Episode 2, GBBO 2015, technical challenge

Arlettes

No one in the Great White Tent seemed to know what these were. I had never heard of arlettes either, but when I saw them, and then learned they were made of laminated dough, I thought, They look like elephant ears! (The pastry, not the real thing.)

And indeed they are, at least very similar to, one version of elephant ears. A quick search online found another type of pastry called elephant ears, popular among county fairs and food trucks, that is basically fried dough liberally sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. The ones made with puff pastry, like arlettes, come in two forms — smaller ones, which are basically the same as palmiers, and the larger flatter ones that we’re talking about here (also known as beavertails or shoe soles, depending on where you come from).

In fact, French pastry chef Dominique Ansel, who sells arlettes in his bakeries, surmises that these large, flat, delicate cookies were invented around the same time as palmiers, near the turn of the 20th century, in the south of France. It seems they were traditionally served with ice cream, but they go just as comfortably with a cup of tea or coffee.

The main difference between the laminated dough used for arlettes and the dough used to make palmiers is that arlettes are made with what I would call “inside-out” puff pastry. