Thursday, 23 August 2012

Vanilla for Bloggers - Bake with Eric Lanlard

When I was invited to attend a blogger's event in South London recently I jumped at the chance. Was it because it was put on by Neilsen-Massey the vanilla experts or was it the chance to meet and work with Eric Lanlard, well known pastry chef (patissier), author and bakery owner!  Would you believe me if I said both??

Vanilla is one of those things whereby just the smell of it sends you back to childhood memories of coming home after school to freshly baked cookies.  But never as a child did I give a thought to where it came from or how.  Vanilla was originally grown in Mexico but now the best is grown on the island of Madagascar off the east coast of Africa.  It is the fruit of an orchid and is harvested looking like long green beans.  The curing and processing turns it into the dark brown/black wrinkly pods we buy in our supermarkets.

Nielsen-Massey have been making vanilla extract on a commercial scale since 1907 using a cold extraction process at their processing plant in Illinois, USA to slowly and gently draw out the delilcate and distinctive flavour from the vanilla beans.

On our arrival at Cake Boy, Eric Lanlard's cookery school, bakery and cafe we were offered some cold, fizzy to drink which was extremely welcome on a hot humid August day and a selection of mini canapes and mini desserts that Eric had created for us, each one using vanilla in some way.

Eric Lanlard welcomed us and told us how he had become interested (slightly obsessed) with baking as a young boy living in his native France and how we spent years working for the Roux Brothers.

Eric then told us all about his discovery and love of Nielsen-Massey vanilla and his trip around the processing plant in Illinois.  We tried vanilla extract and vanilla paste (both available at most supermarkets) and were shown the difference in a cheap vanilla pod bought in a jar under a well know brand label and a Nielsen-Massey who produce rich, plump and sweet smelling vanilla pods.

After this Eric drew us closer to his work station and made a typical french cake, called a Fraisier because of the fresh strawberries used). During the demonstration Eric gave us lots of hints and tips such as making sure your eggs and butter are both at room temperature.  Then giving great attention to detail he assembled the Frasier which looked absolutely deliscious and extremely beautiful.

Beautiful strawberries from Kent

great attention to detail

the finished cake!!

I brought my copy of Eric's new book 'Tart It Up' with me and Eric was kind enough to sign it for me.


At the end of the event we were given a goodie bag filled with everything we would need to make a fine cake similar to the Fraisier and then Baking Mad (joint sponsor of the event) issued us with a challenge! Bake a cake using the ingredients in our goodie bag, blog about the cake and Eric Lanlard will read our blog, comment on it and then we will be judged by Eric to find a winner!  No pressure at all.

Some of the ingredients we will be using in our cake challenge

Do keep an eye on my blog to see the cake I submit for the challenge (it will be before the final date of 01 October 2012).  Better get started so I think I will infuse all my sugars with vanilla. Wish me luck!!

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