"There's always been a huge phobia about pastry, but it's quicker by hand," patissier Eric Lanlard says as he sets out to prove shortcrust is swift and simple, showing me how to make a Mediterranean tart.
He was at the helm of the sweet baking craze, nicknamed Cake Boy, but his latest book, Tart it Up, is not just for those looking for a sugar rush: it is a mix of savoury and sweet recipes to reflect the growing popularity of people making their own quiches and pies, as supermarkets have seen savoury baking sales rise over the last year. Sales of suet are up more than 90 per cent and shortcrust pastry up 80 per cent in Sainsbury's, while Asda has seen a 30 per cent uplift in shortcrust pastry, and Lakeland's sales of baking beans are up 10 per cent and pie funnels are up 25 per cent.
"You can see on The Great British Bake Off – when it started it was just breads and sweet things and they are now doing a bit of savoury – it's as far as we can take baking, to be honest," says Lanlard. He worked for Michel Roux Senior and Albert Roux as their head pastry chef for 5 years - and now supplies Michel Roux Jnr's restaurant Le Gavroche.
"It's to keep people excited, to make sure they don't get bored of making Victoria sponge and cupcakes all the time."
Lanlard believes the rise in popularity of savoury baking is partly because of the popularity of bakery shows on television – including his own, Baking Mad – and partly because the recession has led to people entertaining more at home and rediscovering the joy of baking. "Every child had a good baking day at home with mother or grandmother – people are realising they have forgotten all of that," he says. "They started making cupcakes, which is quite easy, then move on. It's rewarding. People starting to appreciate it put the time aside for it."
He thinks people are also influenced by the artisaning-up of traditional British foods. "I go to my local pub and it has sausage rolls on a platter, but they have nothing like the ones at Greggs the baker or those you buy on the motorway – the ones in my local have beautiful pastry and meat. People are getting used to good things – they think: why can't I make sausage rolls like that? Who would have thought scotch eggs would be fashionable a few years ago? Now you can't go to a party or an event where they're not going to serve scotch eggs. When it's made using the right ingredients and right technique, it's beautiful. And I think people need to rediscover that: a quiche doesn't come in a box, but out of the oven."
He thinks that baking appeals to men – he says the 12-man-strong secret baking club, run by the Harlequins rugby team, is highly competitive. Savoury pastries have particular appeal, with pies being a bit more "blokey" than the average cake. "Boys are much more attentive – they take the recipe and are very precise," he says. Lanlard, who made Brooklyn Beckham's first birthday cake, has run baking classes for five years, increasing from once a month to weekly. He finds that corporate teams also come to bake. "Rather than go- karting or clay pigeon shooting, it's baking," he says. "We get stuck in with our fingers, crumbling butter – unsalted President butter [Lanlard believes French butters have lower water content than some British brands] – and flour. Baking is about getting your hands dirty."
Back to the Mediterranean tart, we add an egg and herbes de Provence for seasoning. It should then be left in the fridge to rest for an hour, to relax so it won't shrink again, before rolling it out and putting it over the pastry case. We then blind bake it, covering the pastry with ovenproof clingfilm and ceramic baking beads to stop it rising.
In contrast with shortcrust pastry, Lanlard does not recommend making your own filo pastry, which is incredibly time-consuming and fiddly to roll, but using pre-made from the supermarket, as he shows me how to make Moroccan-inspired chicken pastilla.
Pastry is precise: if you're into adding handfuls of flour to estimated-by-eye dollops of butter, it won't work out. But filled with onion jam, fried halloumi and aubergine, tomatoes, anchovies and capers, covered in ricotta and double cream and baked for 25 minutes, a shortcrust tart is delicious.
Waitrose has seen sales of ready-made puff pastry rise 13 per cent year-on-year, while M&S has seen ready-made savoury-pastry sales rise 10 per cent overall, with quiche sales up 25 per cent and pork pies up 8 per cent. Asda says customers are increasingly baking their own pies, pasties and quiches. Vickie Rogerson, an Asda spokeswoman, says: "Taking inspiration from popular TV programmes such as the Hairy Bikers' Bakeation and Jamie's Great Britain, shoppers are embracing savoury products such as quiches, pasties and tarts."
Lakeland has introduced an electric pie maker and a cheese- and sausage-making kit to its baking-equipment range. "It's clear that the rise in popularity of the garden party and the posh picnic has greatly encouraged people to 'bake and take'," a spokeswoman says. An estimated 58 per cent of people baked at home over the last year, an increase of over 31 per cent on last year, the retail research agency Conlumino says. Meanwhile Mark Hix, champion of British dishes, has a baking book – On Baking – out next month.
While pastries may not be on their way to replacing sweet desserts, they are competing for their slice of the baking pie. Lanlard says: "Cupcakes are still selling very well, they're definitely here to stay – they are for everyone – but they aren't going to be as popular as they used to be; you don't see as many shops just specialising in cupcakes like two years ago when every high street had one. People are becoming more adventurous and confident in the kitchen. It's the time for savoury baking."
