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Our Christmas Dinner Date with the Hairy Bikers

posted Jan 4, 2011, 3:25 PM by Sophie Jewett   [ updated Jan 4, 2011, 4:54 PM ]

We were very greedy this Christmas as we had an extra special Christmas Dinner with Si and Dave - otherwise known as The Hairy Bikers. They invited us to make Macarons with them for their Mum Knows Best Christmas Special being filmed at Burton Agnes Hall in early December. Well we know we don't often have Macarons in our repertoire at Little Pretty Things but we didn't want to disappoint and having had a whole lifetime of baking we just had to say yes, besides they let us add in our own special twist with our fruity flavoured ganache centres to give a creamy contrast to the crisp almond meringue shells.

This was our first escapade into TV, having grown up at drama school I was used to the stage, but never so keen at seeing or hearing myself played back, I was anxious but quite excited about how the day would turn out. Well I was until I realised that the torrential snow blizzards meant I had to concentrate on just getting there in one piece rather than worry about the day ahead, I set off towards Bridlington to Burton Agnes with about 2 inches of snow on top of 2 inches of ice, well at least it was going to look gorgeous. The show follows mums from around the country, as Si and Dave visit them and learn about their traditions and tips for their own cuisines, the mums then came together on the day to cook their recipes for an eager audience before we all sat down at the end of the day to enjoy the Christmas feast. Well I eventually got there, wrapped out like a woolly mammoth in my little car, I arrived just as they were filming the opening scene for the day - you can see my little KA in the background - and learned very quickly that there's not much natural in BBC filming, watching several staged arrivals and greetings of the mums it became apparent why so many people were needed for one hour long show.

Well the snow made the place look absolutely stunning, Burton Agnes Hall is an Elizabethan stately home, that has stayed within the same home for over 400 years, if ever there was a Christmas wonderland of bygone times I had just walked into it. And was very grateful I got to stay there - the original intention was I would be cooking in a glass house on the lawn, however I think the foot deep snow on the path between the hall and the glass house encouraged the producers to find an alternative. Setting up on an ancient table in front of the largest fireplace even Father Christmas could have easily got down I set about making Macarons - well trying to anyway. With 10 people cooking throughout the day and 1 old gas oven and a classic stately home Aga, this was going to be an interesting experience. The first batch had a bit of a run in with the camera as I was torn away to start filming, the second batch got a bit neglected as the timer got forgotten, finally the third batch were closely watched and came out perfectly, much to my relief. At least I was going to have something for the bikers to taste.

Next to film my bit, I've been famed for the metal tips I have on my high heeled shoes - walking on York's cobbles you need them, the sound guys seemed quite excited by the clip cloppy sound they made on the stone floor, so we had lots of takes of me walking in from the snowy outside. Next - slowly making each stage of the Macarons to be filmed. 1 - grind almonds and icing sugar and sieve. 2 - separate 3 eggs - doesn't matter how many times I've split an egg this made me very nervous. 3 -   whisk the egg white with a pinch of salt - easier said than done, having forgotten my own salt every shop on the way had sold out as everyone was buying it to melt the snow - I managed to pinch some from the kitchen. 4 - fold in the caster sugar and add colouring - lots other wise it bakes out and doesn't show as vividly as you'd like. 5 - fold in the ground almonds and icing sugar and place into a piping bag to pipe out. Phew - managed it all under the stress of being watched like a hawk. Having been an avid Blue Peter fan I love doing demos and desperate to use the phrase "here's one I made earlier", but the thought of this being recorded just couldn't stop me laughing.

Macarons are gorgeous little treats, for years I have ogled them in the windows of the French patisseries and chocolatiers on each visit, a crispy meringue shell made with ground almonds to add flavour they have a slightly chewy texture with a bit more body than meringue, sandwiched together with your choice of filling - ganache, lemon curd, butter cream icing. Well it had to be ganache really, having tried lots of Macarons I felt it was important to have a creamy accompaniment to the otherwise crispy, sweet shell, that way the shells could be kept the same and coloured to match the flavour of the ganache filling.

Demo bit done, I was then joined by the gentlemen themselves to film their bit with me, ever the professionals, and as real in person as they are on the screen, only a few minutes and we were done. I talked to them about Macarons, they had a go at piping, they were a bit cheeky and then it was over and they moved on to Olivia to film her making Christmas decorations. The guys then went off to film their central part of the day, their demo and making for the audience in the main marquee. I was lucky enough to get asked to stay for the feast at the end of the day enjoying everyone's creations. A bit cold by the time we all were able to sit down, it was a fantastic feast and a great way to start the festive season, my favourites were the Chicken Tagine - so many christmasy flavours, and the Kingy pudding with almost like a bakewell tart, definitely my favourite.

All in all it was a lovely day, I met lots of interesting people and of course had some chocolates to send the bikers home with, Burton Agnes Hall was gorgeous, after years of running state dinners in historic settings it was a magical honour to be a guest at one. I really didn't like seeing myself when it came to the actual showing but I'm not sure anyone ever does. I'd like to give a special thanks to Carl - Ministry for Chocolate and Gareth at the BBC for their help, and of course Si and Dave.

You can visit the website for the show and access all of the gorgeous recipes created for the program by the Mums and the Bikers and of course the Little Pretty Macaroons here.
Sophie Jewett,
Jan 4, 2011, 4:50 PM