Pinch us, we must be dreaming. We’ve always wanted to learn how to make proper scones in the English countryside. Buttery, crumbly pastry smothered with voluptuous cream and jam — what’s not to love? While our original plans for a class in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s famed River Cottage in Devon fell through, we aren’t sorry at all.
Because The Cookery School at Thyme — set within an estate with its own farm grounds, restaurant and luxury accommodation in quaint old buildings — is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s what River Cottage would look like if Nigella Lawson gave it a posh makeover.
The property sits in the village of Southrop and boasts a 15th century manor house, medieval barns and Norman church. It is within the Cotswolds, a scenic area rich with rolling hills, ancient woodland and plenty of sheep indigenous to the area. It’s about two hours by car or train from London. Its rural landscape means a bounty of gourmet produce in the region, including dairy products and meat.
Thyme's farmhouse kitchen and dining area are done up tastefully in shades of pastel, with bucolic-designer furnishings. It overlooks a quaint garden.
After briefly drinking in our gorgeous surrounds and also a welcome cup of tea, it’s time to get down to work.
Our instructor today is Sue Naismith, dubbed “fairy cake godmother”. She has the air of a capable but harried mother, herding her unruly children — in this case, us fumbling journalists — together. A sheet of paper printed with the recipe and placed on our worktop looks simple enough: it contains the usual scone ingredients of flour, butter, eggs, milk and cream. We’ve made scones only twice before this trip, and the results have been middling. Hopefully, after today’s lesson, we no longer have to visit TWG Tea or some fancy hotel for our fix.
Sue makes us measure all the ingredients using a digital weighing scale. We like this — it means the printed recipe is accurate. We’ve been to other baking classes that had everything already measured out for us, and when we tried to replicate the dish at home, things just didn't turn out the same.
Sue moves at a brisk pace. While the ingredients are standard — it’s the technique that’s key here. She demonstrates how to quickly rub in small cubes of cold butter into the flour from a height till it resembles dry breadcrumbs — this aerates the flour and makes the scones fluffier.
"Why is my flour mix like glue?” asks a confused fellow journo, extending his goo-covered hands to Sue like a child offering his half-eaten snack. She inspects his bowl and replies, “That’s because you’ve just been rubbing the butter alone instead of mixing it with the flour beneath it”.
We titter too loudly. “Don’t laugh at him!” chides Sue. As karma is a bitch, we are soon having problems of our own. We’re taking too long, as usual, to roll and cut out our discs of dough. “It’s time to put your scones in the oven!” she urges. We do not bake well under pressure. “Press the mould down and lift it straight up to cut the pastry instead of twisting it, or the scones won’t rise up straight,” she adds. In our frenzy, we do the exact opposite. So our dough discs tilt sadly as they brown in the oven, looking more like floppy cushions that belong on an Ikea couch than elegant scones worthy of a noblewoman’s afternoon tea platter.
We stare covetously at our neighbour’s pristine bakes and contemplate swapping her tray for ours when her back is turned. Instead, we resignedly claim our deformed specimens from the oven and wait for them to cool slightly. Then, the moment of truth. We break a droopy piece apart and slather its steaming insides with fresh butter that Sue had just magicked up by churning cream in an electric mixer.
It is to die for. Take that, Nigella.
Culinary classes at Thyme start from about £185 (S$332) for a full day, including lunch and a glass of wine. Besides scones, there’re other options like bread-making and festive dinner menus.