When the School of Artisan food calls you up and asks would you like to select any of their courses to do and then write up on your blog – the only answer is yes. Yes please, that is!
You may have read my review of the Beginners Food Photography Course with Joan Ransley that I did a few years ago and if not, just know I was absolutely in love with the school and the prospect of going back to do an actual food-related course of my choosing was so fantastically exciting.
As I love to experiment with recipes so much myself, I opted for the day of Vegan Baking with Henrietta Inman. I am not vegan myself (but neither is Henrietta) but I love vegan food and anything which tests me and challenges me to learn new techniques is right up my alley. Before I get into the write-up, go grab a drink and a snack; I took more than a 100 photos on the day and this is going to be a long, very visual post! I hope you enjoy 😀
When you arrive at the school, you’ll find it is nestled in the grounds of a stunning privately owned estate set in the heart of Sherwood Forest. Romantic or what? I was lucky that the weather this summer has been nothing but hot and sunny so I was able to capture the beautiful buildings and greenery.
The school itself is tucked away towards the back of the estate. The drive up to it from the main road is just spectacular and you just know you are in for a treat, no matter what course you choose. How could you not be happy spending a day baking in such beautifully maintained grounds?
The main building occupied by the school is a U-shape with a simple little courtyard in the centre. A few benches greet you and days such as the day I spent there, you can sun yourself on your breaks with platefuls of delicious treats to keep you company. The school has a garden of edible flowers behind it and more wooden picnic benches to relax on.
Once inside the main building, you will be welcomed by a member of staff and shown to the refectory area where breakfast is served freshly made on the grounds.
The aroma of freshly ground coffee, baked bread and all sorts of lovelies wafts out to meet you on your arrival. Just look at these stunning sourdough loaves made by students from the bakery courses!:
The only problem was, as I will come on to in future posts, is I have recently joined Slimming World so hunks of bread, slathered in freshly made butter and handmade preserves was not on the cards for me! I selflessly took plenty of photos for you though (luckily that part of my day was calorie free!).
On the day I attended, the course tutor was unfortunately delayed due to her train up from darn souf‘ and so I chose to distract myself from the calorie-laden bakes and peruse the little shop and school library.
As the school puts on many courses from half day to year-long diplomas in varied and interesting food industry related subjects, their library is very well appointed. There are many, many food or business-related textbooks but being a food blogger (aka obsessive amateur) it was these shelves jampacked with many titles from food writers and celebrity cooks and chefs that caught my eye. I added the beautiful looking Pride and Pudding: The History of British Puddings, Savoury and Sweet to my Amazon wishlist immediately!
The school has a number of different venues within it to host classes including a lecture theatre, a dairy, and the classroom below which was where the Food Photography class I did in 2015 was hosted. Everywhere is well kept, spotlessly clean and the natural light is fabulous for foodies looking to capture piccies of the things they make as the day goes on.
Eventually, we were shown to our classroom for the day which, rather ironically for a Vegan Baking course, was the dairy! The one good thing about this classroom was that it is very well chilled, helpful on a day when the temperature outside was almost 30˚C (positively tropical in the UK!). Interestingly, no one on the course was actually vegan – a few were vegetarians, one couple wanted to learn how to cook for their vegan son, one came all the way from Greece to do lots of courses to prepare for opening her own cafe and then folk like me were just interested in learning new things. Whilst we waited for the tutor, one of the School’s staff took us through prepping the first recipe.
And at last, our tutor arrived, flushed and fastening her chef jacket as she came through the dairy door! Henrietta Inman is a trained pastry chef and cookbook author. She is interested in eating foods which are natural and nutritious – read more about her on her website here. We had started prepping the peppers and tomato sauce for our pissaladières but paused to have a little intro from Henrietta when she explained her food philosophy.
We actually managed to work through and complete no less than 7 different recipes on the day. Each had a long list of ingredients as when not relying on the binding powers of egg or the emulsification powers of butter, you need to work a little harder to bake in the vegan way. Henrietta explained the relevance of each ingredient and offered suggestions for substitutions where appropriate. Here’s what was on the menu for us:
Not only were all of these recipes vegan, they were also gluten-free. I thought this was incredibly brave and ambitious as I know from my own experiments how much you are asking of a recipe when you try to cater for more than one special diet! That being said, everything we baked was a success, accepting that when you don’t have the protein gluten present, that you have to make your peace with crumbly pastry or cake in most cases. It’s the nature of the beast.
First make of the day, which we ate at lunch, was this Tomato and Pepper Pissaladière. This has buckwheat pastry and is full of a tomato sauce rich with basil and garlic, topped with slithers of roasted peppers. We shared these with our fellow classmates who where in the freezer making ice cream back at the main school building!
