Thursday 20 December 2018

How NOT to make a gingerbread house // cookery class at L'Atelier des Chefs with NEFF and Currys PCWorld

What is more festive than an evening of mulled wine, gingerbread house construction and Christmas canapés? This is no Christmas cracker joke or riddle.


Earlier this month I was invited to L'Atelier des Chefs in St Pauls for a gingerbread house masterclass with NEFF and Currys PCWorld, choosing to embrace the festive feels with my mistletoe print shirt. And what a welcome. There were Christmas tunes playing in the background. There was a cheese board (always a winner!). We drank bubbly and mulled wine. And then there were the gingerbread houses we created that evening (some more festive than others).


We received a warm welcome from the team and an introduction to the NEFF ovens we'd be using. Did you know that NEFF have those fancy ovens with the slide away doors that you see on the Bake Off? The NEFF Slide & Hide® oven is the only oven with a door that slides away underneath, allowing you to get RIGHT IN THERE so you can inspect your food more closely. Further more, NEFF’s patented fan technology. CircoTherm® is designed to heat up food quicker (allegedly no pre-heating required!) and distribute the heat more evenly for a good even bake. The lovely Home Economist lady who spoke to us explained how the NEFF Slide & Hide® can cook things at a lower temperature in the same amount of time as other ovens out there and yet still produce the same good result thanks to its CircoTherm® technology. The NEFF Slide & Hide® also allows you to use all four levels of your oven without fear of the flavours mixing - so you can cook a savory dish AND dessert simultaneously - and reportedly it's easier to keep clean (hooray!).

At the end of the presentation I was left thinking about the bigger question: What does this oven not do?! It was all very interesting insight. Particularly as the door to my current oven no longer closes. Maybe it wishes it was a NEFF Slide & Hide®


We were split into teams of three where we were tasked with making and decorating a gingerbread house, as well as making some festive canapés. All with the aid of mulled wine, of course.

When cutting out the walls of our house, we'd already decided that we would be going for the "rustic" look, telling ourselves this to justify our jagged and crumbling walls. In other words, an older and dated "pre-loved" house with years of history. Sure, the walls were in need of a good plastering, but what house isn't?

We were essentially baking flat pack furniture to put together. Miraculously our flat pack house came out of the oven perfectly golden thanks to our wonderful NEFF oven which prides itself in distributing its heat evenly for a good even bake. The trick was to wait for it to cool a little before decorating it as otherwise the icing would slip clean off. But that was easier said than done in a baking hot kitchen with lots of warm bodies! The good news was that a still-warm base meant that the chocolate button roof tiles melted on, eliminating the need for any icing.

Some people ice their gingerbread houses with white icing for the illusion of snowy roof tiles and icicles dripping overhead. Not us. We had neon green and pink icing so you could see our house from space. By the end of the evening I had so much green on my hands, I felt like I'd began my transition into the Hulk.

We gingerly (ha!) constructed the house and although some of the pictures say otherwise, it was in fact standing and a complete entity at one point. Although admittedly the house did look like it was clinically depressed - perhaps a sign of its imminent collapse.

Then the roof cracked. Then the roof caved in. Then the supporting wall buckled under the weight of the roof collapsing. You get the gist.

We came to the conclusion that it was hurricane season and whilst it was unfortunate and a real shame, it's not like we can control the weather. So our gingerbread house sat there rather dejectedly, it's remaining walls supported by a plastic tub, which was in fact the punnet of tomatoes used for the bruschetta. I still maintain we were going for a more Grand Designs look with floor to ceiling glass for a panorama view of the other houses on Gingerbread Lane.

Oddly none of the other houses on Gingerbread Lane were hit by the hurricane and were all still standing.

I think we nailed it with the canapés, but not so much with the gingerbread house. As the majority of our table were vegetarian - or not huge fans of fish - we opted for vegetarian canapés and made bruscettta using the fresh tomatoes and pesto for extra flavour. I like to think they looked pretty decent. It's all in the garnish. Because artistically placed chives can make anything look fancy.


Surprisingly we came second place that evening as judging was thankfully based on team work and team spirit rather than baking and decorating aptitude (phew!). It was a right laugh and in the below picture you can see actually see me on the far left wiping the tears from my eyes.

We all received NEFF aprons and oven gloves to take home with us, which I was really chuffed about as the NEFF oven gloves were really thick and a delight to work with, compared to my ones at home which have holes in them and are as much use as a chocolate fireguard.

Although our team are unlikely to appear on The Bake Off any time soon, we had an incredible time. Cookery classes like this are for people from all walks of life - not just baking experts! - so if you are a baking numpty like me, fear not! It's still good fun and a great way of meeting new people. L'Atelier des Chefs have cookery classes ranging from 30 minutes long to 3 hour masterclasses where you can learn skills such as pasta making, pastry, sushi making and specific types of cuisine such as Scandinavian, Brazilian, French, Thai and so on. Cookery classes start from just £15 and a full list of courses and prices can be found here. Alternatively why not treat someone? Vouchers are available here and make for a unique and unforgettable gift.

If this piece has inspired you to make your own gingerbread house (trust me, it's not physically possible for you to produce something worse than ours!), please find the link to the recipe and template here along with the full nitty gritty on the event.

A huge thank you to NEFF, Currys PCWorld and L'Atelier des Chefs for a fabulously festive evening. As for me? I'll be leaving gingerbread house making to the professionals!


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