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Cake Boy: Meet the gay French baker to the stars, Eric Lanlard

Cake Boy: Meet the gay French baker to the stars, Eric Lanlard

Few people have embraced Britain’s home baking revival more enthusiastically than gay men.

And one, gourmet French pastry chef Eric Lanlard, has been at the forefront of revolution – baking on TV with his own Channel 4 series and publishing books on cakes, tarts and now chocolate.

Meanwhile he’s made his name by baking for the stars. Madonna ordered his pile of profiteroles – a croquembouche – for her wedding to Guy Ritchie and he has made wedding cakes for Elizabeth Hurley and Claudia Schiffer.

He made the first birthday cake for Brooklyn Beckham, David Beckham’s son, and the 101st birthday cake for the Queen Mother – with a base surrounded by roses and two tiny corgis wearing tiaras.

His ‘boutique café’, Cake Boy, by the Thames in South West London has become a haven for those who can’t resist bakery indulgence.

Now he is getting ready for the Cake and Bake Show in Manchester, north-west England, this weekend. He is one of the star speakers at the three-day festival (5 to 7 April) at Manchester Central.

We had a chat to find out more.

Britain has seen a home baking revival in the last few years. Why do you think that is?

It is a mixture of things. It all started to kick off with the financial crisis. People started to entertain more at home than they used to. People stopped eating out so much and making things themselves. Then things like the Great British Bake Off started to appear on TV as well and it all came together.

I always laugh, though, when industry people say it’s just about the financial crisis because brands like Kenwood are going around saying more people than ever are spending £500 [$756 €590] on mixers.

People always used to say baking takes too much time, you need too much equipment and it always goes wrong. When they started to bake they realized it isn’t actually that complicated and for a family it is a brilliant way to get together. We see kids aged eight to 10 who are actually baking more than the adults.

It also seems to have a big appeal for gay men…

There is definitely an appeal and it is much more the artistic side of it.

Generally men are very good at baking. People assume men don’t bake but in France it is a men’s profession – most pastry chefs are men. When we have classes there are always one or two or three men and they are generally very good. And if you go to any baking school or patisserie school in Europe it is mostly men, it is very rare to have women pastry chefs.

Men are more competitive and they approach a recipe in a different way. Women assume they know how to do it because they are mothers but the men follow the recipe step-by-step and that is what baking is all about. Decoration wise it helps if you are artistic and have good taste and there is great equipment, so that’s part of the appeal too.

Do you bake at home for your partner Paul?

I do cook all the time for us. The only time I will bake something is at home is when I am entertaining.

I have a rule which is I will never take anything from work home because that’s cheating. So when I have friends coming for dinner, I always make something at home and it will be something homely. My friends sometimes are a bit surprised because they expect something very fancy on the plate but I generally go with something very rustic I can put together very quickly.

Who was the most exciting celebrity to bake for and were they very demanding?

We still have some big celebrity clients. It is always very exciting when you get a phone call to bake a cake for Madonna or a royal or the Beckhams or something like that. You always get excited though of course you keep your cool.

But actually they are very busy and don’t have time to mess around so actually they are much easier than some of our other customers as everything has to be decided there and then and that’s it.

One of the most exciting orders we ever had was a cake for Lady Gaga. She is a great foodie and she sent an essay – and I checked with the agent ‘is that really from her?’ because it looked like a chef wrote it.

People laugh when you do cakes for people like Claudia Schiffer. People always say they are probably eating toilet paper or whatever but they can’t wait to try the cakes.

Is there a fantasy client you would love to bake for?

There are many people and I am always happy to make cakes for anybody. But I have never made a proper cake for the Queen and I would love to meet her and make something spectacular for her. But I know she already has a very good pastry chef so she probably won’t order anything from us.

You had a series last year on Channel 4 – are we going to see you on TV again soon?

At the moment we are working on a new project and are trying to send the new format to the channels. There is a lot of baking on television. In the past, nobody wanted baking, now every channel has shows so we do need to come up with a nice story and a nice angle.

We are also shooting with Michelle Roux Junior and that will be on BBC4. We are working on a baking app as well which is coming out in June.

Now we’ve got some baking questions: First, what’s the best way to avoid a soggy bottom?

[Laughs] A soggy bottom is the worst thing ever. If you have a liquid filling you need to blind-bake your pastry before cooking the filling inside the pastry. That way you can be sure the pastry is properly cooked, then put your mixture inside and carry on baking and it will give you a perfect finish.

How do you get your scones to rise?

It’s all in the wrist action [laughs]. So you have to cream the butter and sugar together, make sure it is nice and fluffy. People always do that fast but it should be a 10-minute exercise and you are welcome to use an electronic beater on that.

After that make sure your self-raising flour and baking powder is fresh. People will use a tin of baking powder that has been sitting in the kitchen cupboard for six months or a year and with the humidity it will have lost its power. So buy smaller quantities of baking powder and flour and make sure you always use the fresh one to get the full power of your raising agent.

I’m told there is a kind of cake called boy bait and we thought you might be able to suggest the best flavor for that?

For me it would have to be chocolate. It is my favorite and my new book as well is called Chocolat. So definitely it would have to be a chocolate cake.

Your new book is out now?

This weekend – we are launching it at the Cake & Bake Show in Manchester. There is a kind of rustic part of it, a bakery part, deserts, drinks, hot chocolate, chocolate martini and there is truffles and sweets and things for after dinner or for kids.

I’ve always loved chocolate. Like all my books it’s really accessible so it’s not pages of techniques, you can go straight in with good simple recipes. You should always try to use the best chocolate but it doesn’t have to be the most expensive chocolate in the world and the same thing goes for the equipment, it uses what you’ll have in your kitchen, really nothing will need updating.

Your last book was about tarts so who is your favorite tart and what tart would you like to serve them?

I am going to say Ben Cohen but I don’t think he really is a tart. I would make him a lemon and yuzu tart.

What is yuzu?

It’s a Japanese citrus that is quite tart and sharp so it combines quite well with the lemon and the sweetness of the tart. It is not sweet and sour but quite strong so I think it would suit Ben quite well. He is quite a tough guy, but at the same time he is a big sweetie. So this combines the two together nicely and I’m sure he’ll like it.

You can order Lanlard’s book Chocolat or find out more about his Cake Boy café here. And if you can find details and get reduced-price advance tickets for the Cake and Bake Show here.