Give Tasteful Gift Vouchers: Cooking and Baking Classes in London

We all have so much STUFF. Instead of wrapping up more of it as a Christmas or birthday gift, consider giving — and asking for — a cooking or baking course voucher. That one little slip of paper will bestow upon the lucky recipient several hours happily spent improving their kitchen tinkering abilities, meeting new people, tasting the fruits of their labour and then hauling a sack of it home to enjoy later. Bit better than another sweater or box set, eh?

I highly recommend the following two cooking and baking instructors in London for their enthusiastic, engaging manner and varied course selection. Maria Mayerhofer and Anna Colquhoun both offer vouchers for their courses, which are seriously good value compared to other culinary classes in the city. 


Instructor: Maria Mayerhofer
Location: The Baking Lab, Swiss Cottage, London
Website: www.bakewithmaria.com
Vouchers: Click here

Without even trying Maria is incredibly on-trend this year — she's Danish and she's a prolific baker. Scandinavian food has been all the rage lately and an interest in home baking has reached near hysterical levels. High-grade ground wheat (street name: flour) is now a widely-sought commodity. Maria can show you how to use that powder to bake something so spectacular you won't believe it was conceived in your own hands. She has a very warm manner, obviously loves what she does, and patiently answers even the stupidest of questions (I've tested this, quite a few times actually) in class and afterwards via email.

I first met Maria when I took an introductory bread making course at her flat a couple of years ago. She initially held classes out of her home kitchen but then realised the classes were so popular she would be better off having a bigger, purpose-built space in which to teach. After much renovation, she recently unveiled the Baking Lab, which just smacks you as an ideal space for spending a few hours getting to grips with dough as soon as you step through the door.

Tables, custom built for ideal baking height, are the centerpiece of the space. The studio's white walls are bathed in light which streams in from windows and skylight, or lit by huge domed lights that hang from the high ceiling. I believe she calls the look 'industrial vintage'.

The Baking Lab's launch party.

She's kitted the place out with some sparkly new equipment including a posse of Kitchen Aid mixers and ovens, as well as classic baking supplies such as cane proving baskets and the ever-trusty plastic dough scrapers. The gadgets, easy-to-follow instruction and Shipton Mill organic flour all help you create a bevy of impressive bakes. At at launch party for the lab Maria treated guests to a spread of baked goods she teaches how to make at her classes. Here are a few:

Since I took my first class with Maria (I'm a repeat customer) I've become a better baker. Sure I still struggle and howl at the ceiling sometimes, but the process has become more enjoyable. To illustrate what you can achieve after taking her Intro to Bread Making, I offer the following photo. These are the first loaves I baked at home, post-class...

And here are some glorious tarts I baked just last week at her Tarty Tarts class; chocolate almond ganache, pecan and (not pictured) lemon meringue.

There is a changing array of courses to choose from: Italian, French, Scandinavian and Sourdough bread making; pretzels, afternoon tea treats, Whoppie Pies, and classic cakes are some currently scheduled. But if you REALLY love the person you're giving the gift voucher to, Maria is teaching a 5 day baking course in Tuscany next April. Hint, hint...


Instructor: Anna Colquhoun
Location: Her home kitchen, Highbury, London
Website: www.culinaryanthropologist.org/cooking-classes/
Vouchers: Email: anna (at) culinaryanthropologist (dot) org

Sometimes the internet's world-wide magic connects you with just what you're looking for, close to home. I was searching for an affordable cooking class, that would be a learning experience lasting longer than a few hours, located in my neck of London. I read about Anna Colquhoun's Cooking Club online and investigated further. BINGO. Her home teaching kitchen is a quick cycle from my flat. Buy a three-pack of Cooking Club classes and they are only £35 each. That's stunning value for four hours of cooking instruction per class using Riverford organic seasonal produce followed by a three-course meal (that you've just helped create) served with wine.

These classes are held monthly, usually on the second Tuesday and Wednesday of the month, from 6:00 - 10:00pm. I've attended one of my three-pack so far, and was impressed. The evening was fun, educational, and you sit down with lovely classmates at the end to feast on what you've prepared. I learned how to make mayonnaise and rough puff pastry from scratch, and baked my first tarte tatin. All of the dishes are vegetarian, as they are meant to highlight the season's best produce and inspire new ways to prepare them.

First timers will easily spend 15 minutes ogling Anna's big, beautiful kitchen. Anna has travelled extensively and has a fantastic collection of kitchenware that she's collected along the way. Not to mention the wood-fired pizza oven out back, and massive island where students each have plenty of space to watch her exhibit techniques and then take a, uh, stab at it themselves.

Her gravitas goes well beyond kitchen design — she's a professionally trained cook, has worked at the legendary restaurant Chez Panisse, and recently wrote her first book, Eat Slow Britain. She's a talented, easy-going instructor; possessing a soul patient enough to answer a barrage of questions during (and long after) a class.

In addition to the Cooking Club she teaches a wide variety of classes where you can learn how to make Spanish tapas, properly prepare fish, bake bread, make preserves, and more! Once you've attended one of Anna's classes you'll want to sign up for another. I certainly couldn't resist...

Anna's 'Late Autumn Preserving Workshop' intrigued me. Apart from drying bay leaves and chucking things into the freezer for indefinite periods of time, I'd never preserved food before. Like the Cooking Club this class was great value for money. The £60 fee paid for a five hour class, including lunch with wine and the necessary preserving jars. In this workshop we learned how to make: quince cheese (membrillo), sage and garlic jelly, balsamic pickled onions, bottled pears in spiced red wine, and beetroot and ginger chutney.

It was a whole new style of cooking to me, and it was fascinating to learn how to properly prepare the produce and cook it so that the chemistry of sugar and heat turn farm-fresh produce into jars of long-lasting condiments that pack huge flavour.

Best of all, at the end of the class you get to take home four jars of preserves and a big ramekin of freshly made membrillo. The preserved quince is like concentrated sunshine, ready to brighten up any dismal winter day. It's wrapped up and stored in a dark, cool place, along with the jarred preserves. I look forward to digging into them all in the new year, when the flavours have had time to mingle and intensify.

Anna holds preserving classes during each season; the Cooking Club runs year round; and there are many other intriguing workshops (whispers of urban foraging?!) coming up in 2012. Give a voucher as a gift and let the lucky recipient choose which exciting, edible avenue to follow.

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