Vanilla Baking MasterClass with Eric Lanlard and Nielsen Massey
One of the nicest things about writing a blog is being invited along to events where you can learn a bit more about the products you use. And, if it’s being hosted by someone like Eric Lanlard at his own cake boutique well so much the better! I walked into Cake Boy, a pretty café/cookery demonstration centre just over Wandsworth Bridge, into a room heady with the aroma of vanilla.
Real vanilla too, not the air-freshener over-sweet, sickly stuff. I suppose, since this event was sponsored by Nielsen Massey a leading pure vanilla extract company, that wasn’t entirely suprising!
Glasses of fizz, fruit juice and water or tea and coffee were on offer, along with a delicious assortment of canapés.
First of all the savoury canapés of smoked salmon and goats cheese in home made buns, savoury croissants and a gazpacho with vanilla cream. A great tip, a little vanilla can be used in to cut through and enhance savoury dishes as well as sweet.
Then the sweet ones. These were picture perfect sweet morsels – just waiting to be eaten and ruin any diets, 5:2 or otherwise!
Eric went on to introduce us to himself and explain why he likes working with Nielsen Massey. He said he developed his love of Patisserie as a child, not just for the taste but for the exquisite presentation and packaging. And, he started working in the UK for the Roux brothers as a pastry chef, intending to stay for a year but working for them for five years including doing his apprenticeship. There’s something endearing about a celebrity chef reminiscing about being stuck making buttercream for six months and practising icing on a sheet of Perspex for two years!
His obvious enthusiasm for Nielsen Massey products comes partly from the fact that he’s visited their production centre and recognises the quality of the products they sell. I was fascinated to learn that the vanilla pod is the product of the vanilla orchid. Historically pollination was the result of the tiny melipone bee, but now all pollination is done by hand using a technique developed in 1841, with a small bamboo stick! The main vanilla producing country is Madagascar, although the vine originated in Mexico. The flowers themselves are really pretty and the pods of any pollinated flowers are green when harvested and five to nine inches in length. They are cured to develop the characteristic dark brown colour and wrinkly texture before being shipped. And, in this form, as brown wrinkly pods, they can be used in many dishes. To make extract the pods are processed using an exclusive cold extraction process to avoid destroying the flavour.
Eric explained that high quality vanilla pods were soft and flexible, not brittle and dried out. And he showed us some of the Nielsen Massey products – all pure vanilla rather than ‘fake’ (essence). The main difference between vanilla extract and vanilla paste is that the paste has the seed added to it which makes it thicker. He also explained that heat was the enemy of vanilla and that he was currently re-working some of his recipes to ensure that the dishes retained the maximum flavour.
On to the demonstration, we were given a few tips for perfect baking
- Always sift your flour (but you don’t need to do it from a great height!)
- You can never over mix basic cake mixture, it takes longer than you think to cream the butter and sugar together to the right ‘creamy’ texture. Then the eggs should be added very slowly!
- Be precise, baking is an exact science
- Do your mise en place and have all your ingredients ready and at room temperature
- If your self-raising flour is a bit old, add a little extra baking powder as air will have degraded the raising effect of the baking powder already there
- In any recipe don’t add eggs to the sugar till you are ready to start mixing because the sugar will start to ‘cook’ the egg the minute it touches the mixture.
The recipe he prepared for us was a classic French gateau called a Fraisier. And of course it was beautiful to look at…although I am not entirely sure I will try making it for the challenge we have been set by Nielsen Massey, who sent us away with a collection of ingredients, the recipe for Gateau Fraisier, and a copy of British Baking in 2012. Partly because I have a strawberry allergy and partly because I’d need a special celebration to make such a serious cake (and then I wouldn’t be able to eat the result). So, I am going to look for an alternative showcase for vanilla
Although I do get the feeling someone is trying to tell me something. As winner of the can’t bake-won’t bake award I am failing to keep up standards here
There are a schedule of fabulous sounding baking courses with Eric Lanlard on offer at Cake Boy, so do take a look if you are interested in trying for yourself