The rise and rise of vegan diners — and their fussy gluten-free partners in crime — has forced even celebrity bakers to cater to this growing market. Chef Eric Lanlard responded by creating an entire vegan afternoon tea, which he rolled out last month at his London patisserie Cake Boy (it costs £40 [Dh202], put that on your list for this summer’s London break).
The Brittany-born chef, 49, is as famous for his celebrity clients (Lady Gaga, David and Victoria Beckham, Elton John and David Furnish, the UK’s Queen Mother, whose cake had two corgis wearing tiaras) as he is for his luscious desserts — which won him his own TV show, Glamour Puds. Little wonder that the ex-Navy sailor is always a crowd puller at Taste of Dubai, where he returns this year — and will be cooking up a storm next weekend (March 8-10).
We grabbed the opportunity to roll some questions his way.
Tell us a funny baking story.
When I was seven, my older sister convinced me I should try to bake some chocolate eclairs when my mum was at work. Being super enthusiastic about baking I went ahead using one of my mum’s cookery books, as I started I realised I was missing ingredients, had no piping bags or other utensils. It was basically a huge disaster all round, my eclairs looked more like chocolate crepes by the time my mum came back, the kitchen was a bomb site and my sister was nowhere to be seen.
That’s brilliant. So how about a baking secret that will put novices at ease?
People always assume experienced chefs have mastered the art of baking and disasters never happen — they are wrong. Every week we will have something that won’t work for one reason or the other — sometimes it’s our fault, we forget an ingredient, overbake, underbake or just rush the process and suddenly everything has to be thrown away. Most of the time we don’t even know why it went wrong and that’s certainly frustrating. So if things go wrong do not despair, try again and try to correct the mistake if it was obvious. Don’t be too ambitious when starting out — begin with simple basic recipes and as you become more confident gently raise the bar. And remember to learn all your classic recipes, as they will become the foundation of your baking success.
So what are you doing at Taste of Dubai this year?
I will be at the Crate & Barrel Chef’s Theatre, demonstrating a soft hazelnut meringue filled with hazelnut praline cream and glaze. I will also be in the Al Ain Farms and Kibson cooking challenge area and I will be cooking a sweet French souffle omelette with lemon curd. Both recipes are full of great techniques and as ever I will be sharing all my tips of the trade to help our participants and visitors at the festival.
OK. What are some of the more unusual flavours you’re playing with at the moment?
I have become slightly obsessed with savoury macaron recently. They are popular in France but haven’t really reached the UK yet. They make such great little appetizers and are great talking points as they play with your brain — they look like sweet macarons but have savoury ingredients. My favourite is my macaron made with ground roasted hazelnuts topped with super salted chicken skin crackling and filled with a spicy pumpkin puree.
That’s insane. You just launched a vegan afternoon tea at Cake Boy in the UK — and there are gluten-free options too. Why do you think you need to?
Dietary trends in food are growing and everybody who follows them — for whatever reason — expects us to adapt and adapt quickly. It’s obviously very difficult as you can’t suddenly start serving an inferior product just because it’s gluten free or vegan. So I do a lot of work and research to make sure these products align with the rest of our regular offering and are not just a quick after thought. And I try to keep the alternative ingredients as natural and unprocessed as possible.
What’s the secret to proper gluten-free baking?
The thing to remember about gluten-free baking is it is very difficult to adapt regular recipes. You really should only use dedicated gluten-free recipes or experiment from scratch with lots of trial and error. The biggest challenge is the dryness and crumbliness of the finished product.
So what flours do you use here?
I usually find American brands work well. I am a big fan of nut flours as their natural oils give you a beautiful moist cake every time and you can be very creative with them. Ground almonds are widely used, but it’s easy to make a roast pecan, pistachio or hazelnut flour. We bake a delicious carrot cake with roasted pecan flour and a fabulous banana cake with roasted hazelnut flour. The best flour is a blend of rice and potato flours. Buckwheat, which is naturally gluten-free and very hearty, works well with dark chocolate or fillings like pumpkin. Chestnut flour is also very tasty, it’s used in a lot of pastries in the French region of the Cevennes.
Now change that up for vegans. What are the best substitutes for eggs in baking? Is aquafaba (chickpea water) your go-to?
