Monday January 14, 2013
Know the ‘whys’ of baking as much as the ‘hows’
By S. INDRAMALAR
The Baking Barn gives interested cooks a taste of making baked goods that are ‘just heavenly’.
INSIDE the test kitchen of the Baking Barn, baker extraordinaire Nigel Skelchy is busy prepping for his Saturday afternoon baking class. Dressed in his chef whites and apron, he hums a tune as he portions out butter and eggs in clear, glass bowls for the class.
The class that day was on making cheese, and Skelchy was to teach his students – mainly novice home cooks who want to learn the secrets of baking cakes, cookies, pies and such – how they can make mascarpone cheese at home.
Apart from making the cheese itself, he will then teach them how to make a few desserts that incorporate the cheese, namely tiramisu, a white chocolate tart and berry fruit parfait with whipped mascarpone and reduced balsamic.
Quite a packed lesson for a two-hour class but Skelchy is unfazed.
Once a couple of the students arrive, Skelchy gets them to register while he chats with them as he goes about his prep.
“Are you ladies ready to get your hands dirty?” he asks, cheekily from behind a large stainless steel counter. “You know that this is a hands-on class, right? You have to do some of the work.”
He isn’t joking. The class is partially hands-on. Students are shown the techniques and then roped in to get involved in the process, under close watch, of course.
The Baking Barn is a recent extension of Just Heavenly, arguably one of the country’s most renowned boutique bakeries started by Skelchy and his partner Allan Yap in 2001.
Classes began in May last year and are held twice a week, on Thursdays and Saturdays.
‘We’ve always wanted to start baking classes and we felt this was the right time to do it. The classes are semi hands-on. I demonstrate a technique and have the students stand around me so that they can join in as well. I find that hands-on classes are great for more experienced cooks, but can be intimidating for newbies. This way, they can join in if they feel comfortable enough or watch as someone else gives it a go,” says Skelchy in a recent interview.
Apart from making custom cakes for weddings and special occasions, Just Heavenly also operates several retail outlets around the Klang Valley (aptly called A Slice Of Heaven) where they sell scrumptious desserts like Death By Chocolate (a dark chocolate mousse cake), strawberry cheesecake and of course the famed and currently trendy Red Velvet Cake.
Most recently, the duo opened the Just Heavenly Cafe at Bangsar Shopping Centre, where they serve much more than cakes and desserts (their Monster Mushroom Quiche is really quite something!).
“This space is actually where we do our research and testing on new recipes for our stores. It’s the perfect place for people to learn how to bake, don’t you think?” says Skelchy.
A self-taught baker himself, Skelchy hopes to share his acquired knowledge of baking with others. The passion and enthusiasm that he brims with is, as the phrase goes, just the icing on the cake.
“The idea was to have a place for people to learn to bake in a relaxed and fun environment, not at all intimidating, from someone who is self-taught,” he says.
All the classes are conducted by Skelchy who evidently enjoys interacting with his students and showing them the “secrets” of how things work in the baking world.
“Most baking schools teach you the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of baking but not the ‘why’. I’m an inquisitive person myself and like to know why we do certain things when baking.
“For example, did you know that the reason we add eggs one by one in a butter/sugar mixture is based on solid scientific fact? It is a method of adding liquid to fat slowly so that more air is trapped when forming the emulsion. Just like when you make mayonnaise.
“Who knew that baking a butter cake was similar to making mayonnaise? Things like that fascinate me and I teach his as a means to get people to understand the methods they use. That there is a reason behind the method and if you repeat this with understanding, you will get successful results each and every time,” he says.
Skelchy was introduced to baking as a young boy by his mother.
“She involved me in the kitchen when I was nine, even if it was just to lick the spoon! Much of what I have learnt is from reading recipe books and journals. I didn’t go to (cooking) school, but I did go to classes like the ones we have at the Baking Barn,” he says.
Skelchy’s classes are structured to engage a wide range of people, from novices to those with more experience and expertise in baking.
“Homemakers, professionals or just foodies ... we target a spectrum of people. There are classes that are a little tougher but most of our classes are accessible to the average person who maybe spends just three hours in the kitchen, once or twice a year, baking a butter cake for fun!” he says.
Mostly, Skelchy wants to share the joy of baking with cooks who may be more than a little intimidated by the processes involved in baking.
“(Common misconceptions about baking) is that it is difficult and tedious. Once you understand why you do things, you can get delicious results all the time,” he says emphatically.
Keeping with the philosophy behind Just Heavenly, the lessons at the Baking Barn emphasise the importance of flavour over appearance, to some extent.
“I’m quite Asian that way ... my ‘thing’ is flavour more than how something looks. Having said that, I do believe that we eat with our eyes first and the juxtaposition of colour and design does affect how the dessert tastes,” he says.
Class schedules are up on the Just Heavenly website (justheavenly.biz) at least a couple of months ahead and those interested can sign up online.
“I teach whatever I feel is delicious. I look through my bag of tricks and recipe books and tweak the recipes a little for the class. I mean, that’s what baking is all about, right?
Once you understand the basics, you can break the rules. I like to be able to impart that to my students,” he says.