How on earth do you make a sweet pastry tart with edible flowers? iLoveMyGrub went to The Bakery at Pennyhill Park to find out.
Pennyhill Park Hotel is tucked away in Bagshot, hidden out of view at the end of a very long and winding driveway. Once you’ve passed through the pine-lined entrance, you get just a glimpse of Pennyhill Park as you come up to reception. There’s a lot going on at this hotel. Equipped with a 5-star, luxury spa (including eight outdoor and indoor pools, hot tubs, an ice room, and a thermal room), a Michelin-starred restaurant, and a bakery, you can either relax or eat, or push yourself to do both. There’s even a pillow menu for goodness sake: pillows that mould your head, support your head, adjustable pillows, cool pillows, and pillows with a ‘peach skin’ finish. (No creased face in the morning? Yes please). Whilst the grounds and the rooms here boast a 5-star finish, the attention towards relaxation is 5-star too. You can’t help but let go of a little tension when you test out your expertly appointed bed, and just in case you’re an insomniac type, the staff will spritz your pillow with calming lavender sleep balm. It would be tempting to stay horizontal for the entire weekend, if there wasn’t so much eating to do.
Pennyhill has two restaurants on offer – The Brasserie, run by Head Chef Ram Jalasutram, and the Michelin-starred Latymer restaurant, headed up by Michael Wignall. For performance food, head to the Latymer, where Wignall and his team serve up a flurry of courses that look so much like works of art, you’re reluctant to get destructive with your fork. It’s worth deconstructing each dish though, just to get to the petit fours. All hand-made by Wignall and his team, the selection includes jellies, truffles, candied fruits and nougat, all of which sit beautifully on the plate, winking at you like a sophisticated tuck shop. Dishes such as Wignall’s cumin-scented yellow fin tuna, are served up with beautiful little embellishments such as bloody mary spheres, poached oysters and sugar snap jellies.
If you’re after food that’s a little less formal, The Brasserie exudes that relaxed, informal air that so many places strive to achieve, but don’t quite manage. When we walked into the restaurant for our evening meal, the service was seamless and unobtrusive, and our meal was just thoroughly enjoyable. We were both beginning to wind down from the week by the time we took our table in The Brasserie, and if a meal can be categorised as a catalyst for slowing down some more, that’s exactly how we’d pigeon hole it. (It’s worth noting that the chocolate mousse-cake pudding was excellent. I can take or leave the gold leaf décor it came with, but it even managed to win over my anti sweet-tooth of a boyfriend, which is saying something).
So what does all this have to do with baking? Well, since last year, Pennyhill Park has enlisted Head Baker, Denis Drame to oversee the hotel’s own personal bakery. The Bakery whips up a slew of speciality breads, and patisseries which guests get to bite into at breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. The Bakery produces bread using its very own filtered bore hole water and a large selection of organic buckwheat, chestnut and rye flours. If you’re after something a little different from a slice of white, or a plain old granary roll, you’re in the right place. If that still doesn’t sate your appetite, then you can roll up your sleeves, put a pinnie on and get up to your elbows in flour with Denis showing you the ropes during his baking masterclass.
We lined up in The Bakery like wide-eyed novices, while Denis showed us the first step of pastry-making. The aim (to bake up sweet tarts with light, buttery pastry and crown them with edible flowers), seemed a little out of our reach. As luck would have it, Denis had two of his assistant bakers babysit us through each step. The pastry-making was actually easier than any of us thought it would be, especially when we actually followed the directions from Denis on how to roll out pastry evenly. We quickly moved onto making the frangipane filling (also a doddle, when you have a chef at your side), before moving onto the impossible task of piping. If there’s ever a kitchen activity to make you feel five years old again, it has to be piping. At this point my sweet pastry tart started looking a little bit more like a car crash as I piped the frangipane in futile ‘swirls’, but let’s face it – it doesn’t really matter when you have expert chefs on hand to patch things up. The heat of the oven merged my messy piping into a more even state of affairs, and thankfully we had tubs full of exotic-looking flower heads to mask any remaining signs of ineptitude.
Denis showed us an ingenious addition to our sweet pastry tarts: a layer of rocket leaves, tossed lightly in pistachio oil infused with vanilla. An odd-sounding combination granted, but absolutely stunning to taste. Once we’d layered our tarts with floral gems, we tried our hand at kneading rolls, baguettes and ficelles into recognisable versions of themselves, before doing what we’d all been dying to do, and eat the end result. Once we’d boxed-up our finished tarts up to take home, The Bakery’s assistants began piling soft, warm baguettes and rolls into bags for us to take with us too. Just in case you’re wondering, it is physically impossible to turn down a freshly-baked ficelle. People have tried, but the scent of just-baked, doughy goodness gets them every time. Just as well there are eight swimming pools at Pennyhill Park, to counter the inevitable culinary indulgence.
*The Baking Masterclass at Pennyhill Park Hotel & Spa includes tuition, recipes, breads to sample and your own ‘The Bakery’ at Pennyhill Park Hotel apron. Priced at £80 for a 120 minute class. For more information on Pennyhill Park Hotel & Spa, including room rates and treatments, please visit: