August 27, 2013
It is no accident that Eric’s new book focuses on my favourite ingredient.
Eric Lanlard, London’s adopted son and Brittany born patissier, is a leading light in the UK baking scene who pulls in the crowds for every television or live appearance he makes. He might not be the obvious choice for a piece on chocolatecouverture. But trust me, this is not just my excuse for a chance to hang out with Eric, as utterly delightful as that proved to be. (And he is wonderful company, handsome and irreverent, charming and naughty, all wrapped up in his husky Gallic tones.) This pastry chef has got form with chocolate.
Pastry and chocolate go way back. Many of the top chocolatiers in the UK have come through the ranks. Damian Allsop, William Curley, Barry Johnson, Paul A Young; to a man they have served their time as pastry chefs at the highest level, before giving in to the pull of the dark stuff.
In Eric’s case he worked it the other way around. The patisserie he chose for his apprenticeship in his hometown of Quimper, was chosen (at the precocious age of ten) purely because it was the only one in town that made its own chocolates. The fact that it was also the fanciest place around, where a visit was usually justified only by Christmas, a wedding, or the like, did not pass without comment from his mother! But Eric was a man on a mission.
Apprenticeship finished, he went to Luxembourg, to work in a large chocolatier to further his chocolate knowledge. That proved to be almost full chocolate immersion, but still he was not satisfied. Despite vast chocolate kitchens they made their chocolates from bought-in couverture, common practice among even the top chocolatiers. They didn’t make chocolate from the bean and, hugely driven and permanently curious, Eric wanted to know and see the whole process. As luck would have it life brought it to him.
During National Service in the French Navy, which he served out as personal pastry chef to the captain of the flagship Jeanne D’Arc (only in France!) he travelled to Trinidad and Tobago. Invited to the French Embassy as part of the captain’s team, he met a fellow Frenchman who turned out to be a plantation owner selling exclusively to Valrhona for their Pure Caraibe chocolate. A plantation tour followed and one more piece of the jigsaw fell into place.
The final pieces of the jigsaw were the result of a stage in the kitchens at Bernachon in Lyon, at that time one of only a few fine chocolate bean to bar makers in France. There he saw cacao made into the glorious chocolate he had always loved and learnt to create into spectacular bonbons and patisserie. The circle was complete, and the love affair was just beginning.
With Eric’s newest book, the first to focus on just one ingredient, he has taken his long experience and extensive knowledge and edited it perfectly. He wants to make something for the home cook, that gets up close and personal with chocolate, teaches you a bit more about it, but also tempts and offers recipes that are just begging to be made. Eric may be a trained pastry chef, but he is not in the business of intimidating. Quite the opposite, he wants to show everyone out there that they can bake too.
In Chocolat Eric has produced a book that any chocolate lover will want to own. It is a truly sumptuous offering, with photography so vivid and appealing you will want to lick the pages. There is an introduction taking you through the basics about chocolate history and technique. But the point of this book is to present chocolate as an ingredient for baking, and no one is better placed than Eric to dive into this full throttle. He wants to address the fact that many see chocolate as a tricky ingredient, the preserve of chocolatiers with tempering skills and grand ambitions. In this book he is on a mission to ensure that everyone has a go.
The recipes are well laid out, easy to follow, and quite staggeringly tempting. They range from the straightforward, a classic brownie, to the elaborate, Gateaux Opera or Concorde, which means there is something to get you baking with chocolate no matter your mood or level of expertise. While some of the more elaborate cakes do betray Eric’s French origins and training, he has no snobbism about global baking, in fact he is gloriously omnivorous when it comes to baking inspiration. His takes on biscotti, waffles, Aztec hot chocolate and Black Forest Gateau have him skipping around the globe. There is also a good section on chocolates and confectionary, so if you are feeling purist you can have a go at truffles or if you feel like riding the marshmallow trend there is chocolate guimauve.
Eric has kindly given me one of my favourite recipes from Chocolat to share with you. A glorious concoction, half rich, soft, chocolate mousse cake, half chocolate meringue, crisp and chewy. For the recipe follow this link, you will not regret it, it is divine!