I had the pleasure of taking a preview Christmas class at the Madame Gautier Cookery School a few days ago, enjoying a very delightful three hours of making festive treats. And, post-class, I now find myself fully prepared for the Christmas season, armed with the knowledge of making some delicious mince pies and chocolate truffles!
At the start of the class, we met the lady who must best be described as Madame Gautier herself – for that’s who she literally is! The very friendly Corinne Gautier gave us a rundown on the history of the Madame Gautier business, from their beginnings at farmers’ markets around London (at which they still actively participate, week in, week out) to the catering and delivery side serving many repeat customers – including some Christmas regulars! Madame Gautier’s main ethos is that of a classic French traiteur – the general concept of which is providing top-quality, restaurant-style food for customers to eat at home – although the business now also involves a bistro (at 64-66 Chamberlayne Road, NW10). The one thing that stood out to me from what I learned is the close relationship Madame Gautier has with its customers: not only do they have numerous loyal fans that regularly return to their market stalls, but the business also actively responds to customer demand – in fact, that’s exactly how the cookery school came about. If you haven’t already guessed, it’s probably no surprise to learn that this is a family-run business through and through – from Corinne to master chef, Mark Gautier (who’s classically trained, and has worked at 3-star Michelin restaurants both here and in France); their two children – Liana and Guy – also work for the family business.
On to the class with our friendly teacher, Adam and first up – mince pies! Now, although I take great pleasure in cooking, baking isn’t really my kind of thing. So I’d certainly never tried pastry-making before and had definitely never got my head around the concept of making my own mince pies, as much as I like devouring them each Christmas. Turns out, they actually couldn’t be simpler to make…well, with some expert guidance, that is! Having mixed together our pre-laid out ingredients, we were soon rolling together a nice ball of shortcrust pastry that would get put into the fridge for us to take home later. The mincemeat filling followed, and we started stirring together the ingredients of dried fruit, sultanas, raisins, grated apple and the like. Whilst that got to bubbling away on the stove, we rolled out some pre-prepared pastry (i.e. not what we’d made – for it needs to be kept in the fridge for at least three hours – but ones that Adam had made the day before) ready to begin assembling our little pies. With some tips on how best to fill them – and some little decoration tricks – they were rapidly dispatched to the ovens to bake away for twenty minutes.
Which then meant it was time to try and make some chocolate truffles, which also turned about to be exceedingly straightforward! Much like the mince-pie making, we went through the first steps ourselves (melting the chocolate, cream and butter, and pouring into a container to leave to set in the fridge) before utilising some pre-set chocolate. Adam had prepared three different flavours for us – white chocolate with Baileys, milk chocolate with orange, and dark chocolate with stem ginger – for us to scoop out our chocolate truffle balls from. He’d also set up different containers of toppings that we could use to make our own mix-and-match truffles – items such as crushed pistachio, chocolate vermicelli, icing sugar and more. Off we all went creating our own truffle delicacies, placing them in a sweet presentation box that we were given to take our creations home in. (Which makes the truffles suitable for gifting!)
Overall, I found the Madame Gautier cookery class to be exceedingly good fun, especially as it was held in such a welcoming and friendly space. The bespoke set up with a large central ‘table’ around which all students gather means there’s plenty of space for everyone, and it’s easy to see the teacher to follow their instructions – although we were also told not to be afraid to ask questions at any time. As I mentioned, I’m not really a baker and although I enjoy cooking, I’m not sure my skills are overly impressive. There were some initial moments when I did think “Uh oh – cooking in front of other people!? What if I mess it up?!!”, which were rapidly swept to one side once I saw how easy it was to follow all the steps and instructions. There’s also plenty of hob and oven space, and a large assortment of cooking utensils, pots and pans and pretty much everything that we could have possibly needed. Our class teacher subtly made sure the pace kept flowing nicely – from magically sweeping away our used pans, reminding us to have a clean up of our own cooking/baking space, or giving us some individual pointers when he saw it necessary – so no one was left behind or got lost in what they were meant to be doing.
With some mulled wine and a (teacher-baked!) mince pie to finish, my fellow classmates and I gathered around the dining table in the ‘classroom’ to have a little natter about our morning’s endeavours – a lovely end to the class. And with a goody bag to take home of the (aforementioned) truffle box, our own batch of mince pies plus the pastry and spare mincemeat that we’d made – more than enough to give it a second try at home – and recipes for everything, we all left feeling rather content!
Madame Gautier are running special ‘Fetes de Noel’ Christmas cookery classes this month, which cover some of the items mentioned above and more – chocolate truffles, chutneys, curds and mince pies. I would highly recommend a class – not only are they supremely good fun (why not go with a friend?), but I now honestly feel quite confident – excited, even – to make my own treats at home. Each class costs £45, and there’s a special price of £75 for two people to attend any one class. The classes take place on 8th, 15th and 22nd December – to find out more, or to book a class, please contact the Cookery School direct on +44 20 8964 5511 or email email@example.com.
They also run regular cookery classes throughout the year that focus on particular cooking techniques and skills, as well as covering how to master classic French dishes such as Bouillabaisse, Coq Au Vin and Tarte Tatin. More on these classes and the Madame Gautier Cookery School in general can be found at madamegautier.com/cookery-school.
Incidentally, I passed around the mince pies amongst friends in the days following the class. The general refrain was that they were “much better than the ones you can buy”, the evidence of which seemed to be how quickly they disappeared! And the truffles, you wonder? Well, I’m keeping those for myself!
For more on Madame Gautier, their cookery school, bistro and Traiteur menu, please see www.madamegautier.com.