The Cookery School, with its stainless steel units and white-walled kitchens, is tucked away in a West End basement just off London’s Oxford Street. It is a cool, calm refuge from the troops of teenage girls outside Topshop.
My mission is unashamedly middle-aged: to learn how to make pastry. I can bake, not amazingly, but not so badly that my grandma, who was great, would turn in her grave. But for some reason I can’t do pastry. It tastes like cardboard. So I am here to find out where I’ve gone wrong under the expert tutelage of Rosalind Rathouse, who has worked as a professional cook and taught all manner of classes, from making bread to Bratwurst.
Rathouse takes our class of 10 men and women through the basics: the perils of adding too much water (the reason for the cardboard taste apparently), and the correct way to use a rolling pin (the key is to apply the pressure evenly).
The group contains various levels of beginner. The man standing on my right was given the lesson as a present, because, he explains: “I like eating pies but don’t know how to make them.” Pretty soon, after flour sifting, butter rubbing and pastry rolling, we have created a feast of pies and pasties. As they cook in the oven we are given a masterclass in puff pastry before the best bit: eating.
The verdict? My pasty may not have been picture-perfect. But it tasted a million times better than the stodgy version I would have created before the class.
All Manner of Pies costs £75, Cookery School, London W1, 0207 631, 4590; www.cookeryschool.co.uk