Saturday, 22 February 2014

How to High Tea with Ruth Pretty

Last weekend, we spent a delightful day at the Ruth Pretty Cooking School in Te Horo. The weather came to the party and so we played at being ladies by wearing pretty summer dresses for the occasion. How to High Tea is a day of food delights in a stunning garden setting, hosted by Ruth Pretty and her team. We were in good hands!

We were greeted with coffee and morning tea on arrival. These savoury and sweet scones were freshly baked and served alongside a berry salad of strawberries, raspberries, tart cape gooseberries and lightly whipped cream. We had our 'breakfast' at a picnic table outside by the herb garden. Even by mid-morning, the day was shaping up to be a hot one.

Scones for morning tea
The herb garden outside is immaculately kept and puts my few planter boxes to shame. I enjoyed wandering around smelling the different herbs, trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to identify some of the variations and thinking about how they might be used in cooking.

An immaculate herb garden
At 11 am, we were called into the cooking school/catering kitchen for class. During the next 2 1/2 hours, Ruth and two of her amazing chefs worked with incredible precision and skill to prepare a three course high tea, demonstrating their recipes and teaching us some very valuable tricks of the trade.

Cooking school
We learned how to create three dishes for each of the three high tea 'layers': sandwiches, savouries and desserts. With only one or two chances to impress, Ruth stresses that it's especially important for each high tea dish to taste as good as it looks. This certainly applied to food as tiny and delicate as the cocktail sandwiches made that day.

Ruth Pretty explains
My sandwiches are positively boring compared to the exotic range of flavours we learned how to make, each using different techniques: Bloody Mary prawn rolls, chicken and tarragon sandwiches and refreshing lemon and basil club sandwiches.

Elegant sandwiches and rolls
Savouries have come a long way from the days of preheated sausage rolls and frozen potato top pies from the supermarket. We learned how to make three varieties of base (puff pastry, vol-au-vent cases and a bread base) and a whole range of fillings. We ended up with tiny Parmesan and potato top beef pies made in mini muffin tins, vol-au-vent with salmon and chive salad (with vol-au-vent cases made by hand from buttery puff pastry) and snapper pies with macadamia crumble.

And then came dessert, even though this course was demonstrated first. Apparently éclairs are the new macarons which were the new cupcakes. Although I still have a soft spot for cupcakes, I'm not fussed about having missed the macaron craze but am glad to hear that we're onto éclairs now as choux pastry is something that I can make reasonably well! I'm really keen to try making strawberry cream to fill the chocolate éclairs like these ones. We also learned how to make layered champagne jelly and raspberry bavarois and baked vanilla cheesecakes with blueberries. (It's official: I still don't like cheesecake but wanted to give it one last try to confirm what I already knew.)

Sweet treats
With our heads full of good advice and an armful of recipes, we headed back into the garden room to beautifully laid tables for high tea. We found our places by looking for our names individually written on a leaf, then the bubbly was poured and we worked our way through each course.

Table setting for high tea
I learned so much from this session. Even though I can't realistically see myself whipping up a full high tea like this at home, I quite like the idea of attempting a 'progressive' high tea of sorts, where I try experimenting with the recipes and methods one or two at a time. We thoroughly enjoyed being ladies for the day. I even came away with a few more items for my baking arsenal (of course).

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