Chocolate heaven at Cooks, The Carlton School of Food
PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 August 2014
Learning to make chocolate with Fiona Sciolti, of Sciolti Botanical Chocolates.
Fiona came to her award-winning career when, like a lot of mums, she sought a way to combine her love of food with motherhood and create a business from home. Her Italian passion for food perfection led her to develop a range of ‘botanical’ chocolates, filled with seasonal fruits, teas, herbs and local creams and honey. Her down-to-earth British side is what makes her the ideal teacher however, which is what led me to Cooks, The Carlton School of Food, in Yorkshire.
The setting for Cooks is possibly the most extraordinary location you’ll ever find a cookery school. Carlton Towers looks on first glance like the sort of bonkers place a mad Yorkshire industrialist might have built to celebrate his newfound cotton or coal wealth, but in fact is an ancestral home belonging to the Duke of Norfolk’s family, dating back to the 17th century and home to the Duke’s brother and sister-in-law, Lord and Lady Gerald Fitzalan Howard.
Upon arrival, along a satisfyingly crunchy driveway, you are directed through an undercroft, filled with highly contemporary seating, into what can only be described as a scene from Downton Abbey, with a Housekeeper’s Drawing Room, Butler’s Pantry and, of course, a magnificent kitchen, now sensitively converted to cookery school.
Fiona’s chocolate course starts at 10am and finishes at 2pm (or a little later if you’re fighting hot sunshine and soft chocolate!) and attendees range from school-aged to pensioner. In that time we learned to temper chocolate and create hazelnut praline chocolate bars (with a proper ‘snap’) and made the most amazing chocolate truffles, filled with a ganache of strawberry and balsamic vinegar or raspberry and pink peppercorn. The perfect combination of Italian flavour obsession and British no-nonsense, these truffles were astonishingly easy to make, so easy I could talk you through it right now... but I won’t, as I don’t want my family to realise how little effort I’ll be putting into their Christmas presents this year.
Fiona was, delightfully, almost happy about the sun-related challenges we faced, announcing that if we could make fabulous chocolates under such trying circumstances, imagine how easy we’ll find it on a more reasonably cool day.
This is Fiona’s way, of course. Her mantra could be ‘Why complicate what should be simple?’ And this includes her chocolate recipes and teaching style. No wafting about slapping melted chocolate on a marble slab; no sweetie, just beat it into submission!
Cooks doesn’t only offer chocolate courses of course, this year you can learn to bake with Bake Off finalist Brendan Lynch, preserve the summer harvest with Jams, Jellies & Pickles in September and perfect your pie making in October.
If the thought of a 90 minute drive for a day course in Yorkshire doesn’t appeal, then – joy of joys – you can stay the night at Carlton Towers: not a hotel, but possibly the most sumptuous bed and breakfast you’ll ever find!
Personally, I’m currently waging an internal war about which course I want to attend next – baking with Brendan sounds fun, but Fiona is running an intermediate course later this year and I REALLY want to see what she does next!