Emma Cullen learns how to create delicious New Year’s Eve bites like a pro, with a helping hand from Demuths Cookery School in Bath…
I had never been on a cookery course before, and I have to confess to being a little nervous on arriving at Demuths Cookery School in Bath. Sure, I can eat like a champion, but when it comes to cooking – well, let’s just say I’m a creative cook (and a messy one at that). Luckily there was some herbal tea on hand and a warm reception.
Sipping my tea and chatting amicably to the small group of people who had gathered on a wintery evening to partake in a vegetarian canapé-making class, it soon became apparent that I was not the only one a little nervous in the kitchen. There was a real mix of people: some were Bath residents while some had travelled from as far away as Salisbury, and all were novices, like me. I had also expected, somewhat naively, that everyone would be vegetarian and was surprised to find that many were not, but had a real interest in using more adventurous ingredients in the kitchen or had veggie friends and relatives whom they wanted to impress. Here was a group of people who loved food, were not experienced cooks by any means, but super keen to learn, and I certainly counted myself among them.
As we put down our cups of tea and made our way into the kitchen, tied our aprons on and eagerly looked at the ingredients dotted about the room, we were handed a bowl of sugar. This was no ordinary sugar; it was vanilla-infused caster sugar. As we passed the bowl around the sugary vanilla scent was just dreamy and immediately made a note to pop some fresh vanilla in my sugar at home. We were to be using this for hazelnut meringues , to give it another dimension, and on the whole it boded well for the class ahead. As the evening went on we were introduced to numerous scents, smells and tastes, from rosy red peppercorns with a heady, spicy scent to sweet pomegranate syrup.
When it came starting the first round of canapés, namely bruschetta, one of the toppings had us all in raptures. This was the green olive and almond tapenade. Simply pitted green olives, blanched almonds, capers, garlic, finely chopped shallots, a little olive oil, a drop of honey and seasoning, all roughly blended together to create a mouth-watering chunky tapenade. Believe me, you’ll struggle not to eat it straight out of the bowl.
Bruschetta is really easy to make. Simply thinly slice your favourite kind of bread and oven cook for a few minutes until it is crisp and golden. The bread should snap nicely when it’s done. The key to keeping your bruschetta fresh when preparing a batch ahead of the game is to make sure that you don’t put anything too wet directly onto the dry bread. Use a layer of something like roasted aubergine to separate the bread from moisture-rich toppings like tapenade or cream cheese if you want to top them before your guests arrive. You risk a soggy bruschetta if pop cream cheese on top and then leave before serving.
The recipe I am going to share with you is for delicious puff palmiers with three different types of fillings, in three different colours: beetroot, leek and chestnut and smoked squash. I think my favourite colour-wise was the smoked squash: a vibrant explosion of bright orange, speckled with dashes of red pepper and paprika. What I love about these (and the majority of the recipes you find at Demuths) is that they are easily adaptable to be vegan friendly.
Believe me you will need plenty of these – they go fast!
Puff pastry from a shop works just fine for these (unless you feel like you want to make your own). In fact most shop-bought puff pastry is vegan friendly as it is more often than not made with oil instead of butter (just check the packet).
For the beetroot filling you will need: one small beetroot; 30g of chopped walnuts; 30g of breadcrumbs; 2tsp of pomegranate syrup; pinch of salt and 50g blue cheese (optional).
Roast the beetroot whole and in its skin in some tinfoil for about an hour, until it is nice and soft, then peel and blend to a purée and mix with all the other ingredients, before crumbling in the cheese, if using.
For the leek and chestnut filling you will need: half a small leek sliced, handful of thyme leaves, 50ml of white wine, 30g of chopped chestnuts; 125g of spinach; 50g of goat’s cheese (optional).
First fry the leek gently until soft with the thyme to make it wonderfully fragrant then add the chestnuts and wine and continue to cook until the mix is dry. Wilt the spinach then squeeze out the juices and add along with other ingredients.
For the smoked squash filling you will need: 125g of squash; one red pepper; pinch of smoked paprika; 10 sage leaves; 30g of toasted pine nuts; 50g of feta (optional).
Peel and dice the squash and chop up the pepper before roasting them together until soft with the smoked paprika and sage. Remove the sage leaves and mix in the pine nuts and then smush up the mixture using a fork. Finally crumble in the cheese, if using.
Head to the pastry and roll it out into a neat square about 3mm thick. To get a nice even square, roll it slowly and keep turning the pastry as you go, but don’t flip it over as you risk breaking and creating splits. Once rolled, trim off any wiggly bits and place the longer edge parallel to you.
Lay the mixture in stages along the pastry. You can make these palmiers with just one of the three fillings, but I really liked the three alongside each other and the different colours you’ll get at the end. Then fold up the edge of the pastry tightly and begin to carefully roll the pastry into a swirl, careful to keep it tight and the filling contained.
Cut the roll into thin discs and flatten them slightly onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper and then brush the top with egg or milk to glaze. You can, alternatively, top the palmiers with a little cheese that will melt down over them. Bake them for 20 minutes at 175oC.
Let them cool, then unleash them on your very grateful guests.