Pastry Masterchef with Ruth Hinks

So a few months back, thinking about where to take Moorbakes next, I booked a Pastry Masterchef course with UK world chocolate master Ruth Hinks

And last week it happened and: Wow. Just wow. The web page says:

The Pastry Masterchef course is an intensive and challenging two days aimed at chefs, students, business owners and the home baking enthusiasts who wish to gain the latest pastry skills and techniques.

Intensive and challenging it’s not wrong there. It was two days of non-stop pastry, entremets, chocolate and who knows what else I did which is still lurking at the back of my head waiting to swim to the surface.

If you do this course, you need to go in with an open mind, open ears, open eyes, a thirst for knowledge and the ability to just soak up absolutely everything that you do in those two days.

Ruth is a fantastic teacher – demonstrating techniques, then showing me how to copy (which I did, but practice makes perfect!) She made the most elaborate little (and big!) cakes look simple – breaking everything down into manageable steps – not always in the order you build the finished cake though, but planning is everything. Ruths fantastic staff (Zoe and Rachel), had measured out all the ingredients ready to use – which is essential when you have so much to cover, although I did have to weigh a few things – dividing a jelly between 2 cake rings equally for example.

It’s not all hard work though. Ruth (Barista trained!) makes a great cup of coffee or caramel hot chocolate… Elevenses in a mug. Perfect! And if you’ve watched some of her online videos then you may be in for a surprise – much different in person, even someone to share a joke with too (e.g. the old Scottish one: Is that a dessert or a meringue?) or to laugh with you when you cock-up rolling out some pastry. I got it better the second time though 🙂

I made almost everything listed on the course page, although we did have some last minute substitutions – e.g. using a raspberry jelly rather than plum, so again, keep an open mind and prepare to be flexible. Ruth also made some changes for some of the macaroons I was taking home – so I could give them to my mother in-law who’s wheat and milk intolerant (we made a marshmallow filling rather than a butter cream type filling for example) so if going on the course, expect a little flexibility – all for the better I reckon.

And on the taking-home front – I strongly recommend making sure you have an empty freezer drawer or 2, or lots of friends to share – I guarantee the last one won’t be a problem!

Some of what I made:

platter A small selection put together for Sundays afternoon tea with my in-laws. Macaroons, friands, chocolate and raspberry mousse slices, afternoon teacakes lurking round the back and caramel mousses.

bigMacaroonWho doesn’t like large macaroons? Filled with fruit – part of your five a day!

friandMore of your five a day – this time on a base made with a shortbread biscuit and friand. I made some of the chocolate plaques too (the heart ones) which involved tempering the chocolate first and while chocolate work was only a tiny part of the class it was still good to pick up some hints and tips about tempering.

heartsHere I am with Ruth making the little chocolate plaques. Picture unashamedly stolen from the Cocoa Black Facebook page… (I don’t use Facebook, but if you do, then go and “like” it 🙂

tartsA small selection of glazed fruit tartlets… More of your five a day if you like… Ruth has the perfect recipe and technique for crème pâtissèrie, although possibly there is not enough fruit there…  Chocolate caramel tarts decorated with more fresh fruit and chocolate and pecan tarts to the back. (left un-decorated to be frozen to take home)

The fresh fruit delights were eaten that evening – fortunately friends joined us for supper…

yummysJust getting a bit closer to the chocolate caramel tart…

Many other things were made too – a baked cheesecake, another layered and glazed chocolate cake, a lemon meringue pie – or was it a tarte au citron topped with Italian meringue? I did get good at Italian meringue by the end of the two days though, and my piping skills got better (off to buy some potatoes to practice with mash!)

The two days I spent in the kitchen with Ruth were worth every penny. Even if I don’t make half of what I did over those two days, just having someone next to me to help build confidence and demonstrate a few tricks was worth it. Also for me, not having worked in a professional (patisserie) kitchen, just watching how it all fitted together was a good experience. Big cookers? No.  Table-top induction hobs, a good commercial oven and just having easy access to the simple tools you need – spatulas, spoons and so on – nothing that couldn’t be replicated in a domestic kitchen – although the Moorbakes kitchen does have a commercial oven and good mixer – I think I’ll save up for the thermomix gadget next… (but at over £800, I’ll have to sell a lot of cakes to pay for it!)

