I bake a lot in my spare time (what little I have of it), so a course at Leiths, the cookery school established in the ‘70s by Michelin-starred restaurateur Prue Leith, seemed the perfect opportunity to hone my skills.
I arrived to a welcome reception of coffee and fresh warm pastries and among the mix of students – from mothers and daughters to young single men – I met a television food stylist who recounted a story about downing tequila shots with Michel Roux Jr after filming Masterchef.
In the Ready Steady Cook-style set-meets-a-lecture-theatre demonstration room we were given a brief history of chocolate – Hans Sloane (which Sloane Square is named after) was the first person to make hot chocolate with milk rather than water and sold his recipe to Cadbury’s – before a tutored chocolate tasting. Next, we were shown the technique of truffle making and how to temper (melt chocolate to make it glossy). We were taught two methods for this; one was ‘tabling’; you spread the chocolate onto a worktop until it cools to a certain temperature, then scoop it back into a bowl and bring it back up to a higher temperature; the other version was a more home-friendly method of simply cooling in a bowl – which took longer but didn’t leave me with chocolate on my shoes.
After the demonstration we got to make our own truffles (by far the easiest chocolate to make; Google a recipe and give it a go). Working in pairs, we made a simple ganache and were given a choice of liqueurs to add to the mix. I opted for Kirsch (a few straight-laced students didn’t put any liqueur in their mix). Once cooled, we rolled them into balls and tossed in a variety of coatings from vivid green crushed pistachios to crumbled amaretti biscuits.
Lunch was a treat; it had been prepared by one of the senior teachers and featured roast vegetable quinoa, chorizo and cheese frittata, Ottolenghi’s bean and hazelnut salad and a selection of bread, cheeses and green salad. The time was spent swapping recipes and gossiping with a cancer researcher who had travelled from Brighton, a Leiths veteran and a psychology student. I was in foodie heaven!
After lunch we learnt how to make the type of chocolates you would find in a boutique plus different ways of decorating them – a particular favourite was a pearly powder that you dust onto the chocolates to make them shimmer – choosing from a selection of beautiful vintage chocolate moulds. I won the prize for the student most covered in chocolate. There was a real sense of camaraderie with everyone in the class crowding round and cheering each person as the chocolates were turned out of the trays. I had to dispose of a couple of my broken ones in the most humane way; by devouring them. Gorgeous bags and rustic strips of hessian were used to package our finished products and we were also handed a little certificate.
I never felt out of my depth or confused at any point during the day (thanks Phil for being particularly patient with me). Plus, someone washes up all your dirty pots and bowls which takes the chore out of it. Almost everyone on the course had been treated by a loved one and it was a truly spoiling experience: to take a day off work, spend it with like-minded people and to leave with two boxes of chocolates hand-made from scratch without cheating.
Chocolate Workshop day course £145.