Cake making in Cheshire
PUBLISHED: 12:00 17 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:11 20 February 2013
Meet Leah Stevenson, the Rainow cook whose future seems to be baking to perfection
It would be easy to be envious of Leah Stevenson. Shes only 27 and already shes worked as a confectionery and pantry buyer for Harrods and managed Shoreditchs upmarket foodie heaven, Rivington Deli.
She now runs her own business, Leahs Pantry, from Harrop Fold Farm, Rainow, the multi-award winning bed and breakfast run by her parents David and Sue.
The view from her former cow barn turned kitchen an homage to girly designers Cath Kidston and Peggy Porschen - is uninterrupted countryside and rolling valleys. Mornings are spent collecting eggs from the hens on the family farm, her days baking delicately fashioned, too-pretty-to-eat cupcakes and her evenings cooking up treats for willing and eager guests.
If Leah gets time she makes handmade chocolates with fianc and Swiss Michelin-starred chef Michael Riemenschneider, former head chef of Juniper.
It would all be quite sickening but for the fact that this passionate foodie has worked so hard to make it all happen. Truth is, this young entrepreneur, has done everything she could to get the business off the ground.
She said: I rang one of the producers I used to deal with through work. I couldnt get hold of her and when she rang me back she told me shed been out in the garden picking some herbs. I was so envious, I wanted to do that, I had to do it. I was missing home too so I rang my mum and told her I was coming back. I think she was a bit shocked but the whole family have been so supportive.
It is a given that Leah, who trained at leading London culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu, is passionate for British cooking and local produce. Although she is not a conventionally trained chef, cooking with her grandma, Meg Stevenson and her nanna, Jackie Moore, as well as with her mum, stood her in good stead.
She teams influences from friend and chef Mark Hix and Cheshire chef Simon Rimmer in her food as well as taking full advantage of the fresh fruit and vegetables available in the county. Her dad and family friends supply most of the meat she cooks up, the herbs come from the garden and the eggs are from hens on the farm.
She said: There is no reason to get it anywhere else when I have it here on my doorstep. The produce is very good around here and Im lucky that there are people I know rearing animals too.
But its great being able to be creative with it. Theres nothing better than a group of friends or daughters and mothers coming in and just having fun making the cupcakes for a day. Little girls love it too. Im very lucky to be doing a job I love.
As well as being shortlisted for a Best Supporter of Local Produce award from Visit Chester and Cheshire, she also won the title of Barclays Best Family Business, an award shared with the bed and breakfast. In June she will begin canaps demonstrations and courses too.
She has cooked for some well-known people including Mel Harris and teams from Radio 3 who recorded some of the radio plays at the farm recently.
Leah was shortlisted in June 2007 by VCC Annual Awards for Best Supporter of Local Produce.
On April 21st Leah and mum, Sue, will appear on a new Channel 4 series, Three in a Bed, that road tests three different bed and breakfasts each week before declaring a winner.
Its a bit like Come Dine with Me but for bed and breakfasts. We took it in turns to stay at each others places. It was really good fun. I didnt know how theyd react to my side of the business but one of the men in particular really got stuck in. Youll have to wait and see the programme to find out who won though.
But I always knew I would work with food, simply because I love it so much. I thought becoming chef sounded like too many long hours and hard work. I still work hard but Im doing something I absolutely adore.
Macaroons with chocolate cream filling
(Makes 25 macaroons)
For the macaroon cases
125g almonds, ground
250g icing sugar
4 egg whites
30g caster sugar
Food colouring of your choice
For the filling
100g plain chocolate
142ml (one pot) cream
Whisk egg whites to stiff peaks and then add caster sugar. Sift the icing sugar and add to the almonds.
Add a spoon of egg white mixture into the almond mix and then fold all of the almond mix into the egg white. Add a few drops of food colouring of your choice, bright colours work well.
If you want to make several different colours, split the mix into separate bowls and then add the separate food colouring to separate bowls. Leave the mixture for five to ten minutes to stiffen up.
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees centigrade. Spoon the mixture out onto a lined baking tray to make dollops of the mixture. Use separate spoons to avoid a mixture of colours if you are using several.
Place in the oven for around five minutes. The edges will start to go crispy and the colour will have faded on the cooked side.
Turn the macaroons over and do for one minute on the other side.
Once completed, use a cutter to make them all into the same shape and to get rid of the crispy edges. You can use a knife to make the edges neater if you would like.
For the filling: Melt the plain chocolate and butter together. Whip the cream and then add the melted chocolate. Put the mixture into a piping bag, pipe it onto the cooked side of the macaroon, smooth the chocolate down with a knife and then place another macaroon on top.