I hope you had a lovely weekend! Last month, I was very kindly invited to afternoon tea at the Jumeirah Carlton Tower Hotel in London. Named ‘Botanical Bites’, the delicious food was designed by Eric Lanlard, whose name you may already be familiar with.
Eric is an award-winning master pâtissier and international baking star. Not only does he create cakes for ‘A’ list celebrities, but he’s also the author of five books, the latest being ‘Chocolat,’ and he’s presented four TV series, including ‘Baking Mad’. His HQ is Cake Boy in London, which houses a cookery school and a coffee/patisserie lounge. I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Eric recently and here is what he had to say…
Where did you get the inspiration for the Botanical Bites Afternoon Tea?
I was inspired by the summer, a season when our gardens really start to come alive, with flowers starting to bloom. Plus the RHS Chelsea Flower Show taking place.
What’s included in the Botanical Bites Afternoon Tea?
It includes tomato bread with plum tomato, Laverstoke Park mozzarella and micro basil sandwiches and ‘Menthe du Jardin’ which is a floral decorated dark chocolate tube filled with chocolate mousse, flavoured with garden mint. Plus there are lots of other delicious treats, together with freshly brewed tea.
Could you tell us your hints and tips for using flowers in baking?
Floral flavours are an unusual addition to baking. You have to be very careful how you use them, as your food can taste like you’re eating soap! The secret is not to overdo it. One of my very popular recipes is my Flour Free Orange & Lavender Cake, which we make in our ‘French Country Baking’ class. (A picture of the cake and the recipe are below!) It contains dried lavender, which I feel is better to use than lavender extract, as it’s more subtle. You can buy dried lavender online via websites like Amazon. Make sure though that it’s suitable for use in cooking. Alternatively, you could use lavender sugar, which you can buy from supermarkets. And then use less caster sugar. In other recipes, if you’d like to add rose or orange blossom flavours, I’d recommend using the extracts.
With regards to using edible flowers, you can use rose petals, violets and jasmine flowers…all of which crystallise well. And you can buy them already crystallised. I feel that decorations on cakes should give people a hint of what’s inside. That’s why I love to use edible flowers to decorate the top of cakes. As for savoury recipes, chive flowers are great to use to decorate salads.
Flour Free Orange & Lavender Cake
Serves 6 – Preparation time: 30 minutes – Cooking time: 1 hour
For the sponge
400ml (14fl oz) sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing
350g (12oz) ground almonds
300g (11oz) caster sugar
3 tsp baking powder
2 oranges, ideally Seville
2 tsp dried lavender
For the syrup
juice of the zested lemon and
100g (3½oz) caster sugar
a few cloves
2 tsp ground cinnamon
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan 160ºC)/350ºF/gas mark 4. Grease a 20cm (8in) cake tin with extra oil, then base-line with baking paper.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the ground almonds, caster sugar and baking powder, mixing together well. Break in the eggs and add the oil, mixing gently together.
- Using a fine grater, grate the zest from the lemon and oranges into the mixture, then mix together.
- Turn the cake mixture into the prepared tin, and bake in the preheated oven for an hour. Cover the top with a piece of foil after about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the syrup. Squeeze the juice from the zested lemon and oranges into a small pan. Add the sugar and spices, and mix together well. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes.
- Once the cake has been removed from the oven, pierce it several times with a skewer or small, sharp knife. Using a tablespoon, spoon the syrup over the cake, allowing it to soak in.
Tip : If you prefer a cake with a slightly less dense texture, substitute 50% of the ground almonds for finely ground polenta or semolina.
Do your brides-to-be prefer fresh flowers or sugar flowers to decorate their wedding cakes?
Sugar flowers can take a lot of time to create, which means they can be expensive. So, many brides choose fresh flowers.
Where do you source your fresh flowers from and what special steps do you take when using them?
I love going to New Covent Garden Flower Market. It’s one of my favourite places in London and it’s where I not only buy my fresh flowers, but also sundries like ribbons. I love going there early in the mornings…there’s such a great atmosphere! There are so many beautiful flowers and plants. Going there always puts me in a good mood!
We work with florists and make sure that we match the cake flowers exactly to the wedding flowers. We use flower picks…they’re like little cones which you can put in the cake to hold the flowers. And it means that the flowers are not actually touching the cake. You have to be careful, as some flowers are toxic.
Why do you think baking is so popular at the moment?
Lots of people say it’s due to the recession. People are tending to stay at home more and thinking of what they can do with their children. And baking is something that parents can do with their kids. It brings back lovely memories for adults about how they used to bake when they were little. Children also really love baking. At baking shows, there are always lots of kids in the front rows. Not only in the UK, but all over the world. For example, Italy, Australia, South Africa and Dubai. It’s so nice to see them involved and wonderful that baking is being re-embraced.
Plus there’s also the popularity of TV programmes likes the Great British Bake Off. It’s funny how when I started in TV ten years ago though, that people laughed when baking programmes were suggested. We were told that people didn’t have time to bake! In most food magazines now, you’ll find at least one cake recipe. The classes at my cookery school are fully booked, six months in advance. And it’s wonderful to see how big the baking sections are now in supermarkets.
What is your favourite flower?
I love lily of the valley. It’s my birth flower as I was born on May 1st. My mum sends me some every year, pressed into my birthday card. I love natural, garden flowers…nothing too architectural. And I normally have old style roses, that actually smell of roses. My favourite colour though is purple and I love purple anemones. Oh and I love lilies too…
You’ve recently released an app and a new YouTube channel. What are your plans for the remainder of 2014?
I’m currently working with P&O Cruises. They’re building Britannia, the biggest cruise ship for the UK market. I’m designing a patisserie range for the Market Café and a champagne afternoon tea in one of the restaurants. I’m also involved in the cookery school on board. And I’ve got a trip to Dubai for a pop-up afternoon tea.
Thank you so much to Eric for finding time in his very busy schedule for our interview. I’ve been totally inspired and am planning on baking the Orange & Lavender Cake this weekend! For details about Eric’s cookery school, cafe and new app, simply visit The Cake Boy website.
To keep up-to-date with Eric’s news, here’s where you can find him on social media:
‘Botanical Bites’ Afternoon Tea is available at the Jumeirah Carlton Tower Hotel in London until the end of the summer.
P.S. Would you like to know Eric’s top tip for the next big trend in baking? It’s madeleines!
(Images : Eric Lanlard, Jumeirah Carlton Tower Hotel, Craig Robertson)