We'd been promised a day making my favourite German Christmas treats (Stollen, Lebkuchen and candied nuts), learning from expert chefs, using top-of-the-range cooking equipment, and also indulging in Wurst and Glühwein.
With a spiel like that, how could I NOT have been ludicrously excited?!
Baking + Germany + Christmas + Waitrose + Eating = five of my all time faves.
A few months ago I was kindly given a voucher for Waitrose Cookery School, but what with living in another country (year abroad innit) and then jumping straight back into final year of uni, the time to go to a course had eluded me. Although that's not to say there weren't plenty of courses I'd have loved to undertake - have a browse of the website... Waitrose do tons of awesome-sounding cooking courses.
However, I'm super glad I waited as I don't think any course could've been more up my street than 'German Christmas Market'. And if there's one other person equally suited to said course, it's my lovely friend, Emily.
You may recognise this smiley little lady from well, pretty much all my blog posts from back in Bavaria - we both lived in Bayreuth and had a blast. What's more, Emily is a total baking addict too. (The lucky lady had literally returned from a trip back to Bayreuth the night before. SO. JEL!)
Anyhoo, we met up at Waitrose Cookery School on Finchley Road, excited to be reunited and get stuck into the day's activities.
The Cookery School is, unsurprisingly, delightful. To be honest I'd expect nothing less from Waitrose. We were greeted by wonderfully friendly staff and welcomed into the stylish cookery school for the day.
Consisting of a large open dining room with a bar, a wonderful kitchen (more on that later), and a demonstration theatre, the cookery school is an extremely pleasant place to spend a day.
First up, we settled down to tea, coffee, juice, smoothies and a spot of breakfast while everyone arrived. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the course was dominated by the fairer sex. There was one man - I'm not sure if I should pity the poor guy or call him a lucky fella!
Breakfast munched, it was time to don our aprons and make our way to the kitchen. Oh, what a kitchen.
The large room is home to multiple counters, but they're well spread out so everyone has loads of space and it wasn't the least bit cramped.
What was a real treat throughout the day was having not only every utensil you could ever wish for to hand, but having top-of-the-range, stylish versions of them too.
And even better still was that staff would swoop in and clear everything away when we were done - no washing up for guests at Waitrose Cookery School! Living the dream.
The first task of the day was to make our Stollen dough, so into the demonstration theatre we went.
Here, our lovely teacher Russell talked us through everything step by step and made sure it was all clear. With a camera filming his work from above and two large screens playing it out to the audience, we could see his every move in detail.
What's more, we were each given our own Waitrose Cookery School binder containing all the day's recipes with space for notes.
I was particularly excited about making Stollen because a) I blimmin' love the stuff, b) I haven't had any yet this year, and c) I've never actually made my own. I'm also keen to get more into baking enriched doughs and the like.
There was a brief moment of panic when I thought we were going to be making Butterstollen (ie ohne marzipan) *gasp!* but thankfully the marzipan was brought out and it was indeed going in. Phew.
Having learnt a few tips and tricks for working with the dough, Emily and I got stuck into making our Stollen (we got to make a whole one each!), filling it with chopped hazelnuts, spices, amaretto-soaked dried fruits and marzipan. Dayum, I love Stollen.
The festive tunes were playing and we were having a ball.
We set the dough aside to prove and it was back to the theatre and onto the next treat of the day: candied nuts.
You may remember I went to tons of Bavarian Christmas markets last year, and one of my most vivid memories of them is the smell of these gorgeous, warm, sweet, freshly-roasted nuts.
I don't actually know if the method we used is the legit German way or not, but it sure wasn't what we'd been expecting: we essentially made a meringue mix with added cinnamon and salt, mixed through the nuts and baked, stirring it around a couple of times to break up the meringue mix.
|The eventual result|
After all this hard work we were treated to a mid-morning break - I know, it was only mid-morning! It turns out baking can be quite quick when everything is laid out for you, someone else does the clearing up and you're working in pairs. Going back to normal baking at home is going to be rubbish now. (Ok, not rubbish, but not the same... Where are my staff?!)
It may have still been the morning but I wasn't going to say no to a cheeky cup of Glühwein or two. And a mince pie. Oh, and some grapes. Because, health.
The wine was beautiful and the mince pie was one of the best I've ever had (warm, natch.) The grapes were also firm and prime temperature, so all in all a pretty top-notch snack break.
Emily and I also got talking to a wonderful pair of South African ladies. Don'tcha just love meeting new people and making new friends with shared interests (ie. food)?
After our break it was back to the kitchen and onto the "Lebkuchen".
Waitrose called them "Lebkuchen-style" but I'll be honest: what we made was essentially gingerbread, both in flavour and texture. But hey, I don't judge. It's jolly hard to find the unique Lebkuchen spice mix in the UK.
I felt like the girl in this year's Waitrose Christmas ad at this stage...
|Stollen proving, nuts roasted, biscuits ready for baking|
And then it was lunchtime, hoorah! Having nibbled on sugary treats all morning, I was more than ready for something savoury. Despite not being the slightest bit hungry.
So, on lovely crockery we helped ourselves to Wurst (hiding under caramelised onions in the picture below), chips, Currywurst sauce, bread rolls and Sauerkraut.
Although it wasn't traditional Nuremberg-style Bratwurst as promised, it was totally delicious.
Of course, the wine was also top-quality and we thoroughly enjoyed sitting down, enjoying our lunch and chatting.
After finishing with teas and coffees, it was back to the kitchen! Not before another demonstration from Russell though, in which he showed us some tips and tricks for decorating our biscuits.
We made our chocolate icing and got stuck in to the decorating, just like little kids at Christmas.
See those expressions on our faces? Pure Christmas joy right there, ma friends.
And as you may be able to tell, I was quite pleased with my creations.
I've also decided I may have to invest in some edible shimmer spray, which I used to make my tree decorations silver and gold.
We made our Stollen glaze out of icing sugar and the soaking liquor from our dried fruits (they'd been soaked overnight in Amaretto!), and while still warm from the oven, our Stollen were generously dredged with the sticky, sweet syrup.
To finish the day, we were shown how to package up our homemade goodies and make them into pretty presents.
I'll be honest with you though: wrapping the Stollen was probably the most challenging part of the whole day!
We were all awarded certificates too, and it's safe to say Emily and I felt pretty pleased with ourselves.
It had all been incredibly good fun!
Emily and I enjoyed ourselves so much and I cannot recommend Waitrose Cookery School enough. Granted, the day-long courses are a bit expensive for your average students, but I think they'd be amazing as a special treat.
Not only had we had the best day, we'd learned lots, made new friends and whipped up some scrummy creations to take home. I tell ya, I was so nervous my precious Stollen wouldn't survive the long journey home to Leicestershire.
Pleasingly however, it did.
Hoorah, it looks like Stollen!
It tastes like Stollen too!
The whole fam have been enjoying my German Christmas creations and it's safe to say they're not going to last long in this household...
Have you been on a course at Waitrose Cookery School or something similar?