KUALA LUMPUR, May 8 — “I’ve waited three years for your baking class, Nigel. I tried searching online and I called a few times to see if Just Heavenly was offering classes and they told me it was coming soon,” said Jenny Choy to Nigel Skelchy, co-owner of Just Heavenly.
Well, Jenny’s quest was finally answered last weekend when Skelchy held Baking Barn’s inaugural baking class, where he taught “A Passel of Trifles”. Baking Barn is Just Heavenly’s foray into baking classes, where you will learn the secret behind some of the splendid cakes you see at Just Heavenly’s outlets.
It was 1.45pm and the blazing sun was merciless. “A Passel of Trifles” was due to start at 2pm but there were already a couple of students at the Baking Barn. I thought Malaysians usually stick to GMT (General Malaysian Timing), where you show up a little later than scheduled. I guess the allure of learning Just Heavenly’s baking secrets was irresistible.
Skelchy is not your average baker or teacher. He’s got a wicked sense of humour and an easy-going nature that makes even the most shy student comfortable. The Baking Barn is at a residential area in Bangsar, so you will literally feel at home.
While waiting for the rest of the students to arrive, Skelchy served us a delicious homemade, refreshing red date tea. A student asked if she could have the recipe for the drink!
“It’s really simple to make! It’s just regular red date tea,” laughed Skelchy heartily as he prepared for the lesson. That’s what makes Skelchy so likeable. He makes the most complicated recipes simple by his own method of cooking and baking.
A self-taught baker, Skelchy has spent years in the kitchen and after the class, I can honestly say that his cakes are better than those made by some formally-trained bakers.
The students began trickling in, and it was time to start. I was talking to some of the students and I was surprised by their enthusiasm.
“I just signed up yesterday,” said one of the students. “I found out about the class when I was buying a birthday cake.”
Gushed another student: “Have you tried his Red Velvet cake? It is very good!”
Hearing all of these testimonials before actually trying his cakes, I couldn’t wait for the class to start. This Nigel Skelchy must be something, I thought to myself.
Like a professional baking class teacher, Skelchy has already prepared most of the ingredients and measured them out. He gave us the recipes on clipboards, with pencils to jot notes. Today we will learn Hot Milk Vanilla Cake, a “mother” recipe to create a variety of mouth-watering desserts.
From this recipe, we will learn how to make a Victoria Sandwich, Traditional Trifle, Lemon Thyme Drizzle Cake, Creme Chantilly (glamourous name for whipped cream), and enriched custard.
Skelchy is a neat baker. Throughout the class, he did not make a mess of the kitchen, nor did he compromise on hygiene. Not everyone is like Jamie Oliver I guess. “I like Jamie Oliver!” proclaimed Skelchy when someone mentioned the English chef.
In the culinary world, Jamie Oliver is one of the most talented chefs in the world, so it’s no surprise that bakers and chefs respect his skills in the kitchen.
I found some of the techniques in class difficult, but Skelchy makes it effortless.
Someone asked how he got into baking. “It’s a fortunate accident of passion,” said Skelchy, as he performed another “magic trick” that I think would fail if it was in my hands. “Some recipes may look very complicated. ‘Tedious’ would be the word, but with perseverance and mindedness, you can get there.”
What you experience in Baking Barn is out of this world. You would think that the Traditional Trifle would take a lot of effort by the looks of it, but Skelchy made his perfectly without breaking a sweat.
While other classes will teach butter cake as a “mother” recipe, the Hot Milk Vanilla Cake — a cross between a butter cake and sponge cake — is actually a better and tastier option.
Multitasking is another of Skelchy’s strength, as he manages to complete all the recipes on time, all looking pristine and ready to be served.
His students are invited to join in the fun, and some of us were cutting strawberries, grating lemon zest, slicing the Victoria Sandwich and decorating the Trifle.
I’ve only been to one baking class before this, and I can say that Baking Barn’s class is more engaging and interesting.
With about 10 students in a class, there is room for everyone to learn, to participate and to enjoy the experience. Some of the students are hobbyists, some are beginners like me, but all of us share the same love for Just Heavenly’s cakes.
At Baking Barn, learning is straightforward. “Don’t worry about portions, you just have to feel it. There are ratios in cooking that you abide by and once you do that you don’t even need a recipe,” said Skelchy, who usually bakes by “feeling”.
He says that once you have learned the rules, you know which to bend. That way, you can have interesting twists to your cakes while maintaining the quality.
At the end of the class, everyone was feeling hungry. The aroma of the lemon thyme, the fragrance of the freshly baked Hot Vanilla Milk Cake and the sight of the yummy looking desserts was just so tempting.
And after two hours of non-stop baking, laughter and hands-on experimenting, it was time to be rewarded with the results.
Exceptional and simply heavenly, the cakes exceeded my expectations.
For me, it was the Lemon Thyme Drizzle Cake that did it. I couldn’t wait to try baking it at home. The students happily polished off their plates with each of the desserts. Everyone wanted to come for the next four classes.
Check out Baking Barn for information about its classes.