French pastry chef Eric Lanlard famously created cakes for Madonna and Brooklyn Beckham, has presented his own Channel 4 series and writes best-selling recipe books. Here he tells Jessica Tooze why he’s preparing to join P&O Cruises’ Chefs at Sea – plus below, he shares his recipe for Mince pies 

Eric, tell us how you came to be a pastry chef… 

It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. I started making cakes on my own from the age of six. The highlight of my week was Sunday, when we went to the pâtisserie to buy our ‘gâteaux du dimanche’. I was fascinated by the presentation, service and luxury around this French tradition to buy cakes on Sunday. What is more extraordinary is I never had a sweet tooth.

Why do you think you have been so successful in the UK? 

I was at the right place at the right moment. We opened our business when the food revolution started in the UK, and for the first time we were offering a similar pâtisserie to one you could find in Paris.

Can you tell us about some of your celebrity clients? 

We have been lucky to get commissions from high-profile clients. People like Elizabeth Hurley and Claudia Schiffer know and love their food, so it is great to design something for them. My favourite client was HM The Queen Mother for her true ‘joie de vivre’.

And on top of that, you have your own shop and training school, four TV series, six books and more. How do you fit it all in? 

It’s funny how people are surprised to see me in the shop or kitchen. We run a small business with a small efficient team. The diary fills up very fast, but I like to keep grounded. I’m the first one in the kitchen at 6am every morning. After 20 years, my love for my profession is still as high and I am having a ball working on all these projects, even if it’s stressful at times.

Have you been on a cruise before? 

I have been on many cruises before and love them. It’s a great way to travel and see different places in a short time. I like the way that, at the end of the day, you always come back to the luxury of your cabin. And if you really like a place, you can always come back and spend more time there. My cruise with P&O was fantastic; we went around the Baltic sea in spring. The weather was beautiful, the food was out of this world with so many dining options, and there was great entertainment too. My passion is for making cake that tastes as good as it looks, taking my inspiration from the many parts of the world I have travelled to.

You were also at Southampton for the Grand Event. What was that like? 

It was spectacular; the view of the seven ships in the harbour on arrival was something out of a Hollywood movie and the bad weather gave it a kind of mystical feel. I made a grand cake to mark the occasion and it was cut by HRH Princess Anne. The whole day had a great sense of history, power and inspiration, and the future of cruising looks good too.

And next year will see you joining the team of  Chefs at Sea. What does this involve? 

I’ll be joining Marco Pierre White, Atul Kochhar and Olly Smith on board the P&O fleet to do demonstrations, intimate masterclasses and talks inspired by local ports of call. I am very excited about it, because I love sharing my passion for my work, meeting new people and being on a cruise ship.

Tell us about your new book, Tart It Up! 

Tart It Up! is my fourth book and the first one that includes savoury recipes. Savoury baking is the underdog of the baking world – people think about heavy pies for winter – but I’ve waited a long time to show that it doesn’t have to be like that.

What’s next for you?

I’ve just finished writing my next book, which will come out in June 2013, and I am off on a US book tour this October. Next year, as well as travelling with P&O, I am embarking on a world gastro tour taking me to South Africa, the Maldives, China and other exciting destinations… Oh, and I’ll be the first chef in space aboard the Virgin Galactic flight with Richard Branson.

Mince pies recipe

Eric Lanlard

The build-up to the festive season wouldn’t be the same without mince pies, and it’s a tradition I am more than happy to embrace – I just love them. I’ve added a little continental twist to this recipe…

Serves 6

Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus marinating

Cooking time: 20 minutes

For the mincemeat

250g (8oz) golden sultanas

250g (8oz) natural glacé

cherries, halved

250g (8oz) raisins

100g (3.5oz) mixed peel

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tsp ground mixed spice

125g (4oz) unsalted butter

finely grated zest of 1 orange

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

250g (8oz) dark muscovado sugar

250ml (8fl oz) amaretto liqueur

For the pies

butter, for greasing

plain flour, for dusting

1 x quantity shortcrust pastry

250g (8oz) ready-made or

homemade puff pastry

1 egg, lightly beaten

15g (0.5oz) light muscovado sugar

1. The mincemeat should be made a few weeks before so that the flavours develop. Put all the dried fruit, spices and butter into a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Place the grated zest, sugar and amaretto in a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved – do not let it boil. Pour over the mixed fruit and stir gently. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to infuse for 48 hours.

2. Pack the mincemeat into sterilized jars and seal. Store in a cool dark place for a couple of weeks to allow the flavours to mature. When you are ready to make the mince pies, preheat the oven to 180°C (fan 160°C)/350°F/gas mark 4. Grease 6 x individual 10cm (4in) diameter loose-bottomed tartlet tins.

3. Roll out the shortcrust pastry thinly on a lightly floured surface and use to line the tins. Generously fill the pastry cases with the mincemeat (this will use approximately 500g (1lb).

4. Roll out the puff pastry thinly on a floured surface and brush with egg. Using a cutter, cut out six shapes to cover the tart and place on top of the mincemeat. Sprinkle with light muscovado sugar.

5. Bake in the oven for 25–30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and the tops have puffed up. Serve warm with crème fraîche drizzled with amaretto and sprinkle with roasted flaked almonds…

Tip

This recipe will also make 24 small mince pies in two 12-hole tins – just reduce cooking time to 20–25 minutes or until pastry is golden.

Tart It Up! is published by Mitchell Beazley and is priced at £18.99