty good value once you account for the meals and other little added extras, such as the aprons you get to keep.
As a once a year treat, it's well worth saving for and we are planning on booking in for next Christmas, something which I'm looking forward to already! Though I have been told that it is worth booking as early as possible, as the Christmas courses fill up well in advance.