Northcote Cookery School has replaced cookbooks with iPads / Northcote Cookery School

Tablet apps can make a good alternative to cookery books — and can still be operated without hands. David Phelan takes in a cookery school taught using a tablet, and explores the best apps for Christmas chefs

Are you still in denial about Christmas? Gifts are one thing, but what about Christmas dinner? Tablets, such as the iPad, are here to help.

One cookery school in Lancashire, the Northcote Cookery School, has a one-day cookery course which can guide you through making Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, mince pies and brandy butter. When you visit, the course recipes are sitting on the immaculate chef’s table which doubles as the school room.

But alongside the paperwork for each student is an iPad, loaded with the same content in an iBook. And it’s true that the iPad is a much more appealing version. Can’t read the text? Zoom in. Want to read about the history of mince pies? Scroll through the words in the colourful box. Splash it with your brandy butter mix, as I did in an overzealous moment of tasting, and the iPad easily wipes clean while the paper version was smudged and sticky. You’ll be glad to know I didn’t spill much and it actually tasted quite good.

 

Images of what your pudding should look like are onscreen to be enlarged and envied. As you start making your festive fayre, the iPad is a more convenient way to read your instructions by propping it up on its stand where it takes up less space on the worktop than a spread-out folder. And if you’re a new or uncertain cook, this is important.

Cooking up apps

Michael Vanheste, Head Tutor at the cookery school, wrote the iPad version of the recipes, instructions and extra content. “It was straightforward to write,” he told me. “I used iBooks Author and it’s easy to add images, animation and more.” The iBooks Author program is a free app available for use on the Mac. “It made it easy to create the content without having to learn technical IT skills such as HTML code. The program is easy to understand and with a little experimenting I’ve been able to impress our customers.”

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The app was created on Apple's free iBooks Author software, which allows anyone to create ebooks complete with animations and images

So far, so good. But what do you do when your fingers are covered in flour, butter and brandy? That’s where some apps are proving invaluable. Like Great British Chefs and its sister app Great British Chefs Feastive (terrible name, great app). Both feature recipes from a selection of leading chefs like Marcus Wareing and Tom Aikens.

The first of the apps has a useful microphone feature where you can avoid touching the screen at all. Simply say ‘Next” or “Back” and the recipe advances to the appropriate step. This is very handy.

Look, no hands

And both apps also include timers so you can touch the clock icon and set a timer to remind you when to take the dough out of the oven. Though if your iPad or iPhone is plugged in and on wi-fi, you can simply say “Hey Siri” and the built-in voice-activated assistant will launch and can set a timer, among other things, without you having to touch the iDevice. And it’s certainly worth changing the time at which the screen locks if you’re using the iPad in the kitchen, so it doesn’t turn off at the crucial moment.

Other apps have different helpful functions. Windows tablet users can turn to Food & Drink where waving your (toffee- or gravy-covered) hand past the front-facing camera turns the page.

Beyond apps, there are plenty of interactive recipe books such as Mary Berry Winter Cookbook (iPad, £2.99) or MasterChef Cookery Course (iPad, £7.99). Features range from touch-interactive recipes to lots of tips on cooking.

For the last word, Michael Vanheste at Northcote had tips of his own when it came to preparing for Christmas cooking. “When you’re going to entertain people around Christmas, whether it’s all the family or just for two, my top tip would be to get yourself organised.  Write lists, gather recipes and do your shopping.  Have all your ingredients prepared and weighed out so that you can focus on the cooking itself.  Work out what you can prepare some days in advance to make it easy on yourself on the big day.”

Good luck.

For cookery courses at Northcote Cookery School go to www.northcote.com/cookery-school

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