Tuiles: those wretched thin cookie-like garnishes in impossible shapes used to garnish desserts in fine dining restaurants.
I have to be honest.
I hate tuiles. I don't hate eating them. I dislike eating them. But I loathe making them. Very much. Why?
Well, let me explain.
When you train to be a pastry chef in a restaurant, you get the worst jobs in the kitchen. Pitting cases of cherries (hello repetitive stress injury!); making countless batches of tiny cookies, known as 'petit fours' or 'mignardises'; and making, each and every day, the garnishes for the desserts. In the mid-90s, when I was training, the garnish of choice - other than the cliched sprig of mint - was a tuile. Sometime chocolate. Sometimes millet. Sometimes plain. Sometimes curled. Sometimes a leaf. Sometimes something more impressionistic. Sometimes we'd make bowls out of them, and serve ice cream in them. Or make spoons from tuiles. How very whimsical. Very.
Working with tuiles requires the tolerance of heat, the ability to work fast, and the acceptance, nay, love of repetition. Tuiles need to be shaped or formed while they are still warm and malleable, but not so warm they break. There were some menus when I had to make tuiles every day. There were some menus that, thankfully, were tuile-free. Other tuiles were of my own design, and I take full responsibility for sticking them on the menu.
This one, for example, has a curved tuile - dusted with green tea. From 1998.
So this month I nearly cried when I saw it was another old frenemy from my days in the bake shop. I didn't want to play, but I didn't want to use up my 'skip a month' privileges at the Daring Bakers. And since I'd already skipped December (I didn't like the recipe - I'm not a very good team player when a recipe is uninteresting to me), I felt that it was my obligation to participate in January's challenge, which I almost didn't do because I spent most of this month moving from Chicago to Boston (cue tiny tiny violins). Every time I tried to think of a tuile project, my brain would stop working. I had such a strong reaction to the very idea of making tuiles that I shut down completely.
The month passed, and still I made no progress on the project. Finally, on the 25th of January I arrived at my mother's house, where I felt comfortable enough invading her kitchen and taking over.
But I still lacked motivation.
Finally, on a snowy Wednesday, the day before posting, I decided to make one of the recipes in the challenge - something I'd made many times before that I could turn into candy by adding chocolate after I'd shaped my project - almond nougatine.
[Oh, and now for the obligatory sentences that I must include in order to get credit for the challenge: This month's challenge is brought to us by Karen of Baking Soda and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf.They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angélique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux. ]
Almond Nougatine couldn't be easier. You toast almonds. You caramelize sugar. You combine the two. You spread it out or roll it out thin, and then, while it is warm, shape it into just about anything you'd like.
I made a few requisite twirls and then I made a nougatine heart (just to show how flexible it is). I built a nougatine box - with a heart cut out, just so I could be in keeping with the February Valentine's Day theme.You can use scissors on nougatine, too - while it is still warm (but not hot). I used the scissor technique to trim a small bowl's edges.
When I grew weary of the playing, I combined some crushed nougatine with chocolate for some easy chocolate candies. I'll probably end up garnishing a cake I'm making for a dinner party later this week with some of the leftovers.
Here's the box with the cut-out heart:
And an ice cream bowl with a nougatine curl:
And the heart. Isn't it darned cute?
And piles and piles of chocolate nougatine candy. MMMMMM.
Here's the recipe for those who choose to do this at home (and why not? It is easy! But definitely cut the recipe in half. Unless you run a bakery or you are planning to make candy to give away, this is way too much).
From Michel Roux: Finest Desserts
5.1/4 cups / 500 grams sliced almonds
(or 4.1/3 cups/500 grams slivered almonds)
3.1/3 cups / 660 grams sugar
4 tbs / 60 grams butter (optional)
2 tbs oil (vegetable, sunflower, peanut)
Makes 2.3/4 lbs/1.2 kgs! (This is the yield of the recipe given in the book, feel free to downsize!)
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Preheat oven: 180C/350F
Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until lightly browned. Cook the sugar in a heavy based saucepan over low heat, stirring gently and continuously with a spatula, until it melts to a light golden caramel. Add the almonds and stir over low heat for 1 minute, then stir in the butter until completely absorbed. (This is not essential, but will give the nougat an added sheen) Pour the nougatine onto an oiled baking sheet.
Shaping: place a bakingsheet toward the front of the warm oven, leaving the door half open. The warmth will keep the cookies malleable. Work with one piece at a time, of a size appropriate to the shape you want. Roll out each piece on a warm, lightly oiled baking sheet or lightly oiled marbled surface. It is essential to work quickly, since the nougatine rapidly becomes brittle. Heat the nougatine in a microwave oven for a few seconds only to soften it if needed.
Roll the nougatine into the appropriate thickness for your desired shape, but never thicker than 1/8 inch or 3 mm. Quickly cut out your chosen shapes using cookie cutters, or the blade or heel of a chef’s knife. To mold the nougatine, drape it very rapidly over the mold so that it follows the shape and contours. Leave until completely cold before removing from the mold.
Or, cut out and using your fingers or a knife, push into folds or pleats… use as a basket, twirl round a knitting needle..
Nougatine based shapes can be made two or three days in advance, Keep them in a very dry place and do not fill with something like a mousse more than 2 hours prior to serving.
To make the nougatine candy, crush nougatine into about 3 cups - pieces can be all sizes, from dust to chunks. Melt about 10 oz of chocolate, temper, and combine with nougatine. Spread out on parchment, separating pieces as best you can, then allow to cool. Break up pieces if necessary and enjoy!
And...good news...it keeps in dry weather. Just store it in a dry place, warm it and shape when you are ready to use it: