Chef’s table days at Historic Sussex Hotels

Chef Martin
Chef Martin

A cooking class shows Charlotte Pearson there is nothing to fear when it comes to pastry.

The thought of making pastry, be it choux or puff, used to fill me with dread at having to spend a whole day folding and chilling slabs of butter.

Flan pastry main

Flan pastry main

That was until I did the ‘perfect pastry’ course as part of Historic Sussex Hotels’ chef’s table with a twist.

“The chef’s table days are about debunking the myths that cooking is difficult,” explains group executive head chef Martin Hadden, who runs the masterclass.

“I want to show people that all you need is a bit of confidence.”

Something which I admit I lack when it comes to pastry.

Piped choux pastry

Piped choux pastry

The day kicked off with rough puff pastry.

Unlike normal puff pastry you don’t have to have a slab of butter which is folded into the pastry, instead you mix cubes of butter in the flour.

What is clear as Martin works is that it is called rough for a reason and doesn’t have to look perfect.

As Martin demonstrates he invites people to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in, but only if they want to.

In between the turns and while the pastry chills he moves on to the choux, which is used to make profiterole and eclairs.

For this recipe it is all in the arms as the mixture is whisked and mixed to an inch of its life and the volunteer has to eventually admit defeat as Martin finishes the last step.

Finally the last pastry on the table was flan paste which is ideal for tarts.

Throughout the session Martin offers hints and tips, answering questions but as he starts the flan recipe he says something which receives audible gasps.

“Rather than doing breadcrumbs your pastry will be better if you mix the butter and egg first with your hand,” he begins. “Then add the flour, followed by the water.”

One woman proclaimed ‘you have just broken down the cornerstone of 20 years of baking’.

For the final pastry-related item we all get to do something that forms part of our two-course lunch - a spiced apple spring roll using filo pastry.

“We don’t make filo pastry here, we buy it,” he reveals. “Life is too short to try to get pastry that thin.”

Each of us got up and filled a sheet of filo with a mixture of diced apple, mixed spice and raisins and rolled it to form the spring roll.

Once all the different pastry recipes had been made we were led to the dining room to enjoy a two-course meal.

For our main we were treated to an asparagus tart with poached egg, creamy leeks and a morrel sauce in the flan pastry.

The pastry was divine, no soggy bottoms here, and we were told the cases were baked without the filling which was placed in afterwards to keep the pastry fresh.

The filling was delicious with the asparagus perfectly cooked and the morrel sauce providing a hit of flavour.

But by far the best part of the meal was the pudding which was made up of the spring roll, a profiterole with vanilla cream inside and chocolate fondant on the outside, and two pieces or rough puff pastry filled with vanilla cream and strawberries.

The whole table was surprised when we were told the bottom layer of the strawberry dessert was created by the rough puff being put in between two baking sheets so it couldn’t rise, as it was commented ‘you can’t stack puff pastry when it has all the layers, it is a nightmare’.

It was here again that we were able to quiz the chef about how to recreate the meal at home.

It was also revealed that for perfect bakes an electric oven is better than gas as the latter just gets too hot to do a good all-over bake.

For novices, like myself, or a seasoned cook there is something for everyone with some great tips and hints to take home.

As Martin said, it is all about confidence and this course definitely made me feel more confident to make my own pastry at home rather than heading for the freezer aisle.

The chef’s table with a twist costs £34 per person including the masterclass with Martin Hadden followed by a two-course lunch and a glass of wine. Start time 11.30am.

For reservations visit www.hshotels.co.uk or call 01903 723511.

Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa, Climping, near Arundel, BN17 5RW

The Spread Eagle Hotel & Spa, South Street, Midhurst, GU29 9HN

The remaining chef’s table with a twist sessions

Thursday, September 15 - Let’s have some fun-ghi – wild mushrooms and foraging in Sussex at Spread Eagle Hotel

Thursday, October 13 - Game-on – plucking, drawing and preparing partridge at Bailiffscourt Hotel

Thursday, November 10 – Potty about potatoes? – ultimate mash, crispy potato gallette, potato terrine at Spread Eagle Hotel

Thursday, December 8 – A little festive spice and indulgence – canapés for Christmas at Bailiffscourt Hotel

For more features like this visit www.etcmag.net