learn to cook in the Lake District
Savour the delights of the Lake District by learning to whip up your own goodies on a mouth-watering bakery course, says Kate Bohdanowicz
It is virtually impossible to mess up on a Lucy Cooks "Classic Cakes & Bakes" course. Believe me, my class tried. When novice chef Esther poured half a bottle of dark ale into her ingredients rather than the recommended 125ml, our unflappable tutor Lisa simply suggested she bake a bigger cake.
When I - giggling at Esther's mistake - misread the word teaspoon for tablespoon and bunged far too much vanilla extract into my bowl of pudding heaven, Lisa told me: "Don't worry, it will just add to its intensity. After all, each cake is unique."
Twenty-four hours earlier, I had disembarked at Windermere station in the heart of the Lake District and walked the five miles to the pretty town of Ambleside. It was the first warm day of the year and as the road snaked round the quiet lake, I watched the sunlight bounce off its silvery sheen. Occasional bursts of daffodils lined my route.
At Ambleside, I met Lucy Nicholson, who founded the school in 2006. Having relocated from the south some 20 years ago, she has built a mini-empire in the Lake District with an excellent homely restaurant, lively bistro and packed delicatessen, as well as the cookery school.
The school to which Lucy drove me the following morning is in a former bobbin mill in the village of Staveley near Kendal. Lucy prides herself on limiting imports to within a 25-mile radius. That goes for everything from the damsons in the jam to the granite floor tiles.
Before Lucy set up shop, the Mill Yard was deserted. Now she shares the space with independent businesses including the local Hawkshead brewery, a bakery and a cycle emporium. She bagged the best place by the River Kent, which laps at the wooden terrace that becomes the dining hub in summer.
After coffee and a croissant with Lucy and Lisa, my fellow cooks and I were led upstairs to the huge kitchen. Everyone was allocated their own area with pots, pans and electrical gizmos and two of us shared a hob and a sink. Ingredients were pre-bagged for us but, alas, there was no shirking the washing up.
I'm a keen cook but my dessert course is limited to a crumble. Yet by the time we sat down for a delicious homemade lunch of Thai fish cakes, soy salmon and double baked Wensleydale souffles, we were marvelling at our productivity. That morning, under the expert eye of Lisa, who runs her own home-baking business, we had baked an orange and cardamom cake, a lovers' loaf (banana, carrot and passion fruit) and a rich slab of chocolate cake made with the local Brodie beer.
The afternoon was no less industrious. We watched as Lisa whipped all the ingredients together, poured them into a tin and put it into the oven making it look, well, like a piece of cake. We then repaired to our kitchenettes to assemble our own versions of a chocolate and damson jam brownie and a raspberry, almond and white chocolate blondie (like a brownie but white).
By 4pm I had five cake boxes to take back to London. Not bad for someone who thought a simple sponge cake was beyond them.
Yet the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. With friends and family devouring the fruits of my labour, colleagues clamouring for recipes and not one person noticing my vanilla-heavy offering, I concluded this was a culinary success. Maybe Lisa was right after all. Each cake is unique, but all get polished off.
Lucy Cooks (01539 432228 / www.lucycooks.co.uk) offers demo and dine evenings from £30, half-day practical courses from £70 and full-day courses from £110.
Virgin Trains (045 722 2333 / www.virgintrains.com) offers return rail travel from London Euston to Oxenholme from £28.
English Lake Hotels (0845 850 4503 / www.elh.co.uk) offers one night at the Waterhead Hotel from £106 per room (two sharing), B&B.
Cumbria Tourism: 01539 822222 / www.golakes.co.uk.
Article published in the Daily Express, 4th April 2009