Next up came some really beautiful little savoury muffins, again shared at lunch. These are the Polenta Muffins with Spinach Sun-dried Tomatoes and Olives. These were a little crumbly being polenta based and didn’t rise a lot but they weren’t heavy to eat. Like I said, making things “free-from” in multiple arenas is really brave, in baking in particular!
These sweet little tarts, glimmering like jewels, used a sweet version of the buckwheat pastry from the pissaladière recipe and were filled with a vegan frangipane and topped with mixed currants. Think of a very nutritious (and photo-ready) bakewell tart and these Black, Red & White Currant Almond Tarts should be what you see.
Now, we have arrived at the winning recipe of the day, at least to me. This Chunky Buckwheat & Triple Nut Brittle blew me away and quite frankly, my manners went out of the window as I shovelled freshly cooked, still warm chunks of it into my mouth! I didn’t hold out any hope of loving it as pretty much every recipe had coconut oil in and I just can not stand the flavour of that stuff,somehowe how, the maple syrup, nuts and the gloriously nutty buckwheat groats were more than enough to convince me I have to make this myself at home soon. I may have to use butter in my version 😉
Although these Raspberry & Orange Polenta Cakes came out bright blue for all the others on the course, mine and my partner’s looked picture perfect and pink when baked. Lovely and moist, these were gorgeous with some yogurt and fresh fruit. I went over my Slimming World Syns for these! They would make a lovely pudding in the summer time.
No baking course would be complete without a bit of chocolate. This Tahini Honey Tiffin with Puffed Rice & Dried Figs was really gorgeous, especially as we had super high-quality chocolate to make it with. If you like chocolate and peanut butter, you need to try chocolate and tahini – it’s that sweet and salty combination which is such a real winner. Just look at that glorious swirl of tahini!
If you need more convincing that you need to try a class at the School of Artisan Food, then I think I have found the tipping point – it’s their freshly made lunches. Oh my word, the mountains of salads, homemade pickles, breads, fruit you name it, they are just splendid. Always a pleasure to eat in their refectory and today’s lunch did not disappoint.
After we had made all our bakes, visited the edible flower garden to pick some flowers to garnish our bakes with, it was time for a cup of tea in the courtyard and time to put our feet up (and dive in to our treats). It was a baking hot day so we couldn’t stay out for long before boxing up what we hadn’t devoured into these lovely cardboard takeaway boxes.
Actually, there was one more make we squeezed in before home time. This Strawberry & orange Blossom Fruit Compote. It was meant to be cooked but Henrietta had us simply mix it up raw and let me tell you, it was divine. Plus not too naughty a treat either! Today was the first time I’d come across [easyazon_link identifier=”B01DDELS5K” locale=”UK” tag=”evnocr-21″] coconut blossom nectar[/easyazon_link] and being suspicious of it, given how repellent I find coconut oil, let me tell you this was wonderful. It is like a smoky maple syrup and whilst sugar is sugar, should you wish to try something which isn’t refined cane sugar, then do get yourself a bottle of this stuff. Simply squeeze as much as you like into a bowl with vanilla and orange blossom extract then tumble in fresh strawberries, raspberries and segmented orange. Since the course, I made this over and over again for breakfast, without the coconut blossom nectar purely because I’m trying to lose weight. For a treat, I would certainly recommend adding some.
All in all, it was a beautiful day. The School of Artisan Food is a terrific company with real pride in the work that they do and the providence of their ingredients. Their selection of courses is second to none in the UK and if I won the lottery tomorrow, I would do their Advanced Diploma in baking and spend the rest of my life baking artisanal bread and giving it away! Sigh, what a life that would be!
As for this course, in particular, it was good but somewhat marred by the chaotic start due to Henrietta’s train being so late. I’m sure it would have been wonderful under normal circumstances; I think we missed out on not getting to meet her before starting baking and hear her intro into the day. Also, I think making the bakes all gluten-free was an unnecessary complication.
It would have been fantastic to explore other oils than coconut oil, to try different ways to make a “vegan egg” and go into more detail on other techniques for vegan baking. I mean, I do understand Henrietta wanting to make her food as varied and nutrient-rich as possible (it’s a philosophy I share myself) but as we were all beginners, I think the utility of the course would have increased by doing at least few more very basic and more familiar bakes alongside these professional chef created bakes! It would have been ace to make a layer cake, for instance; something we could proudly plate up for a party or special high tea.
A giant thank you has to go out to the School for providing me with this fabulous opportunity. I wholeheartedly recommend them, and look very much forward to the next time I can go myself.