Lanlard will be in town this weekend to share his baking expertise. We talk to the celebrity chef about all things cake
Celebrity chef Eric Lanlard: baking and patisserie – it’s chemistry
If evidence were needed that the baking craze has hit the UAE, look to this year’s Taste of Abu Dhabi, which has added a dedicated Big Baking Tent to its line-up of attractions. Presiding over much of the action will be celebrity chef and master patissier Eric Lanlard, who owns the popular South West London shop Cake Boy, is the author of eight books and a star of Channel Four’s Glamour Puds and Baking Mad series. He tells us about participating in the Abu Dhabi event, dealing with baking disasters and why gluten-free is not the same as diet.
Bakeoffs and bake-a-longs
Lanlard will be involved in several events during Taste of Abu Dhabi, judging dozens of entries from local cake-makers as part of the Big Baking Tent Bake Off, which takes place on Saturday from 6.45pm to 7.30pm. He’ll also lead a series of 40-minute Baking Masterclasses, which will see 24 participants try to follow his lead in making a chocolate-chip cookie in a skillet. He expects things to go awry.
“You’d be surprised, even as easy as we try to keep it, with all the ingredients ready, how people manage to get it seriously wrong,” he says. Most of the time, people mess up their baking because they approach it as they would cooking – and they are two completely different processes. “With cooking, you can be slightly fixable and you can go your own way, swapping ingredients you haven’t got, that you don’t like,” Lanlard explains.
“Baking and patisserie – it’s chemistry. You talk about the precision, you talk about the sticking to the recipe. If you are a beginner, if you are someone who just started, you can’t just decide: ‘Oh I’m going to put more baking powder because my cake is going to rise higher and faster.’ It will, but it will collapse even faster.”
The right way to bake
Baking needs to be approached with precision and organisation, he continues. “You can’t be rushed, as well,” he says. “I always say to people: ‘Get all your ingredients ready, get in the zone, enjoy the process as you go along.’ If you are under pressure to do something, if the kids are running around, you can be sure something will go wrong.” Above all else, baking should be enjoyable, relaxing and rewarding. “That’s how I fell in love with baking when I was younger, to be honest,” he says. “A lot of people use it as a therapy, people who have mental health issues, or baking groups.”
And even then…
Disasters happen weekly at Cake Boy, says Lanlard. The only difference is that they go wrong in giant quantities; for example, 20 trays of ruined brownies. “You know, we are like people at home, we are not gods. You put the trays in the oven and then you turn around to clear your table and you find the butter, or the sugar, still sitting in a bowl on the table, or the baking powder,” he says.
When the chef and his team make cakes for events and VIPs, they always bring extras – whether it’s icing, sugar flowers or other decorations – and a back-up plan. He once agreed to swap an important ingredient in a wedding cake at the insistence of the celebrity bride-to-be, knowing it wouldn’t work. When they arrived at the venue, all of the icing was sliding off.
“We re-iced the whole cake completely,” he recalls. “I learnt the hard way that it doesn’t matter who it is, if it’s no, it should be no.” Sometimes things go wrong and Lanlard’s team has no idea why – it’s just one of those days. “When people come to our baking school here, I’m always happy to put my hands up and tell them: ‘Don’t despair, do it again.’ If the recipe is foolproof, it should be fine.”
Ahead of his time
Lanlard, one of the first chefs to have a show about baking on television, remembers a time before it was trendy. It was about 15 years ago, well before The Great British Bake Off became a phenomenon, that he started knocking on doors of publishers, trying to meet producers and agents. “They were all like: ‘What? Baking? This is for the Women’s Institute. This is for old people; young people don’t bake cakes and nobody eats sweets.’ And blah blah blah.” Then the concept spread everywhere, much of it spearheaded by nostalgia and a yearning for simplicity. “Suddenly and very quickly, everyone had all these lovely memories of baking with their mum or their grandparents, and licking the spoon and spending some time in the kitchen,” says Lanlard. “That’s how it all started and we haven’t looked back.”
Cake Boy does gluten-free and vegan, too
The Brittany-born baker finds it funny that the young dieting mummies who come into his shop in South West London seem to view his gluten-free offerings as some sort of diet food. “For a lot of them, we use nut flour instead of flour, so we are actually putting in more calories,” he says. “We try to remind people in a gentle way, it’s not that there are no calories because it’s gluten-free.”
Veganism, on the other hand, is really starting to take off in the United Kingdom, and Cake Boy, now happily caters to that crowd, says Lanlard. “We do a full vegan afternoon tea, which is actually doing very well, with a proper dedicated menu, which is very nice, because vegan people are used to being treated like second-class citizens. It’s almost like an afterthought.
“So when they come to Cake Boy and they see the afternoon tea and taste it they say: ‘Oh, no we’re spoiled for life, we can’t eat cakes anywhere else now.’”
Cake does not have to be fattening
“Because I’m French, people always ask me why French ladies are so skinny, since they eat cakes all the time,” the chef tells me. The truth is, French women eat small amounts of cake, usually of a very high-quality they are willing to pay for, because it’s a treat. “Maybe you will go once a week with your friend to the patisserie and sit down, but you will have one cake a week and that’s it,” he says.
Unrefined sugar, butter, the best, most natural ingredients, small portions – these are the elements that go into a delicious, guilt-free cake, he concludes.
Eric Lanlard will be at Taste of Abu Dhabi, from Thursday to Saturday, at du Arena, Yas Island