By Lucy McDonald from www.crumbsfood.co.uk
The best bit about Eric Lanlard’s cookery classes is the French man himself. He is affable, hands-on, approachable, and, I imagine, a rare breed – a TV chef without an ego. And one who confesses to using shop-bought puff pastry. It’s hard not to love him.
I attended his one-day Cake Boy class (although you don’t need to be a boy to go!) held in his wide, light café/workshop in Wandsworth, south London. At one side of the room are lots of comfy chairs for coffee drinkers and at the other, two Corian-clad work-stations for the cookery classes.
Despite being a keen home baker, this was my first proper cooking lesson ever and I was nervous about what to expect. But the atmosphere was relaxed and the other three attendees (classes are for up to eight) were of varying abilities, so it didn’t feel as if I was competing on MasterChef.
Over the six-hour lesson I made possibly the most impressive looking, and tasting, three cakes of my entire – admittedly limited – baking career.
After an espresso and a massive raspberry muffin, Eric started the day by explaining that baking is like chemistry and that it is imperative that you follow the recipe, otherwise disaster or disappointment awaits you. Hmm, that told me, a slap-dash, improvisational cook at best. It was a good lesson to learn at the beginning of the day. We then talked about what cakes we would be making – spicy chocolate tart, chocolate ale fruit loaf and apple chocolate bake. We were each given the recipes on sheets, shown where the ingredients were and left to get on with it.
Communal cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen is quite discombobulating, especially when the cakes sounded like they were way out of my comfort zone. But the equipment was top-rate (Sharp knives! Silicon mixing spoons! Electric scales!) and Eric very hands on – always there to offer advice and demonstrate technique.
The second best bit of the day was that whenever you put anything dirty down, Eric whisked it away to be washed-up behind closed doors. Can you imagine how great home cooking would be with a sous-chef?
He also understands the limitations and desires of the home cook. He explained what cakes could be frozen (apparently uncooked pastry can be too) and offered short cuts that don’t compromise quality. For example, as well as recommending shop-bought puff pastry (pure butter is best apparently – available in most supermarkets), he thinks ready-made apricot glaze is worth buying and spurns vanilla essence and extract for paste, which comes with those lovely little black seeds in it.
The morning was spent making the cakes. Three in a row and it was hard work. Hats off to Mary Berry for stamina. And then after lunch (roast chicken, pasta, salad, cake and wine – eaten all together, Eric included) we decorated them.
Top tips I learnt were… to use different types of raisins in a fruit cake because it looks prettier; cook a cheesecake base for 10 mins before filling to stop it going soggy, and although you can just about get away with not sieving flour, you must always sieve cocoa powder and icing sugar as it is too lumpy.
The course cost £250 which is a fairly significant outlay, but as I walked out with three beautifully wrapped cakes (you take everything you cook home) which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a proper patisserie, a goody bag containing a decent cookbook, loads of ingredients, a muffin tin, an apron, and a new-found baking confidence, it seemed almost an investment.
Click here for information on Channel 4’s new series of Baking Mad with Eric Lanlard