[Originally published by On:Yorkshire Magazine: http://www.on-magazine.co.uk/food/food-features/cooks-carlton-towers-review/]
Carlton Towers is a truly stunning country house that is home to Lord and Lady Gerald Fitzalan Howard. Nestled in the small village of Carlton (past Selby and just before Snaith) it really is a hidden gem. A short drive through the surrounding grounds brings you to the breathtaking building – I was so taken aback with the stature of the building that I stopped my car to take a photo of Carlton Towers before continuing through the entrance gates to park.
Along with private events such as weddings, dinners and balls, Carlton Towers launched Cooks, The Carlton School of Food in May this year. If I hadn’t been told that they have only been running the courses for around four months I would never have guessed – the whole day was impeccably well run and we were all made to feel very welcome in their wonderful kitchens.
I chose the Better Baking with Brendan Lynch full-day course (£170), partly due to being a massive Great British Bake Off fan, but also wanting to expand my baking knowledge. I bake regularly (I did win my office Bake Off – I have always wanted to tell more people about that!) but tend to make the same few cakes and treats, so I was looking forward to learning some new skills and recipes and picking up some hints and tips. Plus, I was hoping for a bit of behind-the-scenes information about the Bake Off from Brendan!
As you walk into Cooks at Carlton Towers you continue to be impressed by the decor as you are led to a cosy sitting room to enjoy a cup of tea with the course tutor and the rest of the budding chefs. This informal introduction to each other is a great way to start the relaxed atmosphere so that you feel comfortable asking questions throughout the day. I was excited to see the kitchen we would be based in for the day as each of you has your own section on the large island in the middle of the room with dedicated mixers and equipment that definitely get you thinking about investing in some new gadgets at home. Along with the top quality equipment, the ingredients for each recipe were all pre-measured and set out for you, which makes everything far easier (and had me wishing for a sous chef in my kitchen) and allows you to concentrate on the steps of each recipe.
We were tasked with baking three recipes during the day: a Pear and Frangipane Tart; a Chocolate and Mint Marble Loaf Cake and a Baltic Cinnamon and Orange Kringle. As well as learning some new skills and techniques throughout the day, Brendan told us lots of different ways that the elements of each recipe could be used or adapted to make many more delicious treats like Bakewell Tarts, using the Frangipane and adding Nutella to make a gorgeous chocolatey Kringle. Taking away the confidence and ability to adapt the recipes easily at home is invaluable and means that the lessons you learn won’t simply be forgotten.
The idea of making a Frangipane tart has always seemed too daunting to me so I really enjoyed getting over my nervousness with Brendan’s help. I have made shortcrust pastry before so learning how to make rough puff was interesting and we were shown how easy it is to multitask and get started on other parts of the recipe, or even new recipes completely, whilst making it due to the time it takes to chill down in the fridge between folding and rolling it multiple times. I have to admit that juggling all three recipes does seem very easy when you have top-notch mixers to use instead of doing it by hand, but I felt that the complexity level of the recipes was just right – not so difficult to be off-putting, but simple enough to genuinely send you away with three new achievable recipes in your baking arsenal.
After we all completed the first few steps of the recipe we started to relax a little, chat and ask questions and a slightly competitive edge started with us all vying for that elusive Star Baker accolade. Thanks to the small group (just six of us) it was all friendly and good fun, though, and we all helped each other throughout the day. Twelve is Cooks’ maximum number of attendees on any one course which guarantees a nice atmosphere and a level of personal attention from the chef leading the course which is, ultimately, what you are looking for.
To my surprise the Frangipane took just minutes to make and whilst everything for the tart was chilling we quickly whipped up the batter for the marble loaf cakes. Again, the recipe is fairly straightforward but the result is an impressive-looking cake that would go down very well at a birthday party – and they tasted really good. We went to two of the impressive old store rooms to make the Kringle bread dough, and this is one of the parts I took most away from as I have not made bread by hand before. Brendan and Chef Richard’s input and tips whilst I was kneading were really helpful and I am even planning on making more very soon.
Whilst the dough was proving we had lunch in the impressive dining room that is filled with antique furniture and crockery. Along with a mouth-watering meal of creamy fish pie, salad and steamed vegetables we were treated to a glass of delicious English sparkling wine. Course attendees’ husbands/wives/partners can come along, not take part in the course itself but enjoy the surroundings (or book in for a treatment at Carlton Towers’ Lusso spa) and join the group for lunch for a reduced fee of £25. This option is ideal for people who have travelled to attend a course as it gives them a chance to bring a guest along too to make a holiday of it. There is also the option to stay over before or after the course with beautifully decorated double (£125 including breakfast) and single (£95 including breakfast) rooms available.
cooks venetian drawing roomWe finished all of the bakes off after lunch and I have to say that the tart and the Kringle bread looked really impressive – even Brendan and Chef Richard thought all of our finished products wouldn’t look amiss in a top bakery’s window. It is great to feel that sense of achievement at the end of the course after successfully baking three quality products – I was so chuffed I sent my mum photos of what I had made!
Along with the new skills to make all three recipes with relative ease, I also took away a host of top baking tips and secrets (like how to make Brendan’s amazing scones that had Mary Berry lost for words) thanks to Brendan’s passion and impressive knowledge.
With a mixture of classes run by their own talented Head Chef Richard Walton-Allen (ex-Leeds Harvey Nicholls) and guest chefs such as Stephanie Moon, Lionel Strub and Simon Thomas you can attend a variety of half (around £70) and full-day courses (from £140). With options ranging from children’s classes like a spooky Halloween ideas (£30) and learning how to make artisan bread, to preparing game and making Christmas dinner stress-free, there is a great selection to choose from and definitely something for everyone. Brendan is back in November with a Christmas-inspired baking day and I would definitely recommend attending his course to anyone with an interest in extending their baking skills and knowledge.
For more information or to book a course, please contact Cooks:
Telephone: 01405 861662
Email: Nicola – firstname.lastname@example.org
Cooks, Carlton Towers,