Eric Lanlard, celebrity baker and one of the best patissiers in the world, celebrates one of England’s most loved traditions with a vibrant new book, Afternoon Tea
Words: Sudi Pigott
I really don’t have a sweet tooth,’ confides Eric Lanlard as we sip champagne over afternoon tea at his glamorous Battersea Reach Cake Boy boutique, ‘yet I adore baking and my cakes are never as sweet as others.’
It is a surprising confession from the celebrity baker who is hailed by Vanity Fair, no less, as one of the best patissiers in the world – and down to the fact we are here discussing his new book, Eric Lanlard’s Afternoon Tea.
Lanlard’s fascination with afternoon tea started as a child of seven when he came over to England for a weekend with his Anglophile mother on the ferry from his home in Brittany. ‘My mother had heard it was the ultimate English tradition and we experienced the full works with scones and clotted cream at a tea shop in Portsmouth,’ he grins.
‘We were so full as we’d only just had lunch and we were not expecting such a spread. We loved it. Before we left my mother bought a floral tea set so that we could re-create it at home.’
He loves the fact that a little element of his career has come full circle. He has recently created an afternoon tea menu for P&O Cruises, including savoury macarons with smoked salmon from the new book, and shots of Eton mess with DIY pipettes for spraying raspberry puree on the meringues at the last moment so that they don’t go soggy.
He is in great demand for devising afternoon tea menus for hotels too including The Sheraton Park Lane in London and Le Royal Meridien, Abu Dhabi. ‘Everyone has gone baking mad and they are getting more and more experimental, so it seemed perfect timing for a book offering more daring and creative ideas.’
Everyone has gone baking mad and they are getting more and more experimental, so it seemed perfect timing for a book offering more daring and creative ideas
The savoury macarons are a case in point and Lanlard succeeds in making the method seem achievable, as well as including plenty of unusual and enticing flavour combinations such as hazelnut with pumpkin puree, walnut and docalatte, parma ham and fig macarons.
I’ve always been wary of making choux pastry and ever the pro, Lanlard swiftly puts me right: ‘The mixture needs to dry out after adding the flour, so put it back on the stove to get most of the moisture out. Rest the mixture to cool before adding eggs. Then open the door halfway through cooking to get rid of the steam to ensure the eclairs crisp up on the outside.’
He finds coming up with new flavour combinations easy. ‘I tend to have an instinct for what will work, especially if I start with ingredients I particularly like and think about texture too.’ He is particularly partial to Middle Eastern influences like rose water and pistachio that he incorporates into scones.
Lanlard moved to the UK back in 1989 forsaking life as a pastry chef in the French Navy to work with the renowned Roux Brothers. Since then he has achieved global fame, and he is author of no fewer than six baking books and has starred in his own TV series, Glamour Puds and Baking Mad on Channel 4.
He is immensely personable, always laughing and great company, yet pleasingly outspoken too. He doesn’t shy away from criticism of the current TV baking programme, Bake Off: Crème de la Crème. ‘It is totally unrealistic as they don’t allow the contestants enough time to properly show off their precision and artistry. In France, we call the pastry kitchen the Laboratoire for good reason. Great baking cannot be rushed.’
In France, we call the pastry kitchen the Laboratoire for good reason. Great baking cannot be rushed
Despite his success, Lanlard’s day-to-day life remains at Cake Boy in Battersea. His day starts at 6.30am working alongside two chefs in the kitchen to have everything ready for their 8am opening. ‘I still love walking into the kitchen in the morning,’ he smiles. The rest of the day is spent developing recipes, doing interviews, and even finding time to set up the City Fund Advisory Committee for the Back Up Trust, a Wandsworth-based charity that supports people with spinal injuries, besides running cookery classes.
Whilst Lanlard relishes travelling a great deal, he has plenty of favourite places close to his Wandsworth home that he happily returns to frequently. A recent discovery is Wandsworth Bridge Road’s Boma, and he invariably finds an interesting dish with Mexican, Spanish or Arabic influences at Café Tamra on Northcote Road. He is a regular at both The Windmill and The Ship for Sunday lunch and can’t get enough of the fish and chips at Brady’s on the riverfront.
‘Funnily enough,’ he finishes his champagne, ‘I always come back to craving something savoury.’