Sunday 12 October 2014

Cake and Bake Show Masterclass: Eric Lanlard

I had high hopes for the Cake and Bake Show masterclass with Eric Lanlard, but my heart sank a little after I took another masterclass earlier that day (with Mike McCarey of Mike's Amazing Cakes) and realised that it wasn't actually  hands on and instead I would be watching a demonstration. I also wilted a little inside when I found out Eric was demonstrating how to make shortcrust pastry - I had expected something more fancy from the master patissiere. I also wasn't thrilled when I queued early enough (half an hour before it started) to make sure I would be in the front row this time, after not getting a very good view in the Mike McCarey masterclass, then three people pushed in at the last minute which meant I was relegated to the second row. Not off to the best start!

But I needn't have worried - I still had a good view, though I apologise for the quality of the photos, it was near-impossible to not have someone's head in the way from my *second row* position (I'm still annoyed about that!). While shortcrust pastry might sound simple, there are all sorts of tips and tricks you need to know, and it is such an important basic, forming the foundation of so many bakes, that it's imperative to get it just right.

Also, Eric Lanlard - who I knew very little about other than that he's French - turned out to be charming and very funny in person. He peppered his demonstration with anecdotes, including several about his cat - the moment that he declared his life revolved around baking and cats, I was hooked!

Eric described how when he started as a pastry chef - a fairly elevated profession who tend to look down on 'mere' bakers - he expected to be making things like croquembouche from the start, but instead was told to make basic pastry for the first six months. While Mary Berry would raise her eyebrows at using any shop bought pastry, Eric declared there are two kinds of pastry you are allowed to buy without shame - filo and puff. Both are really hard to make yourself and Eric confessed he has never made his own filo!

Eric prefers not to use a mixer when making pastry and said there is a "sexiness" about "getting your hands dirty" (swoon) - you do need to be able to feel the texture as you rub in the ingredients. And speaking of ingredients, "don't even think about using the M word" - margarine. For Eric, it has to be butter all the way.

I learnt some very useful tips like the fact that as baking powder is an active ingredient, and the only difference between plain flour and self-raising flour is added baking powder, if you leave self-raising in the cupboard for a long time the baking powder will die and your cake won't rise. Also, you shouldn't overwork your pastry dough as this will activate the gluten, which is what makes the pastry shrink.

Eric also had a lot to say about the merits of vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste - knowing how he feels about vanilla essence now, I wouldn't dare present him with anything using that or vanilla flavouring! He claims to be able to even smell the difference and compared vanilla flavouring to car air freshener (and worse).

When rolling out your pastry, make sure it is bigger than the dish you intend to line; if you stretch pastry to fit, it will shrink back as it cooks. You should place the pie tin straight on the oven shelf, not on a baking tray, to avoid the infamous soggy bottom.

Eric is a big fan of clingfilm and mentioned it several times; for instance lining a pastry case with greaseproof paper when you are baking blind can damage the pastry and he prefers to use food-grade clingfilm.

Eric spent an hour showing us exactly how to make shortcrust pastry dough and line a pie tin - the fact that it took a whole hour to cover that just goes to show how much is actually involved in making perfect pastry!

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