I am indulging in a lot of cooking classes of late, mostly because it’s how I reward myself for surviving grants and associated work chaos. And, coming home from this very relaxed and low-key class, I found myself reflecting on the different sorts of classes I do. There are the ones I do through Savour or through William Angliss, which are aimed at would-be professionals (and the odd professional looking to upgrade his or her skills), and they are fast-paced, and mentally taxing, and one takes home products that look as though they were made in a professional kitchen. One learns a lot of new techniques, but, at least in my case, one usually returns home with several things not really mastered to the level that the course aims for. And honestly, that’s fine – these are useful courses, and I’m not by any means a professional.
Then there are the courses I do through places like Gewürzhaus or the Whimsical Cakehouse, which are aimed at people who like cooking and want to spend a few hours in a kitchen learning to do a few new things that they aren’t quite game to figure out at home – play with new spices, learn a bit of cake decorating or some traditional recipes, make enriched yeasted breads. These are much more relaxed and sociable, and I, at least, tend to come home feeling pretty confident that I can make all those recipes in my kitchen.
Today’s course, ‘One a Penny, Two a Penny – Hot Cross Buns and European Easter Treats’, falls at the easy / relaxing end of the scale. Very low key, and a lovely way to spend an afternoon at the end of another long week. Under the guidance of Ina Low, we spent the afternoon making Hot Cross Buns, Tsoureki, and Torta Pasqualina, discussing different ways to dye eggs and how yeast works, and hearing about German Easter traditions, and how different (and disappointing) Easter is in Australia – when one hasn’t spent months and months in the cold and the dark waiting for the spring.
We clearly need a big festival in October, though I suspect that Melbourne really doesn’t get cold enough to count.
Anyway. We started by being given a slice each of Torta Pasqualina for our lunch, and then we were introduced to the Hot Cross Bun dough that Ina already had rising – it needs several hours to rise, so this was never really going to be practical – and watching as Ina made an olive oil pastry for the Torta Pasqualina. This went into the fridge, and we then got started on the Tsoureki, for which Ina started the dough in the processor, and then had us all kneading our little balls and setting them aside to rise.
Our next task was to help strip parsley and chard for the Torta Pasqualina again, after which we rolled out the olive oil pastry extremely thinly to make miniature pies. It’s a lovely pastry to work with, actually – very elastic and much more forgiving than butter pastries I’ve tried. And it bakes up very crisply, which is nice – I’ll be keeping that one in my repertoire for future pastry engagements.
The pastry was then filled with the cheesy greens mixture, with one frozen quail egg cracked into the middle – very cute, and I’m already planning my next market visit with quail eggs and wild greens in mind (I realise that there have been very few market posts recently – this is partly because I have been too tired to get to as many markets and usual, and partly because I have been too busy to spend the hours required to photograph everything and write it up – market posts are really time-consuming!). We folded our pastry over the greens, and then used the trimmings to make little olive oil crackers.
One item in the oven! Now we started playing with hot cross buns. Ina first demonstrated how to make this dough, and gave it to me to knead – this will be used tomorrow, probably, but she wanted us to see how it worked. In an aside, one of the fascinating things about doing these classes is that it’s about the only time one gets a sense of how good or bad one is, comparatively, at various tasks. One tends to assume one’s own skill level is normal. But of course, I’m actually pretty efficient at making things with yeasted doughs, because while I don’t make bread regularly at present, I certainly go through phases where I’m baking at least weekly. On the other hand, I am generally not very efficient at all at any of the aspects of baking that involve shaping things delicately and making them look pretty… This is not entirely surprising, actually.
Ina then brought out the fully risen bun dough, and divided it among us to make buns out of. And this was my lightbulb moment of the whole class, by the way, because this is the third time recently that someone has demonstrated for me how to make smooth, round buns out of yeasted dough – and the first time I’ve actually understood all the steps and produced such buns (I have tried at home in between, without success). The course was worth it to me for the buns alone!
We then put our buns on trays and crossed
their palms with silver them with the drizzly dough stuff (my vocabulary is failing me), and let them bake while Ina demonstrated a truly decadent spiced rum butter to put on them. We were offered some to eat with our buns straight from the oven, but I’m saving mine for tomorrow’s breakfast, or maybe tonight’s dinner…
Ina now showed us a couple of different ways to dye eggs, and we talked about decorating techniques. Of course, the most important technique for the time being was using that magnificent bright red Greek egg dye, for the Tsoureki.
Our Tsoureki dough had, by now, risen as much as it intended to – which wasn’t as much as I’d expected, interestingly, though it did punch down well, so perhaps my ball was just smaller than I remembered to start with? So our next task was to divide the dough in three, plait it, and form it into a wreath for our eggs to nestle in. This was surprisingly easy to do – again, the dough had become beautifully smooth and elastic, and was very willing to be plaited tightly and wound into a ring. And I do think the results were possibly the cutest Easter breads known to humankind.
And then we drank Easter tea and waited for our breads to bake while we decorated dyed eggs with stickers (this must be a German thing!), and Ina demonstrated how to blow eggs, and talked about using serviettes to make what sounded like decoupage blown eggs.
And then the class was over! We were let loose with our boxes of goodies and our 10% discount to run riot in the spice shop itself – and, in the case of most of us, to buy the hot cross bun spice mixture, the mahleb and the orange zest powder to make our own buns. I left with my head full of ideas for vegan hot cross buns – especially as we were given a recipe for chocolate hot cross buns, which aren’t normally my thing, but which I bet would be amazing with chocolate tahini replacing the egg for richness and protein.
Of course I am already mentally planning out my baking schedule for the Easter weekend and how it would interlock with my singing: Torta pasqualina before choir on Maundy Thursday, and also make bun dough; finish the buns after the Thursday service to eat on Friday morning before Way of the Cross…
…then one would start the vegan chocolate buns to start on Friday evening so that they can rise overnight in the fridge and be shared after the Easter vigil (must avoid almond milk and check if J can eat tahini); Tsoureki to be made on Saturday afternoon, ready for breakfast after choir on Sunday morning…
One year ago: Recipe: Autumn Pasta