Michelangelo purportedly said: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to release it.” That is how I feel about discovering a new city. I know that my city is somewhere in there but I have to set about discovering it, teasing out the locals that will stand out for me.
In Berlin, I could set out onto its wide streets to discover it. Barcelona is infinitely more complex. It’s congested with independent shops and restaurants, the constantly new vying for attention with the old (take Can Culleretes , opened as a pastry shop in 1786 and still listed in Frommers with 3 stars). All this to say, I’ve been spending considerable time trawling the internet to pin down a starting point for my explorations.
That is how I found myself on Espai Sucre’s website. I didn’t think I could manage an evening sampling (no babysitter yet) their dessert only menu but – Hello? What’s this? An American Baking Course? Was my Spanish good enough? – My thought barely had a chance to form before it was abruptly (is there any other way?) interrupted by twin 1. I impulsively clicked “buy”.
I’d signed myself up for a 10 hour course in American Baking (which I know), in Spanish (which I insist I understand).
On the day, I’m 15 minutes late (of course, I think this may be a genetic problem). I join the rest of the punctual group who are already immersed in the business of taking notes and asking questions. Our teacher, Betina Montagne, speaks rapidly and with visible passion. She is still excited by pastry after more than 20 years in the business and if you don’t believe it, the dangling cupcake earrings she wears bear further proof.
Before I’ve had a chance to cease perspiring (summer’s still going strong here, even at 8:30 in the morning) we are invited to the kitchens. Where an army of red Kitchen Aids man the counters. Betina asks us to turn our attention to the brownie recipe…and we are off! We are asked to double up with the person closest to us. My partner is Mirella, a girl from Barcelona who is studying to become a chef. She is vibrant and bubbly. If she is annoyed at being paired with the foreigner, she doesn’t show it, instead she gives me her apron when she notices I haven’t brought one and that in the war of cocoa powder and Suzy – the cocoa is winning.
In all the previous cookery courses I have taken, cooking has always been preceded by a demonstration. This means, you get to watch a pro glide through tasks and have a bit of a shock when you realize that turning red pepper into brunoise is not easy. So the Espai Sucre method; being given 12 recipes and told “go!” is novel and leads to interesting results. Non-heat proof spatulas are accidentally melted (me), the microwave starts smoking (me), coffee is spilled onto lap (me), oven doors opened on the Lemon Poppy Seed Cake causing the whole lot to collapse (thankfully not me). In short, mistakes are made, in abundance, the reasons for failure discussed.
Despite doing a year long diploma at the Leiths School of Food and Wine in London, I still learn a few tricks, my two favourites being: for perfect cakes using the creaming method – butter should be 20ºC and when your baking thermometer reads 91ºC (you have one of these, right?) your cake is done!
We manage to produce 8 cakes to take home. The pace is not frantic but speedy and efficient. Even with all our accomplishments, we have time to nip out to a neighborhood restaurant called La Candela where we are treated to a simple but lovely 3 course lunch with coffee.
It’s only been 10 hours since we first met yet, we all feel united in our accomplishment. Some of us exchange emails and all of us exchange tips of where to eat and it’s off home loaded with brownies, blondies, carrot cakes, chocolate cakes and even a Christmas cake.