Chocolate heaven

The Homemade House offers friendly expert tuition with home cooking courses perfect for all abilities. Caroline Bingham meets baking and confectionery expert Debbie Hopkins and creates delicious sweet treats ideal for Easter.
For those with a sweet tooth and a passion for chocolate, The Homemade House is an oasis of pure indulgence.

From mouth-watering macarons to artisan breads, succulent brownies to hearty pies, delicate cupcakes to elegant wedding cakes and chocolate making to savoury delights, The Homemade House owner Debbie Hopkins offers a range of courses for foodies of all abilities, from absolute beginners to experienced connoisseurs.

Based in her beautifully designed demonstration kitchen, located within the family’s peaceful rural barn conversion near Sleaford, Debbie has a lifelong passion for cooking and baking. She enjoys sharing her knowledge and warmly welcomes each of her guests for a day to remember.

I was lucky enough to be invited to The Homemade House for a one-to-one Chocolate Workshop with Debbie, which focussed on using chocolate to create delicious treats and tray bakes.

A mother-of-four, Debbie is married to Chris Hopkins, director of Turnbull. She grew up in Lincolnshire, her father being stationed at RAF Nocton Hall and RAF Waddington.

Debbie’s first job was as a Saturday assistant at AW Curtis bakery in Lincoln and on leaving sixth form at Branston Community College she worked at St John’s Hospital, Bracebridge Heath, in the Occupational Therapy department. She then went on to train and work as a mental health nurse at Rauceby Hospital near Sleaford.

Debbie began her own baking business 14 years ago, when her youngest child started nursery. As part of government initiatives, including Love Food Hate Waste, Cook 4 Life and Fit Kids, Debbie has also delivered large-scale cookery demonstrations in the Boston area and been featured on local radio on many occasions.

Ten years ago, Debbie followed her passion and bought The Homemade House as a business.

Her courses and workshops, which include Baking, Decorating, Chocolate Making, Delicious Desserts, Family Favourites and Healthy Cooking, run throughout the year. As well as the six-hour day courses, she also runs 3-4 hour workshops (starting from £30), bespoke one-to-one sessions and delivers talks to ladies’ groups and demonstrations in Turnbull’s showroom for charity (usually St Barnabas Hospice, where Debbie’s mother was cared for).

Debbie’s courses appeal to all ages and skill levels, whether you’re looking to make personalised celebration cakes for special occasions, or simply want to enjoy a fun day out with a small group of friends and family.

“What makes my cookery school unique is that it’s not only a beautiful rural setting, but I only work with very small groups to give very personal attention,” explains Debbie.

Day courses start at 10am and finish at 4pm. You are provided with everything required to bake delicious creations, although it is a good idea to bring along containers to transport your goodies home.

Debbie is knowledgeable and patient and the sort of person who can engage and instil confidence in anyone.

She is completely passionate about her craft and this shines through in her teaching as Debbie wants everyone to be as informed and enthusiastic about food as she is.

Her teaching style is calm, clear and easy to follow, but also fun and friendly, which makes the day fly by.

After a quick chat upon arrival, Debbie presented me with a smart apron to wear with The Homemade House’s cupcake logo and we rolled our sleeves up in her sunny kitchen to get started.

My first challenge in the morning was to make a brown seeded loaf for our lunch to accompany a warming roasted red pepper soup, which Debbie had already prepared. This was easily made in less than half an hour and was absolutely delicious. Debbie and I sat down together at the dining table to enjoy our light lunch, which was followed by homemade brownies with ice cream.

Our mouth-watering menu for the day proved perfect for chocolate lovers. We started by making Creme Egg Brownies which were indulgent, sticky and gooey, followed by moreish Mini Egg Tiffin and a ganache in preparation for making bite-sized truffles topped with a choice of coatings.

Although Debbie likes to use quality Belgian chocolate callets (small discs of chocolate), she explained that cooking with chocolate is a great way to use up any bits of leftover Easter eggs and also a fun way to engage with children in the kitchen.

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a baking tin.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a pan over simmering water (bain marie) or in the microwave. Set aside to cool.

Whisk the eggs and caster sugar for about 5 min until thick and creamy. Slowly add the chocolate mix to the egg mix.

Fold in the dry ingredients (flour and cocoa). Transfer the mix to the baking tin. Cook at 180°C for 25-30min.

Before the mix is cooked through, remove from the oven and gently press half sections of the Creme Eggs, with the fondant centre facing upward, into the mix and return to the oven for a few minutes to settle and melt before taking out. Allow to cool before cutting into squares.

Debbie explained the method very logically, providing helpful tips, including choosing between using an oblong or square baking tray, depending on if you prefer thicker or thinner brownies.

Next we made Mini Egg Tiffin. For this, simply line a foil tray with greaseproof paper, before melting the butter, chocolate and golden syrup together and mix in finely crushed digestive biscuits. Then add mini chocolate eggs (broken into small pieces), or crushed cinder toffee and mix together.

Spoon this mixture into the tray, press the top down with the back of a spoon until smooth before decorating the top with chocolate mini eggs.

Transfer the tray to a fridge for an hour, or this can be made in advance and left to chill until required (e.g. overnight). Once set, cut into 12 pieces with a sharp knife.

We then moved on to creative chocolate work, making a luscious ganache in preparation for truffles.

Debbie recommends mixing chocolate with Elmlea double cream, a blend of buttermilk and vegetable oils, as using this brand rather than fresh cream helps improve shelf-life. Fresh cream can of course be used, but if so the ganache must be eaten promptly.

We made our truffles by spooning the chocolate mixture into four paper cups and putting these in the fridge to set for 30 min before removing and dividing each portion into quarters, which we rolled gently into equal-sized pieces.

Wearing food preparation gloves, we then dipped our palms into pools of melted chocolate in a dish and rolled them into chocolate balls, allowing them to set and repeating the process so they became double-coated.

We also dipped a few truffles in some chopped nuts for variety.

Decorated chocolate buttons were next on the menu. These were easily made with a variety of leftover chocolate pieces (you could use both milk and dark chocolate) which were melted together. Pour the mixture into a piping bag and starting from the centre, pipe approximately 12 chocolate rounds, before adding a choice of decoration.

To garnish the buttons, use chocolate nibs, caramel pieces, nuts or hundreds and thousands and if you want to make them into chocolate lollipops, simply insert an ice cream stick into the sides of the buttons.

Designed as a fun, relaxed day, this course was a thoroughly enjoyable interactive experience with the chance to learn new skills, leaving you with a sense of satisfaction and some new ideas to try at home.

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