Suddenly vegan January seems to have transformed itself to vegan for life. In the last 18 months the demand for vegan products has increased dramatically and we had to work very hard to come up with recipes that are yummy, natural and good-looking. My favourite binders are dates, avocado and banana but I’m not too keen on processed egg replacers as they are usually add a horrible rancid eggy flavour or smell.
I only discovered aquafaba recently on YouTube and I am completely addicted. We can now make vegan macarons, meringues or light mousses. It’s funny — most vegans do not know about aquafaba so I like to show off and even mention it on the menu. So the secret here is to reduce it for a nice tight texture and add a bit of bicarbonate of soda to stabilise it and then you’re on your way to creative vegan baking.
Come around to the Middle East. What regional ingredients do you work with — and how?
I am genuinely a big fan of Middle Eastern cooking and baking. My grandparents lived in Syria for many years and brought many influences. Every week, our Algerian neighbours brought us amazingly slow-cooked couscous and tagines, and invited us to a proper Mechoui [roasted lamb] each summer, so I grow up loving all this beautiful fragrant food and always look forward to my next trip to the region. My favourite is butter-drenched baklava, rose water syrup and rich pistachio. I use a lot of these as inspiration — we do a great pistachio financier with rose frosting and on my new Signature Afternoon Tea for P&O cruises. I also use an edible cardamom perfume to open passengers’ senses so it’s like they’re walking through a souq.
Tell us about your new book, Afternoon Tea. Why does it need its own book?
Afternoon tea is the new lunch and a great way to meet friends and family and spend some time grazing on delicious little bites without any care in the world while feeling very glamourous. I discovered it at an early age as my mum is a true Anglophile. So every summer we crossed over to Britain from Brittany just for High Tea. And when I moved to London, I fell even more in love with this British ritual and all its glamour. My new book is a great compilation of sweet and savoury recipes to create a fun and slightly different spread to celebrate a fabulous occasion. I really enjoyed working on it as it was great to have so many gorgeous props — I had painted wall paper, China and linen that reminded me of all the efforts my mum used to go when she entertained — even if you don’t want to host a Afternoon Tea you can single out some great recipes for canapes, starters or celebratory cake for any occasion.
You’ve filled orders for a range of celebrities. Which commissions were the most challenging?
I’ve been lucky to have created cakes for a lot of people. It’s always exhilarating to get a phone call from Buckingham Palace or Elizabeth Hurley but we treat all our customers as celebrities — especially when it’s time for their wedding. Serious challenges over the years involved flying a 4-metre wedding cake for a royal wedding to the GCC or a croquembouche to Scotland for the wedding of the queen of pop, while avoiding paparazzi camping outside our kitchen. The great news about what I call A-list celebrities is they usually know what they want and are too busy to change their mind or be difficult… and of course, they expect to pay for their orders not like the Z list who want everything for free. We do not deal with the Z list.
Don’t miss it!
Eric Lanlard’s new book, Afternoon Tea, is on sale now at Dh130. He will host cooking demonstrations at Taste of Dubai at Media City Amphitheatre from March 8 to 10. Day tickets start at Dh80 on tasteofdubaifestival.com.
ERIC LANLARD’S TOP UAE BAKERIES
French baker Eric Lanlard says he always wants to immerse himself into a country’s food culture when he’s travelling to get as much inspiration as possible. “So I keep away from all the top brands and chains as we have them in London and instead look for local traditional patisseries or bakeries,” he told Gulf News tabloid!
For a contemporary cafe, he picks Vivel Patisserie, which he went to on a friend’s recommendation the last time he was in Dubai. “It’s a Persian Tea room with fabulous Arabian tea with dates and gorgeous spices and a nice modern twist on Arabic sweets. I was surprised how not too sugary the cakes were and really friendly hospitality.”
And no surprises then that he loves our legendary Al Reef Lebanese Bakery, which he discovered on a late night out — as per usual. “I enjoyed their delicious and fresh-from-the-oven savouries — it reminded me of growing up in France where you can knock at the back door of the boulanger for super-early croissants after a night out.
“But I hope this time someone will recommend somewhere as exciting to go and try out some delicious food.”