Shhh, don’t tell everyone, but there’s a little paradise for food lovers just up the A85 in Perthshire. The highland town of Crieff is quickly making a name for itself as a don’t-miss destination for those who appreciate the finer delights of fresh local produce and artisan talents.
Residents and visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to foodie treat in Crieff. The streets are lined with a rich variety of high quality restaurants and cafés, along with regular market days and incredible independent suppliers that you won’t find anywhere else.
Campbell’s Bakery is a small award-winning craft bakery based in Crieff. Campbell’s have been baking since 1830, making them one of Scotland’s oldest family bakers, and their granary bread has just been voted the best bread in Scotland.
Seventh generation baker Iain Campbell has baking in his DNA. Together with wife Ailsa, Iain has recently launched Campbell’s Bake School – a unique opportunity to learn from a highly skilled craftsman who has won many awards including the prestigious British Confectioners’ Association Challenge Cup in 2012. He has a wealth of baking knowledge which he loves to share and has trained two of his apprentices to win Young Scottish Baker of the Year in 2009 and 2014.
The Bake School offers a range of opportunities for novices or those looking to brush up their skills. I most definitely fall into the novice category when it comes to baking, but when the invite comes to check out the one of the first classes in the Bake School programme and learn to make some Summer Berry Favourites, I don’t need to be asked twice!
The couple have big plans for the Bake School, and hope to expand their King Street premises to include a purpose-built classroom. For now, my four classmates and I gather round a large stainless steel topped table at the heart of the bakery and put on our branded white Campbell’s aprons, fresh from the packet. I’ve never been in a commercial bakery before, so I take in all the surrounding equipment with wide eyes. I feel a bit like Alice through the looking glass; everything is giant scale – a huge mixer, and ovens that take up a whole wall. There are loaf tins staked in a rack with such an ancient-looking patina, I can almost imagine that they have been used by all seven generations.
I meet Margaret, who regularly drives up from the West Coast to her caravan in Crieff. (Just over an hour in the car and it feels like I am on holiday!) She is keen to learn ‘what my mum never taught me’ and has booked in for nearly all the upcoming Bake School classes.
Dawn and Jennifer have joined us from Crieff Hydro Hotel, where they deal with event bookings and regularly advise guests on activities within the area. Both profess to being novice bakers, but we find out later when a little bit of ‘Bake Off- style’ competition kicks in, that Dawn’s cake decorating experience definitely gives her an edge over the rest of us.
Judith is a regular customer at Campbell’s Bakery in Comrie. She’s chosen to come to the Summer Berry Favourites class as her son adores the strawberry tarts. Who doesn’t love a strawberry tart?
Hands washed, hair tied back and we are ready to begin. We are aiming to create a summer berry cheesecake, a large strawberry flan and some small strawberry tarts in the three-and-a-half-hour class.
Once we’ve mixed the butter into crushed digestive and pressed our base into tins, they are whisked away by Ailsa to chill in the fridge. Then, we are given our pastry dough to roll out and line the cases for the large tarts. Iain demonstrates rolling and turning and rolling the pastry, making it look easy as he lifts the perfect, even circle quickly into the case. Of course, it’s not that easy, and hilarity ensues when we try and lift our mangled dough into the pans, leaving half stuck to the table. I manage to patch the holes in mine and reason that the fruit will cover it anyway.
The tart cases are baked blind in the oven, and we turn our attention to the cheesecake filling, blending the ingredients smooth with a hand spatula. The Summer Berry Cheesecake is one of Campbell’s best sellers and I can understand why. I can’t resist licking my fingers after. It’s amazing!
The pastry cases are ready, and Ian brings out a bain marie of melted chocolate, that he always keeps warm and ready. It smells incredible. Iain demonstrates lightly brushing the pastry case with the thinnest layer of chocolate, to stop the cream soaking into the pastry. I can’t believe no-one takes this opportunity to make a soggy bottom joke.
Somehow, when we come to attempt it, all our cases end up swimming in the stuff.
“Can you have too much chocolate?” asks Jennifer, as she unsuccessfully tries to brush some out of the base.
“Noooooo!” comes reply in chorus. Turns out that yes, you can. If it’s an inch thick on top of the base it makes it very hard to slice your tart. Never mind, at least it filled in some of the holes!
The freshest, sweetest, strawberries are brought out, along with some gorgeous ruby coloured raspberries. Ian explains his passion for using local Perthshire produce wherever he can. There’s a reason our wee Shire is famous for its soft fruit! We all get to try a sample – or two.
I’ve never used a piping bag before, and once again, while Iain’s practised hand makes delicate swirls of whipped cream look simple, I seem to be squeezing my bag like a tube of toothpaste.
Iain’s not the only one in the family with piping skills, either. As we fill our pastry cases with cream and strawberries, daughter Isla is practicing a medley of well-known Scottish tunes on her bagpipes outside. We are shown a variety of ways to decorate the large tart cases, and provided with an inspiring range of chocolate curls, squares etc so we can really go to town with our individual creativity. The finished results look brilliant, and we’re all dead chuffed!
Last, but not least, we get to fill some (ready prepared, phew!) pastry cases with the traditional strawberry tart combo – squirt of cream, whole juicy strawberry and lashings and lashings of sticky red sauce.
“We actually do have a recipe for creating our own red syrup,” says Ian. “But we’ve not found a satisfactory method of storing the enormous quantities we require, without it spoiling. We need to experiment with that a bit more.”
Just a short walk up the road, however, is another of Crieff’s foodie highlights. J. L. Gill is a family run business specialising in high quality Scottish food and drink, and one of the few traditional high street grocers left in Scotland. They have traded from their High Street premises for the last 125 years, and delicious strawberry tart jelly is just one of their many products that can be purchased from the store or shipped worldwide.
We were thoroughly spoiled during our time at Campbell’s, with a delicious afternoon tea provided by Ailsa, the gift of our aprons and beautiful presentation boxes supplied to take our creations home in. The classes are proving extremely popular with excellent feedback from participants.
Click here to find details of the next Bake School class which includes classes in bread making and Christmas baking.