Finally, for the bread heads:

breadsI took some of my sourdough starter to Peebles with me, and why not! The mats here are Silpain mats which were obtained from Cocoa Black. They’re a non-stick perforated silicone mat which holds a lump of dough perfectly on the grids on the oven allowing the heat to circulate evenly. Seems to help give the bread a good bit of oven spring, despite the oven not being able to hold much steam. The bread tasted just fine!

What next?

So what next for Moorbakes? Well one thing for certain, more (and more!) cakes, entrements and fruit tarts will be made to compliment the bread and cakes we already make. Exciting times are ahead!

The Festive Mincepie …

According to Wikipedia:

A mince pie is a small British fruit-based mincemeat sweet pie traditionally served during the Christmas season. Its ingredients are traceable to the 13th century, when returning European crusaders brought with them Middle Eastern recipes containing meats, fruits and spices.

According to this baker:

A mince pie is a small thermonuclear device with the capacity to burn, maim and destroy any baker worth their salt, and if, after that, they’re still alive their capacity to drive to insanity is not to be reckoned with!

The Moorbakes MincepieA Moorbakes Mincepie. Do not be fooled by its appearance! This is a weapon of mass baker destruction!

Let us now look at the hazards surrounding this small and innocent looking object of festive feasting…

Making the pastry

We all make our own pastry, right? So just how thin can you roll it out? What if it’s too thick? Do I blind bake, or fill it and bake it with the filling? Will I get a soggy bottom! Just that thought on its own should be enough to put you off for life – and if you thought Paddington has a hard stare, have you seen the combined might of both Mary and Paul? Even though they’re not next to you, you know that your customers will be inspecting and checking now… Enough to make the most seasoned baker think twice.

But lets assume this doesn’t put us off. What next?

The mincemeat filling

Buy it or make it. If making it, do you see if any of your carefully stored apples are still edible or go out and buy local apples (at this time of the year?) organic or not? And what about the suet. Do you cater for vegetarians or go traditional with beef suet? So you go vegetarian – does it contain palm oil from a carefully managed source, or are you killing baby orang-utans? Have you got the fruit to sauce ratio right? Enough sugar (fair-trade raw cane sugar, of-course!) Almost enough to make you give up and just buy the damned things!

OK. We’ve sourced the mincemeat…

Pastry top or not?

And if you do decide to add a cap to it, (would you ever sell them topless?) traditional pastry or something a bit more modern – marzipan or frangipain perhaps? Round, star shaped, or something else? Decorations? What a holly-leaf shaped piece of pastry with that? Just how much time do you have when hand-making 100’s of the things anyway?

Finishing it off…

If you’ve got this far, you’ve made your mince pies, you might even have sold a few or given them to friends, but do they look OK? Worry not – icing sugar to the rescue! A light dusting covers a multitude of sins – trust me on that one, and look at the photo above…


Beware! Mincepies have the thermal properties of a small nuclear reactor. Freshly baked out of the oven, they’ll reduce your mouth to a melted mess. Microwaved to warm up? Oh no – they have the capacity to absorb all the energy the microwave can throw at it, and then some. A mincepie will sit on your plate, innocently looking appealing until you put it in your mouth. At that point, you’ll realise that the filling is still at a temperature that would make any nuclear scientist proud.

Top baker tip: Keep a glass of cold water handy. Helps out put the ensuing mincepie induced mouth fire.

Safe and enjoyable mincepie eating to everyone, everywhere!

Clotted cream shortbread

A great way to use up some of The Seeds clotted cream! Local, organic clotted cream, good British cake flour, sugar and nothing else! Baked with care and presented with a dusting of caster sugar. What more could you wish for along with your coffee or tea!

And if you’re very lucky, you might be able to buy some in The Seed today before they run out!

Tea on the Green

Today we’re doing tea and cake on the Buckfastleigh Millennium green.. More later!

… and with all the excitement, I forgot to take photos, however we were well supported on a warm but overcast day with most of our lovely produce selling well –

  • Gluten free Banana cake
  • Devon Apple cake
  • Lemon and Poppyseed muffins
  • Chelsea buns
  • Coconut slices

along with tea, coffee and juice – a bargain at £1.50 for a refillable cuppa and a cake!