Every pastry chef has a baking version of a party trick, something that’s sure to elicit oohs and aahs but that isn’t nearly as difficult to make as it looks. Mine is the tuile cookie. Tuile (pronounced TWEEL) means “tile” in French; traditionally, these crisp, wafer-thin cookies are shaped (after they’re baked and while they’re still warm and flexible) to resemble the curved roof tiles found on country houses in France.
Once I learned about the classic roof-tile shape, I picked up other ways to bend the cookies and was soon hooked on their versatility. I fashioned small cookie cones and filled them with berries and lemon curd. I layered flat tuile cookies with seasonal fruit and whipped cream or sabayon to create napoleons. I draped the warm cookies over inverted shot glasses, and when they cooled, they became crisp, fluted cups for sorbet.
Whatever their shape, tuiles are delicious cookies in their own right, the perfect accompaniment to coffee and tea. And they can serve as showstopping dessert garnishes. For example, you can cut the warm cookies into triangles or strips, drape them over a can or another object, and they’ll conform to that shape. Next to a wedge of cake or pie, these abstract forms add dramatic impact.
If you’re thinking that this sounds like the kind of extra touch only a pastry chef could manage, think again. Making the batter for tuiles couldn’t be any easier. All you do is whisk together sugar, egg whites, melted butter, flour, and perhaps a spice or extract for flavor, and let the batter chill for a few hours.
The real skill and creativity with tuiles comes with the baking and shaping, but even a beginner will get the hang of it after a few practice tries. Begin by reading the guidelines and then get ready to start improvising.
Tuiles are best eaten the day they’re made. They’ll last for several days in an airtight container, but as they get older, they tend to get soft. But the batter holds for two weeks, so you can bake just enough for the day and save the leftover batter for later.
Ideas for using tuiles
Tip: Tuiles soften when they’re paired with anything moist (like ice cream or lemon curd), so assemble these types-of dessert just before serving.
Make a fruit napoleon: Spoon or pipe pastry cream lightened with whipped cream between flat tuiles and top with fruit (see the opening photo).
Fill a tuile cone with lemon curd and berries.
Make a hot fudge sundae in a large tuile-bowl.
Garnish a custard or a slice of pie or cake with a tuile corkscrew.
Fill a small tuile cup with whipped cream and fresh fruit.
Serve flat tuile cookies with tea or as a light ending to lunch.
Make a mini tart shell by bending the tuile over the bottom of a-soda can. Fill with chocolate pudding or ganache and whipped cream. Top with chocolate shavings.
Helpful equipment for baking tuiles
You can successfully bake tuiles on any baking sheet lined with parchment and sprayed liberally with nonstick spray, but it can be tricky: parchment tends to wrinkle as you spread the batter and some thin baking sheets buckle in the oven’s heat. For the best results, you might want to try the following items:
• A nonstick baking mat, such as Cook-Eze (available from Cooking.com) or Silpat (available from Sur La Table). These mats prevent the batter from spreading randomly while baking and make it easy to slide the cookie off the sheet for handling.
• A perfectly flat, rigid, heavy-duty baking sheet. I use a regular sheet pan, but I’m sure an insulated or nonstick baking sheet would work well, just because they’re usually so straight. If your pan is warped or uneven, the batter, which liquifies immediately in the oven, will slide around and spread unevenly.
Guidelines for shaping tuiles
A freshly baked tuile goes through several stages before it cools to its crisp final state. Immediately out of the oven, it’s still too delicate and hot to handle, and if you tried to work with it, it would tear. After 10 to 15 seconds, the cookie cools enough to hold together and bend. It stays pliable for another 15 to 20 seconds —this is your window for manipulating the cookie into a different shape.
If you wait too long, the cookie starts to crisp and your shaping attempts will only result in shattered cookies. If that happens, you can put the cookie back on the pan and warm it in the oven for a few seconds until it softens. But with each reheating, the cookie cools and firms faster than before, so I recommend only two reheatings at most.
Another suggestion: You might need to wear sturdy rubber gloves when handling the hot tuiles. The point at which the cookies can be shaped seems to coincide with the point at which they’re still a bit too hot to touch. (I’ve been baking these for so long that I have calluses on my fingers, so I can shape them bare-handed.)