Tarting It Up with Eric Lanlard
I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much butter. We’re gathered around the kitchen island in an elegant New York City loft where master pastry chef Eric Lanlard is about to lead us in a hands-on tart crust lesson. The class is a mix of ages, both men and women fastening their aprons and snapping iPhone pictures. The mound of butter seems to be drawing just as much Instagram attention as the handsome French chef in his crisp white coat. The cooking class marks the U.S. launch of Lanlard’s fourth cookbook, "Tart It Up: Sweet & Savory Tarts & Pies."
Lanlard begins with an introduction of the ingredients, emphasizing that for a truly flaky crust, the butter needs to be very cold. In fact, the mountain of butter that has been sitting out for a few minutes is probably already too warm. He next walks us through the steps, amiably encouraging us to dig our hands into the bowl and form the crust manually. Machines, he explains, make it too easy to overprocess the delicate dough. Using our hands will also help us get used to the correct texture. In what feels like seconds, he kneads, rolls and expertly pinches the crust into the mold. It’s our turn to repeat what we just learned.
Born in France, Lanlard worked as a pastry chef for the French Navy before moving to the U.K. at 21 to work for famed Michelin-starred chefs Albert and Michel Roux. In 2001 he struck out on his own and now owns the popular London pastry shop and café, Cake Boy. Lanlard is a regular on British television and hosts his own cooking show, "Baking Mad with Eric Lanlard," on which he teaches viewers how to prepare innovative cakes and desserts simply and quickly.
"Tart It Up" is the chef’s first publishing effort that includes savory baking, something close to his heart. He admits that despite his sweet vocation, he doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth and generally prefers to end his meals with a good cheese rather than a dessert. With elegant recipes like Lamb and Moroccan Spice Pies and Upside Down Heirloom Tomato Tarte Tatin, the book makes it clear that he has a passion for exciting flavors.
After the cooking portion of the class, we are escorted into the dining room where we enjoy a veritable tart feast. My plate is filled with slices of Salmon Mustard Dill Tart; Pecan Pie; Fig Lardon Dolcelatte Tart; and a rich, dark slab of spiced West Indies Chocolate Tart decorated with bits of edible gold and homemade fruit and nut brittle. I’m too entranced by the tastes to notice that I forgot to fill my wineglass.
The Origins of the Perfect Crust
Between bites (the fig lardon is my favorite), Lanlard shares a few crumbs about his pastry background. He spent his formative years in France, and many of his recipes begin with traditional Gallic techniques that he punches up with global influences inspired by his time in London. Lanlard explains the chemistry of baking in a way that is easily understood and that makes techniques sound effortless.
With his shop and television programs, Lanlard is well-known in the U.K., but as the night draws on, I begin to suspect that it won’t be long before his name becomes just as recognizable on this side of the pond.
As if to prove my point, my companion shares that Lanlard’s career will soon soar in the most literal way: In 2014, he is scheduled to be the first chef to travel to space onboard Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spacecraft.
Asked if he’s nervous about the suborbital flight, Lanlard shrugs and says it’s too late to change his mind -- the ticket is nonrefundable. If he’s lucky, perhaps he’ll be able to pack some savory tarts for the journey.
Salmon, Whole-Grain Mustard and Dill Tart
Some of the classic combinations are still the best, and it
would be silly to try to update them. Rich smoked salmon,
an abundance of fresh dill and spicy French grain mustard ...
a perfect appetizer or light meal.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
For the dough
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons fine salt
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, chopped into pieces
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
For the filling
1 tablespoon butter
4 scallions, finely chopped
6 oz. smoked salmon, cut into strips
2 eggs, beaten
2 ⁄3 cup crème fraîche
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
2 teaspoon whole-grain mustard
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the crust: Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Using your fingertips, rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. Make a well in the center and add the rest of the ingredients. Use your hands to mix together and make a smooth dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead two or three times. Cover with plastic, wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to a circle 2 inches larger than you pan. Drape dough over the pan and press firmly into place, trimming off any excess. Prick bottom of the shell with a fork and chill for 15 minutes. Fill bottom with pie weights or dried beans. Bake in a preheated 350 oven for 10 minutes. Leave in pan and let cool.
Prepare the filling
Melt the butter in a small skillet and gently sauté the scallions for 2-3 minutes or until softened. Remove from the skillet and let cool. Arrange the smoked salmon in the bottom of the cooked pastry shell. In a bowl, mix together the eggs, crème fraîche, dill, mustard, and cooled scallions and season with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the tart shell, pulling up some of the salmon through the egg mixture so it is visible on the surface.
Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until just set and golden.