Rise and shine!

For our Christmas party this year the WCD team headed off to Ilia’s Kitchen in Mersea Island for what would prove to be a fun-filled day of baking tasty treats and a number of culinary mishaps. 

We arrived at 9:30 am, bringing with us a sense of shared excitement as we entered Ilia’s Kitchen armed with nothing but our Tupperware containers. A pleasant sight met us indoors – an impressive modern kitchen with plenty of space and more importantly a table set for us bearing freshly baked cinnamon buns and a steaming pot of coffee.

As we devoured the delectable cinnamon buns we introduced ourselves to Ilia and Maggie, our wonderful instructors for the day who would be teaching us how to make Stollen, Yule Log, and Mille-feuille. 

Let’s dough this

We started off by soaking fruits in alcohol and then making our dough, both of which would be used for the Stollen. We prepared the dough by mixing basic dry ingredients with our hands before things got messy with the addition of milk and eggs. We then placed the dough in bowls and left them to rise while we moved onto preparing and cooking our pastry that we’d later construct into our Mille-feuille. Next, we moved on to what would prove the most difficult and fun part of our menu – the Yule Log. 

The first step was to make a thin layer of chocolate cake, a task which we managed to comfortably breeze through. Some of the following stages, however, would not be completed in such an effortless manner. In fact, the very next stage in which we tipped the now-cooked chocolate cakes out of the cooking tray and onto a sheet of baking paper resulted in some dire consequences.

A sizable chunk of Chris’s chocolate cake ended up on the floor while Steven’s cake faced an even more critical situation after it failed to survive his rather vigorous ‘tipping out’ technique and required emergency surgery from the masterful Ilia. Chocolate cakes now intact (some more than others), we moved bravely onto the next step, which turned out to be even more problematic.

On a roll

If you’ve made a Yule Log or Swiss Roll before, then you’ll know that the most difficult part is physically rolling the cake over into a tube without making a mess of the layer of cream that’s on top of the cake. If you’ve never made a Yule Log or Swiss Roll before, then you’ll have to take my word for it. While Anna and Russ’s Yule Logs looked at the image of perfection, Steven, Chris and Christian’s welcomed plenty of room for improvement. So did Russ’s moments later when it, unfortunately, split through the middle.

Despite the tricky process of assembling the Yule Log, it was agreed on by all that it tasted truly fantastic. The chocolate cake was soft, sweet and had that slightly-warm feel that only comes from a fresh and quality bake. Spurred on from the success so far, we put our rocky patch behind us and heroically marched on to baking our Stollen. 

The final stages of our cooking experience required us to add our fermented fruits and chopped pistachio nuts to our dough and get our hands messy for a final time. We then let the Stollen rise for a short while before baking them for a further twenty minutes. They came out of the oven a golden brown (some with tints of black) and smelling like an absolute treat. 

Bye Ilia’s Kitchen.. Yule be missed

Everything was now complete apart from the assembly of the Mille-feuille, which Ilia quickly took care of while we helped ourselves to delicious celeriac and potato soup for lunch. Packing all of our freshly baked goods into our Tupperware containers was our final task of the day, and was perhaps the one which we put the most effort into. We left Ilia’s Kitchen with full bellies, smiling faces and plenty of Christmas treats to take home. Personally, I can’t wait to bring out the Yule Log at Christmas for my family to enjoy, but I doubt it’ll survive until then.