The gift of Christmas baking

Words by:
Caroline Bingham
Featured in:
December 2018

The School of Artisan Food at Welbeck has won national acclaim as a centre which is meeting the increasing demand for skilled producers of sustainable food. Caroline Bingham joined their Christmas Baking course and shares master baker Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s delicious recipe for stollen, ideal for giving as a handcrafted present, or to enjoy at your own table.
My baking skills are definitely those of a home cook so it was slightly intimidating to find my daughter and I were joining a group of Bread Angels, members of a community of bakers running micro bakeries from their own kitchens providing good bread to their local area. They were making a return trip to the School to pick up further, enriched dough skills with which to tempt their customers this Christmas.

The setting is of course impressive, located in part of the heritage Welbeck Estate buildings. The school has been created to complement the pedigree of the location, with training rooms specially designed and equipped for the teaching of breadmaking, cheesemaking, brewing, butchery and charcuterie. Our course was one day but there is a wide curriculum offering professional and accredited qualifications up to Diplomas and Foundation degrees.

Course tutor, Emmanuel Hadjiandreou, is a South African born baker and author who has worked across the world perfecting his artistry; passion for his subject is in every sentence. Course technician, David Carter, a former solicitor turned baking convert, finished his Diploma at the School and was offered a place amongst the staff cohort – his dream job he said. Demand for David’s demonstration skills have taken him to Harrods and Washington DC with the British Council amongst other places. We couldn’t possibly be such an intimidating audience but even if we were there were plenty of anecdotes and laughter to break any awkwardness.

The day began with coffee and breakfast; fresh breads of course and homemade jam while introductions were made. The School provides everything you need from equipment to ingredients to lunch, so that students can concentrate on the detail and expert knowledge which is being shared. We were making stollen, the rich German fruit, nut and marzipan loaf and also puff pastry mince pies. Our fruit had been pre-soaked for us but as the recipe later shows, it needs to be made at least three days prior. The aroma of fermenting citrus, fruit and alcohol was wonderful. We began by making our yeast paste and leaving it to rise. Throughout the day stages of stollen or puff pastry were alternated to allow rising or resting between processes. My over-enthusiasm beating in egg to an early stage of the stollen recipe meant I broke the bottom of the plastic bowl. Too heavy handed – probably the story of lots of my cooking failures – but David was quickly there with a substitute so that I could carry on.

Talking of cooking failures – before this visit I had never very successfully made puff pastry – in too much haste I suspect and puncturing the butter layering. While Emmanuel guided us with very precise detail through making stollen, David was the technical master of the pastry. It is the passion and professionalism of the tutors which is infectious and distinguishes the quality of the tuition at the School.

Our lunch break gave us chance to enjoy Sunday roast and rest tired feet. Hearing about the baking careers of other members of the course was fascinating. Some full-time bakers and tutors in their own right, others less intensive but still finding regular outlets for their bakes. One lady said she was obsessed with yeast and I can understand the fascination with its alchemy. The afternoon was when our work really came together. We made our own marzipan, dipped into the container of an already prepared ‘heady’ mincemeat and formed the traditional ‘post’ shape of our stollen. After proofing, this needed to be shaped again before going into one of the large commercial ovens for half an hour.

When baked, they were bathed three times in melted butter and left to cool before being dowsed in vanilla sugar.

Meanwhile our mince pies had been rising beautifully. Who could not resist trying them while warm? Certainly not us. Extremely light pastry and the mincemeat had a rich and rounded flavour so different from the acidity of commercially prepared recipes. We are able to pack up our produce ready to impress the family at home. It had certainly been a fun day but also a tempting teaser for coming back to experience more of the School’s expert tuition. Emmanuel and David described themselves as Bread Brothers and their mastery and enthusiasm had elevated humble dough into a divine Christmas treat. 

You can find out more about The School of Artisan Food at:

A fabulous festive getaway is on offer from The School of Artisan Food and Ye Olde Bell Hotel & Spa, located a short twenty-minute drive away from the school in the rural village of Barnby Moor. As well as enjoying the Christmas Baking course on Sunday 9th December, the package also includes traditional English breakfast at the hotel (stay can be taken Saturday 8th or Sunday 9th).

The hotel is on the borders of Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire and has been passionately restored and renovated by its current owners. It features 59 beautiful rooms, suites and lodges, all individually styled with period furniture, luxurious fabrics and contemporary bathrooms.

Dining at Ye Olde Bell ranges from classics and contemporary Rosette dishes served in either elegant Restaurant 1650 or the more relaxed St Leger Bistro and Bar to hearty Sunday roasts and traditional afternoon teas.

Last year the hotel opened a new multi-million pound spa, which includes a host of thermal experiences, to stimulate the body and mind, indoor/outdoor vitality pool, the delicious Herb Garden Brasserie, gorgeous alpine inspired outdoor relaxation area, individually styled treatment rooms and hair and beauty salon.

The course is being offered at £125 when booked with the hotel (normally priced at £175) and Ye Olde Bell are offering special room rates of £119 double/twin; £89 single per night including full English breakfast.

To make a booking call 01777 705121 and quote ‘School of Artisan Food Christmas Baking’.

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