If you are a fan of the Glasgow food scene, then you may know Helen Vass. She is pastry chef at 2AA Rosette restaurant, Number 16, in the West End of the city. You may also know her from being part of the winning team of professional pastry chefs, along with Samantha Rain, winner of UK Junior Chocolate Master in 2014, and Mark Tilling, established chocolatier and UK Chocolate Master, teacher and pastry chef, who competed in Bake Off: Crème de la Crème earlier this year.
Ever since her success in Bake Off, Helen has been in demand to share her desserts and expertise. And one of the routes that she has taken to reach this demand is to host dessert pop-up events in her home town of Glasgow. How she has manages to fit the preparation for such events into her schedule as a restaurant pastry chef is quite remarkable.
I was fortunate to buy a ticket for her most recent pop-up, held in Studio 93 is Glasgow: a beautiful venue, tucked away beside the River Kelvin, with a state of the art demonstration kitchen and photography studio space.
My friend who was initially chumming me couldn’t make it at the last minute, but my dear friend, Barry, met through the Glasgow Cake Club, jumped at the chance to sub Mhairi, and off we went. And what a wonderful afternoon we had.
Despite arriving horrible late, we were greeted very warmly by Helen, and immediately offered a glass of Perelada Brut Rosé Cava D.O Cava. She then explained a little bit about the menu and how she would be assembling and demonstrating each course.
Helen is very influenced by her experiences working in Barcelona. After completing her HNC in Patisserie at the City of Glasgow College in 2014, during which she worked weekends at Blythswood Square Hotel, she moved there to hone her skills further. She had previously learned a great deal from World Champion Pastry Chef, Jordi Bordas, whilst working in his patisserie in Barcelona in 2011. Spanish World Chocolate Master, Hans Ovando, has also been a large influence and inspiration in her pastry career.
The Amouse Bouche consisted of Sourdough toast with Chocolate Cremeux, olive oil and vanilla sea salt. The texture of the cremeux was like satin. Helen explained that she relies, like many pastry chefs, on her hand or stick blender to ensure the smoothest of textures in many components of her desserts. This was a revelation to me, and I think I will follow her advice to invest in a much better, sturdier version than the domestic blender that knocks about my kitchen.
Next, she presented us with one of my favourite flavour combinations: raspberry and pistachio. The Pistachio, Raspberry and Pink Cava Verrine consisted of three delightful layers of different flavours and textures. She explained that many boozy desserts lose the flavour hit, and promised that this Cava rosado mousse would be true to the Castell Perelada cava from which it was made, and it really was. It was light and creamy, balanced well with the tart Scottish raspberry compote and sweet pistachio crumble. She passed round the Italian pistachios for us to smell their aroma and observe their vivid, green colour.
As part of her explanations about her style of cooking, Helen emphasised how she is keen to balance the levels of sugar in her desserts and only uses whipping cream. This is not for health benefits, she was quick to point out, but for mouth feel and lightness on the palate. And truly, as we progressed through essentially four desserts, I didn’t feel overwhelmed by a cloying sweetness or creaminess. She had judged the balance and order of everything perfectly.
Next up was probably my favourite course and the thing I want most to learn to make (I did ask her once last year if she would be running classes on this very dessert), the Chocolate Entremet.
It consisted of a chocolate and hazelnut dacquoise sponge; chocolate, praline and salted fried corn (Kikos in Spanish, and an absolute new favourite for me) crunch; Praline cremeux; dark chocolate mousse (54% cocoa solids); covered in a chocolate mirror glaze; whole Kikos; and Arribas origin milk chocolate discs, from Ecuador. This was my perfect dessert: smooth and creamy chocolate with a nutty and salted corn crunch to lift it to another level of delight. It wasn’t too rich or heavy like many chocolate desserts can be: it was perfect.
And it was perfectly paired with this delicious muscat: Liablis Muscat 2015 D.O Valles de Sadacia. It also wasn’t overly sweet, but light and brought out the salted corn, or Kikos, very well.
Our last course was so imaginative and fun. Helen explained that it would normally be a surprise, but as she was assembling in front of us, we would understand the process and see the components as she went along. I, personally, really enjoyed this aspect to the session. We were free to ask questions and Helen was so good at answering freely whilst expertly assembling in front of us.
I love it when professionals aren’t precious about their “secrets” and are comfortable enough of their own skills that they can share advice to those who are interested. And Helen is one of those generous souls.
The last dessert was Helen’s take on Lemon Meringue but consisted of a lemon shaped chocolate exterior, filled with a lemon cremeux, meringues and sablé biscuits. Again, it was well balanced and combined fruitiness, sharpness and sweet chocolate. And we all had fun breaking in to our lemons when they were presented to us.
This was served with another Spanish sparking wine; Seguar Vivdas Aria Brut Nature D.O Cava.
Once we had completed this course we moved to the studio space where tea, coffee and macarons were served, though the Cava still flowed for those who still fancied fizz.
This was an even more relaxed environment, and Helen took the opportunity to talk to all of her guests. No diva here!
Barry and I absolutely loved our afternoon with Helen. We were delighted with the food; curious and questioning of her knowledge; and overwhelmed by her approachable and friendly manner.
At £50 a ticket, it’s something that you have to plan to do in advance, but for the quality of ingredients, finished desserts and wine, it is exceptionally good value. If you are interested in eating world class desserts, and are interested in how they are made and knowing more about the ingredients and components, then get yourself along to one of Helen Vass’ future Dulce events. You won’t be disappointed.
Thank you, Helen, for a fabulous afternoon.