BBC Lifestyle channel’s Baking Mad star Eric Lanlard shares the secret of his baking success.
IT is a little after three in the afternoon when French master patissier Eric Lanlard walks into the culinary studio at Starhill Gallery in Kuala Lumpur for his pastry master class, the second one of the day, with members of the Malaysian media.
“Do you like to bake?” he asks, and then laughs when his question is met with nervous laughter.
Despite having been on his feet since nine that morning, conducting interviews and master classes for the Malaysian media, Lanlard shows no sign of fatigue. Instead, he flashes us a big, warm smile and makes small talk, sharing his experience eating at a mamak stall and his encounter with the infamous Malaysian bean, petai.
“It has a very ... strong smell. I had it last night with some beautiful prawns. It was very good but I made sure I brushed my teeth thoroughly before going to sleep to get rid of the smell. But when I woke up this morning, the smell was still in my mouth! I didn’t know what was going on ...” he says, still a little perplexed.
One of the perks of travelling so much, he admits, is getting to try new and different flavours from around the world. Travel, he says, is one of the great sources of culinary inspiration for him and the inspiration behind the Matcha and Yuzu Tart which we were about to make.
“It is a variation of the classic lemon tart using Asian flavours of green tea powder and yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit that tastes like a mix of lemon and mandarin,” he says as he starts to guide us through the recipe.
Lanlard, 44, was in Kuala Lumpur to promote his show on BBC Lifestyle, Baking Mad With Eric Lanlard, in which he shares his tips on producing mouth-watering (and beautiful) cakes and desserts with ease. The show also pits amateur cooks against each other in weekly bake-off challenges aimed at discovering home-grown baking talent in Britain where he lives and runs his cake boutique, Cake Boy.
The two-time winner of the prestigious Continental Patissier of the Year award (at the British Baking Awards) has a clientele of A-list celebrities like Madonna (he made a massive croquembouche for her wedding to Guy Ritchie), Elizabeth Hurley and Claudia Schiffer (for whom he made their wedding cakes), the Beckhams and the Queen Mother (he made her 101st birthday cake in the shape of a hat topped with two corgis wearing tiaras made from sugar craft!).
“The press loves it ... the fact that I’ve made cakes for all these celebrities but I don’t want it to seem like I only make cakes for celebrities or that my cakes are too expensive. At Cake Boy, we treat every customer like a celebrity,” he says.
While his dessert masterpieces earn him high praise, Lanlard stresses that the first rule for any baker is to make sure that a dessert tastes as good as it looks.
“A lot of people want to make beautiful looking desserts but it is important to know the basics first. You can create beautiful decorations but if the cake is not good ... it’s not going to work.”
Born to bake
Landlard says that he knew he wanted to be a patissier early in his life, joking in past interviews that he must have been born in a mixing bowl with a whisk in one hand and a rolling pin in the other.
“My parents claim that I was five years old when I announced my intention of becoming a pastry chef. I can’t remember that but I did start making cakes at a young age.
“I used to love going to patisseries with my dad and mum when I was a kid. It wasn’t about eating the food I saw because I don’t have a sweet tooth, really ... but it was all about the glamour of those patisseries.
“In France, patisseries are like jewellery shops ... beautiful cakes and pastries are wrapped up in a pretty box with ribbons and people are prepared to pay a lot of money for them because they are of such high quality. The French appreciate that, and they walk in the street proudly with their patisserie bag. I loved that sense of occasion you get when you step into a patisserie,” he gushes.
At home in Brittany in France, with the encouragement of his parents who also loved to bake, cook and entertain, Lanlard would experiment in the kitchen and his cakes often won the praise of his neighbours and his parents’ friends.
“At one stage when I was 10, I got a small baking business going. Everyone used to tell me how nice my cakes were so I decided to sell them. I put a table outside my house and sold the cakes that I had baked. And I was making so much money that my mother threatened to start charging me for the ingredients because I’d used up all of hers,” he says with a laugh.
After graduating as the second best apprentice in France, Lanlard joined the navy for his compulsory national service where he not only got the chance to travel and expose his palate to new flavours and ingredients, but also where he got the chance to cook for the French president at the time, Francois Mitterrand.
“I was on the French Navy’s flagship fleet as the captain’s pastry chef. Only in France does the captain of the navy have his own pastry chef!” he jokes.
“It was a beautiful ship that would go all over the world and I would get to cook for people on board in the places where we docked. It was a tremendous experience because it was just me – I was just 18 at the time – and two apprentice chefs on board.
The first time we had to cook for an official function on board was for the president. And he was very impressed with the food ... he came into the kitchen after the meal and thanked us for the food and he gave me some gold cufflinks, which I still wear today,” he says with pride.
Baking with the best
For Lanlard, baking with the best ingredients is crucial in creating good desserts. If there was one valuable tip he can offer amateur bakers, it is that they have to use good quality ingredients – real butter instead of margarine, good quality chocolate and pure vanilla extract instead of flavouring.
Another, he says, is to follow a recipe to the very last detail – which is something he still does – because baking, unlike cooking, is a precise science.
“Baking is not like cooking where you can just throw in ingredients and replace one ingredient with another if you don’t have it with you. Baking is very precise and you have to follow a recipe,” he cautions.
When asked if he found any dessert still a challenge, Lanlard doesn’t hesitate for a second.
“Macarons! They are a nightmare. And, if any pastry chef tells you that making macarons is not a nightmare, they are lying. You never know what might go wrong because there are so many factors to consider when making macarons,” says Lanlard.
By this time, we had completed the Matcha and Yuzu Tart which Lanlard had masterfully decorated with fresh fruit dusted with icing sugar.
“Shall we taste it?” he asks, cutting into the masterpiece which was, needless to say, exquisite.