Becoming a ‘chocolate master’ at Bettys!

Bettys Cookery School in Harrogate. Alex Johnston is pictured with his chocolates and course tutors Kirsty Mitchison, left and Lisa Bennison. picture for bettys by mike cowling feb 28th 2014
Bettys Cookery School in Harrogate. Alex Johnston is pictured with his chocolates and course tutors Kirsty Mitchison, left and Lisa Bennison. picture for bettys by mike cowling feb 28th 2014
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By Alex Johnston

Frederick Belmont would have been proud.

The man behind Bettys - arguably Harrogate’s most famous export – would, I believe, have congratulated me for my effort despite making a dreadful mess after a day of chocolate making at the Bettys Cookery School in Plumpton Park.

I was determined to leave Starbeck a master chocolatier, and bring home plenty of treats.

We were hosted by Helen Wright and Laura Crisp, and treated to a sumptuous lunch – a beetroot and goat’s cheese tart served with a gorgeous glass of white.

However, this day was about more than being wined and dined and sampling different types of chocolate from around the world.

Our course tutors for the day were Lisa Bennison, with 26 years’ experience at Bettys, and Kirsty Mitchison, who has been with the company for 13 years.

At the impressive demonstration table, complete with overhead camera, which beamed what was happening on the hob to a large screen behind, Kirsty prepared some spiced orange ganache truffles in minutes, making it look deceptively straightforward.

The school was named Best Large Recreational Cookery School at the British Cookery School Awards last year, and it isn’t hard to see why. The recipes were laid out very clearly in a folder, and we were able to follow as Kirsty skilfully rustled up the chocolate creations in front of the group.

A spokesperson said: “The Cookery School is also passionate about encouraging children and young adults and offer a range of courses for young chefs from the age of eight upwards to enjoy fun and informative day of cooking that will help to develop kitchen skills for life.

“A day at the Cookery School includes refreshments and a two-course meal at lunchtime.

“All ingredients are provided and weighed out in advance, plus students receive an apron, folder with course recipes and packaging to take dishes home.”

And, with the instruction I had and the on-hand help available, I felt in control of what I was doing, which is impressive.

To put that into context: I like cooking, I enjoy the feeling of making something interesting, and including as many diverse and interesting spices and vegetables as possible.

This I learned while growing up in south Aberdeen, with not a battered chocolate bar in sight. Yet I do not bake. I haven’t baked since my final GCSE year, which was a while ago now. So when it comes to measuring out, managing temperatures and that dreaded concept of multi-tasking, I’m pretty hopeless.

Thankfully the glucose, cream, raspberries, and ginger were all there weighed out and ready to go. And it’s a good thing, because, it transpires, chocolate making is scientific.

Lisa talked us through chocolate tempering – and chocolate as a subject for cooking is very precise.

The tempering approach is used, as stated by Bettys, “a process of heating and cooling chocolate to specific temperatures in order to stabilise certain fats to give the chocolate a shine and to possess a snap when broken in two.”

It is a process that requires frequently checking the temperature, and taking chocolate off the heat at the right time. Once this has happened, we were told to lift the bowl high and let the chocolate fall down on to the granite worktop.

I can’t tell you how pleasing this was. I honestly had a fantastic time, the look below is one of concentration, not misery.

Then, spreading it across the surface to cool, the chocolate was ready to go. Pouring the tempered chocolate into a small plastic container sounds simple enough, but it was here that the almighty mess was made.

Tempering correctly was highlighted throughout the day as being difficult, but honestly, I seemed to do it quite well. But transferring it to the container? I nearly didn’t have enough to coat my raspberry and framboise square.

I got precisely half on my apron, and ended up with some chunky examples of chocolate which looked nothing like Kirsty’s.

The cookery school’s courses are well renowned for a reason. For me, the day wasn’t all about chocolate.

The instruction and clear message from those at the school allowed me to leave feeling a little more confident and, therefore, adventurous in the kitchen.

New courses at the school for 2014 include practical and demonstration courses, taking inspiration from Springtime, Yorkshire and the Tour de France.

For more information about all the courses available this spring visit the Cookery School website www.bettyscookeryschool.co.uk

Tweet me your thoughts: @AlexWJohnston