By Alice Reeves
I first discovered Very Good Food just over a year ago at Brighton’s Street Diner. So, when the lovely Veryan got in touch recently to ask whether I would be interested in attending her gluten-free cookery course in Brighton – and learning how to make those incredible gluten-free quiches, tarts, scones, sausage rolls and cakes myself – I understandably jumped at the chance.
I’ve always considered myself fairly proficient in the kitchen, which is probably why I’ve never been on a cookery course before, but gluten-free pastry has remained my nemesis. Other than that I would be learning to make pastry in a much better way than I was, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the day. When I turned up at Veryan’s stunning home in Kemp Town, I was greeted with a smile and a cup of tea, as well as home-baked gluten-free amaretto biscuits and chocolate chip cookies. The cookies were amazing with big, fat chunks of chocolate: note to self to get this recipe too!
On the course that day there were three of us and the maximum group size is four, which means you feel as though you’re more or less having one-on-one tuition and get to ask LOADS of questions. After a chat about various different types of flours and the particular blend that Veryan uses in all her baking (a mixture of rice, potato and tapioca flour) we also discussed the merits of Xanthan gum and Guar gum in gluten-free baking. I’ve never used these before, I think because I’ve always been a bit nervous of them, but they are your secret weapons. Trust me on this.
When we’d finished our tea and biscuits, we headed upstairs to get baking at our beautifully laid out workstations:
We started off the day with a lesson in savoury and sweet tarts, beginning with making the pastry. Using Veryan’s own blend of flour (which I am definitely going to be using in all my GF baking from now on) we made up our dough and rolled it out between a sheet of floured baking parchment and a sheet of cling film. Not only was I amazed at how much easier this made the rolling process, but the blend of different flours combined with the Xanthan gum created a buttery, pliable pastry that didn’t crumble and was surprisingly easy to manipulate. I managed to roll it out to less than half a centimetre thick and pick it up without it falling apart. What a revelation! No more patchwork pies!
After baking the small pastry cases for about ten minutes, it was time to make the fillings. Everything was pre-prepared and laid out for us beautifully. It all looked so appetising and colourful! After much deliberation caused by the fact that I wanted to include EVERYTHING I made three quiches: cheese, bacon, leek and spring onion; courgette, red onion, cheese and roasted pepper; and bacon, red onion and sun-dried tomato. For the custard filling, we simply beat an egg together with some double cream, poured it in and seasoned. So simple!
Our other two pastry cases were reserved for bakewell tarts. Again, the filling was so simple: a mixture of butter, sugar, egg, ground almonds and almond essence. We just left ours plain after they were baked, but to make them look a little prettier simply top with a dollop of white icing and a glacé cherry. Perfect.
After the morning session, we broke for lunch. I have to admit, this was probably the most exciting part of the day for all of us! Not only were we treated to a chilled glass of white wine (baking is thirsty work) but also two absolutely delicious quiches cooked by Veryan – one with goats’ cheese, peppers and onion; and one with smoked haddock which was almost like a kedgeree in quiche form. Both were made using exactly the same recipe as the smaller ones we made earlier in the day, and I will most certainly be trying one next time we throw a party.
Once we’d re-fuelled, it was onto the afternoon: scones, Victoria sponge and sausage rolls.
Having tasted Veryan’s scones before from her market stall, I was keen to know how she manages to get them so light and fluffy. The secret? An extremely wet, airy dough. In fact, it was so wet that if I’ve have been making it on my own I’d have panicked and added more flour. That’s clearly where I’d been going wrong with my scone-making which, although they turn out tasty, are never quite the right texture. We shaped the sticky dough under some cling-film rather than rolling it out and cut out four pretty large, thick patties. They won’t rise a huge amount in the oven and the dough is pretty airy, so you need to cut them to roughly the size you want the finished product. We left ours plain, but you can add raisins or anything else that takes your fancy.
Into the oven went the scones, and it was on to the mini Victoria sponges. Once again using Veryan’s own flour blend which seems to be the key to GF baking success, these little sponges turned out perfectly and were so scrumptious filled with jam and butter icing. Serving them up as individual-sized cakes is such a lovely idea as well – they just look so cute!
And finally, it was time for the piece de resistance of the day: the gluten-free sausage roll. This is something that I haven’t yet found in any supermarket (aside from frozen ones, which I don’t really like). Using the same pastry that we used to make the tarts earlier, we rolled out a rectangle and filled it with high-quality, well-seasoned, gluten-free sausage meat from the local butcher’s (Brampton’s in Kemp Town). I also added some cheeky cheese and spring onions, because cheese makes everything better. I ate it for lunch the next day, it was SO tasty. Even if I do say so myself.
While our sausage rolls were cooking, we rounded off the day with a HUGE gluten-free cream tea. Baskets of GF scones (plain and raisin) were served up with lashings of clotted cream and raspberry jam. I cannot remember the last time I even had a proper cream tea – which meant this was absolutely heavenly. And yes, I totally ate too much.
As you can probably guess if you’ve read to this point, I would 100% recommend that any gluten-free foodie go on one of Very Good Food’s courses. Gluten-free baking is hard work and often incredibly frustrating – but this course makes it a relaxing, enjoyable experience and sends you away with the confidence to do it all for yourself. Veryan is the perfect host and a wonderful teacher. I want to go back again and learn more!
Although I was gifted a place on this course for the purpose of review, all words and opinions are honest and are my own. For more info, see this blog’s disclosure policy.