London Calling: Italian Dessert Pastry Course at La Cucina Caldesi (Marylebone)

My last few days in London, I signed up for an Italian dessert pastry class at Cucina Caldesi, a cooking school hidden away in Marylebone behind its eponymous cafe (Caffè Caldesi, which features Tuscan classics, and quite a tasty fritto misto appetizer).

The teaching chef, a tall man named Stefano, had a deep voice and somewhat short temper and heavy brows that make it look like he is constantly brooding.  Other than a small blow-up with his sous-chef after she rocked half the lemon tart’s unsettled custard filling over the bottom of an oven, Chef Stefano was actually an exceeding nice guy and very capable teacher, explaining and whisking and tempering and putting things in the oven very great fluency and fluidity.

The equipment and setting are very nice, with emphasis on restaurant-level sanitation, and two sous-chefs are constantly helping to clear messes or demonstrate little techniques that one rarely feels stranded.  I did have to stir meringue over a hot water bath for twenty minutes until my arms hurt, but that may or may not have been self-inflicted pain (look, when the chef asks for a volunteer, sometimes you just volunteer).

I don’t have a lot of action shots of the making-of portion of the class, which is arguably just as fun, if not more so, than the final eating part.  Personally, it was a soft-landing sort of introduction to baking, since I’m not particularly precise in the kitchen or experienced with the oven or sweets, seeing the relative ease of certain steps and creations (namely the ladies’ kisses and orange/pistachio biscuits)- and alternatively, the precision and tools and time required for certain other elements (making choux pastry, lining tart pans) were great to see demonstrated in real-time, if only to demystify the process a bit if my life ever depended on making torta al limone from scratch.

It wouldn’t be the weirdest context involving tart, since the following happened to me in college:

Me, picking up the phone: “Oh hey, John, what’s up?”

John: “Hey, you know about food and stuff, right?  How do you make a mini-tart?  I need, like, 300 small fruit tarts.”

Me: “What?  No, I don’t know how to bake at all.  What do you need that many tarts for?”

John: “I’m rush chair for my frat at MIT.”

Anyway, here are the fruits of our labor:

Pear and frangipan tart, baci ma buoni, berry custard tart, orange & pistachio cantuccini

Genoese sponge cake with pistachio and fresh berries

Eclairs

More eclairs

Baci di dama (ladies’ kisses, filled with Nutella)

Cantuccini con arance e pistacchi (orange & pistachio biscuits)

In addition to the feast of sweets we treated ourselves to at the end of the course, lunch was also quite tasty, penne tossed with a simple freshly-simmered-down tomato sauce with cream, basil, and some chili flakes.  A shot of the sauce, pre-basil and chili:

Tomato sauce with cream for lunchtime penne

Cucina Caldesi
118 Marylebone Lane, W1U 2QF
London, UK

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