Baking’s never been a strong point of mine, and I’m willing to confess that I’ve used shop-bought pastry on more than one occasion to cut corners. My first ever attempts, under the watchful eye of Mrs Smith in my Home Economics classes at school, told me that it wasn’t my forte: the mini fruit tarts that I proudly brought home and that were subsequently left unearth seemed to prove this point. And so, when I was invited to join the first of Iza Redon’s ‘Delicious Puddings’ classes at the Southville Centre – focusing on pastry – I arrived with a little trepidation…
Luckily, as it happened, others who had booked in for the session had similar horror stories: whether overly solid, crumbly or soggy, they’d all had issues with pastry in the past. Many of them had seen the classes advertised locally, and were coming to Iza to take the fear out of baking.
French chef Iza Redon founded cookery school La Cuizine in November 2007, offering bespoke cookery lessons, group parties and a range of workshops, all tailored to meet the needs of the individual. Our pastry class was one of a series of three classes focusing on puddings, where we would learn to make flaky pastry which would be used for a plum tart and a tart tatin.
Telling the disbelieving faces around the table that flaky pastry was ‘quick and easy to prepare’, Iza’s lesson began. And surprisingly, it was. Each of us made our own batch to take home and freeze for future use, and Iza was full of useful tips. I can’t say that I’d ever considered freezing butter and grating it into the flour to make it easier to work with, but it worked. It was incorporating the other ingredients that was the crucial stage, with Iza letting us all know when we’d reached the right consistency, teaching us the right way to work the pastry without the butter becoming overheated. She was right. It’s surprisingly easy…
For the tarts that we made on the day, we used pastry that Iza had made in advance, which had had the chance to chill in the fridge beforehand. Again, Iza was full of useful information: the best way to roll pastry, pricking the pastry when baking blind so that the middle doesn’t lift, allowing a little extra pastry at the top of the edge of the tart tin in case it retracts while cooking. As we were only making a shallow plum tart, she showed us how to blind bake the pastry using a spiral of aluminium foil rather than baking beans – as the sides were relatively low, there was less chance of the pastry flopping over while cooking.
Halved plums and a lighter take on frangipane, using full fat milk rather than cream, completed our plum tarts…
…and they didn’t look too bad at all when they came out of the oven!
Onto the tart tatin – more of a challenge, but punctuated by yet more useful tips from Iza. Our first task was to peel and chop mountains of apples (‘sweet yet tart’ varieties such as Cox are the best for a tart tatin). We made our caramel – another first for me – in cast iron frying pans with iron handles: another important point, as these were to go in the oven! Again, a top tip from Iza to accompany the making of the caramel: add a little lemon juice before heating to prevent the sugar from crystallising.
Caramel made, we added the slices of apple to the pan, with me inevitably burning a finger in the process!
A layer of pastry was then added and these went into the oven – I was pretty impressed with how mine turned out!
Obviously it would have been rude not to taste our creations before we left, and there was still plenty left over to take home half of each tart each, along with the recipes from the evening.
It was a fantastic evening: a great chance to spend some time with people equally as nervous as I was, and very educational! Iza was a fantastic teacher, exuding confidence and knowledge but still managing to put us at ease and make us believe that we really were capable of conquering our fear of pastry.
Keep an eye on Iza’s website for details of upcoming group classes – a set of three classes entitled “A Taste Of Provence” are coming up on October 12th, 19th and 26th, and a “Cook Yourself Healthy” class on October 18th sounds interesting! I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for upcoming events and booking myself in for further classes in the future – Iza is a fantastic teacher, and it’s an enjoyable way to spend a midweek evening. Many thanks to Iza and La Cuizine for the invite!
You can find more information about Iza, her cookery classes and her supper clubs at www.lacuizine.co.uk.