'Tart it Up! Sweet & Savoury Tarts & Pies' is published by Mitchell Beazley
For the pastry
250g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
Pinch of salt
125g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed, plus extra for greasing
1 egg yolk
2–3 tablespoons chilled water
For the filling
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium red onions, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large aubergine, cut into 1cm slices
200g ricotta cheese
2 eggs, beaten
50ml double cream
150g halloumi cheese, thinly sliced
150g cherry tomatoes, halved
6 anchovies, sliced lengthways into thin strips
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
Fresh oregano leaves
To make the pastry, put the flour and salt into a large bowl and rub in the chilled butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Using a knife, mix in the egg yolk and then gradually add enough of the chilled water until the mixture comes together to form a dough – adding the water a little at a time will prevent the dough from becoming too sticky. Grease a 23cm-diameter, 3cm-deep tart tin, and line with the pastry. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200C (fan 180C)/gas mark 6. Remove the pastry case from the refrigerator and prick the base with a fork. Line with grease-proof paper and cover with baking beans. Blind bake for 15 minutes, then remove the beans and paper and cook for further 10 minutes, or until golden.
To make the filling, heat half the olive oil in a pan. Add the red onions, sprinkle with a little salt and cook gently over a very low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions release their natural sugars and begin to turn golden.
While the onions are cooking, brush the aubergine slices with the remaining olive oil and heat a frying pan. Place the aubergines on the hot pan and cook until lightly browned on both sides. You may have to do this in batches. Put the ricotta into a medium-sized bowl and mix until smooth. Add the eggs and cream, season with salt and pepper.
Cover the base of the cooked pastry case with the softened onions and then overlap the aubergine and halloumi on top. Cover this layer with the cherry tomatoes. Pour over the ricotta-and-egg mixture and cover the top of the tart with the anchovies, capers and a generous sprinkling of oregano leaves. Return to the oven for 20–25 minutes, or until set and golden. Drizzle with olive oil before serving.
Moroccan 'pastilla' tart
I fell in love with this traditional Moroccan recipe during my first visit to the Atlas Mountains. It was baked in a huge outdoor wood oven and almost looked like a cake when it came out, but it was succulent and spicy. It is traditionally made with pigeon, but l like my version with chicken, as it is less dry.
Preparation time: 35 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
500g (1lb) red onions, finely chopped
200g (7oz) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
900g (1lb 14oz) chicken pieces
bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ras el hanout
1 tsp saffron
1 tbsp golden caster sugar
50ml (2floz) chicken or vegetable stock
500g (1lb) brik pastry sheets, or filo pastry
125g (4oz) ground almonds
4 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp icing sugar, mixed with 1 tsp
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large casserole dish, gently fry the onions in half the butter over a low heat for about 15 minutes. Add the chicken, coriander, cinnamon, ras el hanout, saffron and golden caster sugar and season well with salt and pepper. Add the stock, cover the casserole and cook over a low heat for 20–25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more stock if it becomes too dry – though the final mixture must be quite dry or the pastry will become soggy. Shred the chicken into 2cm (.in) pieces and put to one side to cool.
Preheat the oven to 190°C (fan 170°C)/375°F/gas mark 5. Generously butter a 23cm (9in) diameter, 3cm (1.in) deep tart tin.Layer the sheets of brik pastry in the flan tin in a criss-cross manner, making sure they overlap the edge of the tin and reserving 2 sheets for covering the top. Keep the sheets you are not using covered with a damp cloth to prevent them drying out. Place a layer of the shredded chicken on top and sprinkle with some of the ground almonds and chopped eggs. Repeat the chicken, almond and egg layers until they are all used.
Cut the remaining butter into small cubes and place them on top of the filling. Bring the overlapping pastry sides over the top of the tart and cover with the reserved sheets of pastry. Brush the top with the beaten egg. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until the pastry is nice and golden. Serve straight away with a generous dusting of icing sugar and ground cinnamon. A fresh herb and rocket salad, dressed with balsamic vinegar, makes a nice light accompaniment.
Tip: Brik pastry is a Middle Eastern pastry used for both sweet and savoury recipes. It is slightly thicker than filo pastry and is used in the same way. If you can't get hold of brik pastry use filo, but you might need an extra sheet to achieve the right thickness.
Eric's top pastry tips
Weigh all of the ingredients and stick to the recipe – baking and pastry making is a science – being faithful to the recipe will ensure best results.
Try to use good quality and fresh ingredients – unsalted butter is a must in my book. Don't forget flour can go off so ensure that it is kept in an airtight container in cool and dry cupboard.
Add fresh or dried herbs to savoury shortcrust pastry dough for a tasty twist.
An easy way to lift a pastry circle is to roll the pastry dough out on top of a large sheet of clingfilm, then use the clingfilm to lift the pastry and drape it over your rolling pin. Lay the pastry over the baking sheet and simply peel off the clingfilm.
Blind-baking a pastry case will ensure that your tart will not have a soggy bottom.
Do not be tempted to overwork pastry. Always rest it – this will help stop it from shrinking during baking.
With puff pastry, when in a hurry a good-quality, shop-bought puff pastry will do, but don't be put off from making it at home if you have the time. It's the king of pastries, and the flavour and texture when home-baked are worth all of the effort.
Lastly, remember to give yourself lots of time and don't give up if it doesn't work the first time – practice makes perfect. Happy baking!