Thursday 22 May 2014

Learning with the Masters: Culinary Academy at The Westin, Gurgaon

Great cooks aren't born. They are made.
Have you ever wanted to master the art of baking the perfect cake or learn the nuances of International cuisines like Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai or Lebanese? 
Well, now is your chance!! Just head along to the Culinary Academy, at The Westin Gurgaon where you will have the opportunity to learn great tips, techniques and cooking secrets from the best in that field. 
Westin Culinary Academy is a one of a kind platform which offers its guests a unique culinary session each month by its world class team of chefs. The best part about these cooking classes is that not only do you get a hands-on cooking experience along with personal instructions from the chef, but you also get to clear your doubts and ask as many questions as you want from the chef. I find that the biggest advantage of attending a cooking class over watching a cookery show on T.V.
Sometime back, I too had the opportunity to attend a baking masterclass with Chef Abdul Wahid who is the pastry chef at Westin Gurgaon. Always eager to pick up baking tips to hone my existing skills, and especially when they were from the expert themselves, it would have been foolish for me to refuse the offer. 
The session including the chef showing us how to make some delicious Orange cupcakes, a stunning Strawberry Mille Feuille and a scrumptious Plum CakeIt turned out to be an awesome class with Chef Wahid showing us some expert techniques and sharing some great cooking tips. 
We were a small group of five and the chef made sure that everyone got personal attention. 
In our group we had two young school girls who were hanging on to each word that the chef was saying and diligently taking notes of the instructions given by the chef in the recipe sheets that were handed out to us when the class began. It reminded me so much of the time when as a newly wed I too had enrolled myself for a baking class and how every word spoken by our baking teacher used to be jotted down and memorized incase we missed out something important.
We started our class with the chef demonstrating how to make Orange Cupcakes. During the class, Chef Wahid gave out some important baking tips like how it was important to have the eggs at room temperature (keep them out for an hour or so) before adding them to your cakes or cupcakes. He also told us how if one was a vegetarian, they could substitute condensed milk for eggs in a recipe - just replace 1 egg with 50 gms condensed milk and of course accordingly the sugar too has to be reduced. So, if a recipe called for 200 gms sugar and if you are using condensed milk, use 75 gms sugar instead. I think these are the small tips that make the classes so personal. 
Within no time the cupcakes were in the oven and the whole room was full of the amazing, delicious smell of freshly baked cupcakes.
Next on, was the strawberry Mille Feuille which required the puff pastry to be made. This was something I was really keen on watching as Puff pastry is something I have been having a difficulty getting a hang of. I have always been daunted by the whole process of rolling, freezing and resting the pastry which has resulted in me always procrastinating any attempt at trying to make the pastry. 
I watched in awe as the chef deftly rolled and shaped the puff pastry dough and demonstrated how to make the 'Book fold' which is what actually gives the pastry it beautiful flaky layers. He also instructed how after every rolling the dough needed to be rested for an hour in the fridge. 
Seeing the chef at work, the whole process looked so simple and effortless. Very soon on our hands we had the most delicious, buttery, flaky pastry which the chef topped with a thick custard and freshly chopped strawberries.
The last dish was the traditional plum cake. This too was demonstrated in few simple steps where the chef showed us how to mix the dry fruits (which were pre soaked in alchol)and spices together till soft and mushy. The secret of making a perfect plum cakes lies in a well soaked mix of fruits and nuts, infact some bakers go to the extent of soaking their fruits months in advance to get the intense flavor and aroma of alcohol in their cakes.
As the cakes takes about an hour to bake, the chef already had a prebaked and cooled plum cake ready for us which he dusted with some icing sugar before serving.
At the end of the class we were also awarded with a certificate of participation.
The session concluded with a sumptuous lunch at Seasonal tastes, All day dining restaurant at the hotel.
 Each session at the Culinary Academy is priced at INR 1500.
 If you too are keen to learn a new cuisine or are just want to take your cooking skills to the next level, make sure to check out the culinary sessions held at Westin Gurgaon.

I am leaving you here with the recipe of Orange Cup cakes given by Chef Abdul Wahid. Enjoy!!
!50 gms  Flour
80 gms Breakfast sugar
2 eggs
5 gms baking powder
150 gms butter
20 ml orange juice
10 gms marmalade
5 gms orange zest
100 gms  candied orange
Mix the flour and baking powder.
Cream the butter and sugar for 10-15 minutes till light and fluffy.
Add the eggs one by one and mix well till incorporated.
 Add in the flour and mix well.
Now add in the orange zest, orange juice and orange marmalade.
Bake in a preheated oven at 170C  for 20 minutes or till done.
My version of Orange Cupcakes made from the above recipe.

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