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.