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Add a tuile to dress up your desserts

March 21, 2007|Betty Hallock and Donna Deane | Times Staff Writers

THEY'RE like a pastry chef's secret weapon.

Classic, crisp, delicate tuiles -- those thin, finely textured cookies romantically named after curved Mediterranean roof tiles -- are perfect by themselves as a debonair flourish with a demitasse of espresso. But in restaurants they also might appear as the layers of a napoleon, or shaped into hollow drums that hold fruit and custard, or rolled into pirouettes and filled with chocolate ganache. For the home cook who learns the basic technique, the rewards are exponential. One easy recipe can vastly expand your dessert repertoire.

Tuiles can be the foundation of a dessert, for example when a cinnamon tuile, sides curving up like a tiny sweet taco, reveals a small dome of coffee pastry cream. Or they can be a decorative punctuation mark, as when a pistachio tuile is tucked into a quenelle of white chocolate ice cream atop a pistachio creme brulee. They can be formed into shapes, flavored with spices or orange zest or nuts, tinted with cocoa, dipped in chocolate and embellished with designs.

Basic tuile batter is unique but simple: melted butter, powdered sugar, flour, egg whites. It's best to work with all ingredients at room temperature so everything gets evenly incorporated. Strain the batter to ensure it's smooth. Then chill it for at least an hour so it's easier to work with and spreads less when baked. Spread the dough thin with a metal spatula over a template cut from a semi-stiff but flexible material such as the plastic lid of a coffee can.

To make patterned tuiles -- with stripes or polka dots, for instance -- prepare the basic batter and a chocolate batter. Take about a third of the basic batter, stir in a little cocoa, and you're armed with two batters.

Use the basic batter to line a template. Then use the second batter to fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip, and pipe a pattern onto the cookie. For an elegant web pattern, for example, pipe stripes across each cookie, then carefully run a toothpick across the stripes. As the cookies bake, the pattern melts into an almost seamless decoration.

Tuiles are fragile, so bake them on a silicone baking mat for easier removal from the pan. It's also easier to spread them on silicone than parchment. The key is to work in small batches and to work quickly. If some cool before you've shaped them, place them back in the oven for several seconds to warm them.

Hot from the oven, the cookies are fleetingly malleable, allowing them to be shaped -- traditionally in imitation of half-pipe roof tiles by being carefully draped over a rolling pin or a wine bottle. Turn them into pretty bowls to fill with mousse by draping them over ramekins. Or wrap the still-pliable cookies around the handle of a wooden spoon and you have lovely pirouettes to be filled with Nutella or dipped into melted chocolate. Or gently fold the cookie into a cone shape -- a refined version of an ice cream cone.


Basic tuiles

Total time: About 1 hour, plus at least 1 hour chilling time

Servings: Makes 24 (4 1/2 -inch) tuiles or 36 (3 1/4 -inch) tuiles or 72 (2 3/4 -inch) tuiles

Note: From the Times test kitchen. If you are making tuiles with designs, set aside one-half cup of the basic tuile recipe and stir in 4 teaspoons good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder. Use the chocolate batter to decorate the basic tuiles.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon

powdered sugar

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour

4 egg whites

1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Set aside to cool while preparing the remaining ingredients.

2. Sift the powdered sugar and flour into a mixing bowl. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the dry ingredients and melted butter until incorporated. Beat in the egg whites, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl, just until the ingredients are combined.

3. Strain the batter through a fine-mesh strainer. Cover and chill at least 1 hour or overnight. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator; let stand 5 to 10 minutes to temper.

4. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a piece of flexible cutting mat or material of similar thickness such as a plastic coffee can lid to make a template. Draw and cut a circle about 1 inch larger than the desired tuile size. Draw a circle within the template to desired size -- 4 1/2 inches, 3 1/4 inches or 2 3/4 inches. Cut out the circle with scissors, starting at the center of the template (you'll have to poke the scissors through the plastic).

5. Place the template on a Silpat-lined baking sheet. For 4 1/2 -inch circles, thinly spread 1 tablespoon of batter onto the template with a metal spatula. For 3 1/4 -inch circles, spread 2 teaspoons batter. For 2 3/4 -inch circles, spread 1 teaspoon batter.

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