Thursday, 23 February 2012

Tarte au Sucre Ardennaise (Sugar Pie from the French Ardennes)

This is a world exclusive: I’m about to hand over one of my “mother-in-law’s” recipes (I’m talking about Seb’s mom, of course). And of course, to honour the dish, Seb has prepared it himself, and he has decided to share it with me, and thus with you. The Tarte au sucre is a very popular cake from one of the most beautiful regions of France, and one you’ve probably never heard about before: the Ardennes. To talk geography, the Ardennes are a French department situated in the North, near the borders to Belgium and Luxemburg. It’s a very green, region with softly rolling hills, lush meadows and ancient forests; in terms of gastronomy, you can discover many recipes using game and potatoes. One of the specialities is the boudin blanc, a white sausage (the city of Rethel is renowned for being the world capital of the boudin blanc). Last but not least, those of you who love literature will be excited to learn that the world-famous poet and enfant terrible Arthur Rimbaud was born in Charleville-Mézière, the main town of the Ardennes.

But let’s get back to our recipe. This cake requires some skill because you have to prepare a dough that might be, well, let’s say unpredictable. You’ll have to use what the French call “levure de boulanger” (you could translate it with baker’s yeast; it means fresh yeast, in contrast with yeast powder). Like for any other cake, you have to be precise when you weigh the ingredients; one gram too much, and the result might be a disaster. Let’s stress the fact, too, that this cake is delicious yet light in terms of sugar and calories (even fitted for diabetic persons).

What you need: 
  • 225 g of flour 
  • 5 g of salt 
  • 22 g of granulated sugar 
  • 80 g of softened butter (don’t forget to take it out of the fridge the evening before!) 
  • 2 eggs 
  • 30 g of warm water (warm, not hot! Nody temperature, i.e. approx. 37°C) 
  • 20 g of baker’s yeast 
  • For the topping: 1 whole beaten egg, 100 g of brown sugar, several chunks of soft butter 
How to proceed:
  • In a big bowl, mingle the flour and salt. 
  • Make a sort of “well” in the middle. 
  • In another bowl, dissolve the baker’s yeast and the sugar in 30 g of warm water. Two things are extremely important: first, don’t use more water than indicated in order to allow the dough to have the right consistency. Second, the water temperature must not exceed body temperature (37°C) because you will not want to “burn” the yeast. Otherwise, the dough won’t rise. 
  • In the first bowl, pour the diluted yeast and the eggs in the well and start to knead the dough. 
  • Little by little, mix in the softened butter; the dough should become smooth. It should not stick to your fingers while you knead; otherwise, add some more flour. 
  • Cover your bowl with a clean dishcloth and let the dough rest for 30-45 minutes in a warm corner (the best would be to put it on a warm radiator). 
  • Knead the dough again while folding it delicately. 
  • Cover the bowl again with your dishcloth and let the dough rest for another 30-45 minutes on the radiator. 
  • Preheat your oven (210°C). 
  • Spread out the dough in your pie dish that you’ll have buttered beforehand. 
  • Beat an egg; with a brush, cover the pie with all of it. 
  • Sprinkle the pie with the brown sugar (try to put sugar everywhere). 
  • Add chunks of soft butter everywhere. 
  • Put the pie in the oven (210°C) for 12-13 minutes. Not a minute longer if you possess a modern oven (says my “mother-in-law”). Well, we don’t, we possess a rather old gas oven and our pie wasn’t ready at all after only 13 minutes. So, we left it in the oven for a total of 30 minutes; the pie is ready when the top is deliciously brown.
The recipe may sound simple but believe me, the result is delicious! You’re going to love its lightness and fluffiness, with that yummy taste of yeast. The top is crisp and crusty, with little “wells” where the sugar and butter have melted and caramelized. Let me tell you that the first time Seb has prepared this cake, it didn’t survive 24 hours! We had half of it after dinner (a very light dinner: raclette! LOL – and still we had the pie afterwards!) and the rest the next day instead of lunch. So Seb had to prepare another one because I didn’t stop joking that I had not had time to really taste it.
Bon appétit! 


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