The frequent interval of rain and shine over the last couple of months has been fostering in me a sense of perpetual spring. The smallest hints of summer are constantly and rapidly snatched away by morose clouds bearing melancholic rain. There’s no denying that we are in the month of June, but those thundery showers have certainly put a dampener on things.
The unpredictable weather hasn’t stopped Leiths from putting on a summer puddings workshop though, and for a sweet tooth like mine, the offer to attend was never going to be met with much resistance. So there I was on a surprisingly sunny Saturday morning, a large collection of Tupperware in tow, arriving to attend the workshop led by Maxine Clark.
Maxine, or Max as she likes to be called, is the co-author of the Leiths Meat Bible. She’s been with the school for some 20 years but still oozes with enthusiasm. In fact, she says that she can lead an entire workshop just on jelly combinations and given the number of ideas she freely disseminates in the space of five minutes, you can believe her too.
After gathering in the library with coffee and pastries, Max introduces the workshop menu to the group in the airy teaching kitchen. It’s a trio of desserts we were making: rose petal and raspberry meringues with raspberry compote and framboise mascarpone, sparkling Champagne and strawberry jellies with elderflower cream and cherry tartlets with Black Forest sauce. I want to say berry good but that will probably raise a few groans.
The dessert selection doesn’t read like much work but when Max starts talking about the methodology and the techniques involved, it begins to feel a little daunting. The meringues in particular appear to be laden with a multitude of sins that seem daunting even for someone who enjoys making lemon meringue pies by hand. There’s lots of things that I had never considered like if you start whisking the egg whites and then leave them, they will never turn into meringues when you come back. Or if you over-whisk your eggs white, the meringues will similarly fail.
And despite it being just three desserts, when you consider the sauces and creams as accompaniments, there seems to be a million steps between the raw ingredients and the finished products. It’s reassuring to be given a schedule to follow as well as the recipes, and that’s all part of the hand holding at a Leiths’ course. We do have a little luxury though – all the ingredients had been weighed out for us ahead of the class and there’s no washing up afterwards.
Even though it’s not the first dessert on the list, we start with soaking the gelatine leaves so that the champagne and strawberry jelly has time to set. Then over the course of the workshop we whisk through the meringues and roll over the pastry shells until, at last, there’s the final frenzy of whipping and stirring to finish all the accompanying sauces and creams. Generous glasses of dessert wine are poured as we put the finishing touches to the desserts.
The only way of describing the end of the course is a satisfying relief – when everything comes together and there’s nothing more to do but enjoy. Well, aside from meticulously packing everything up in assorted Tupperware and carrying the whole load home.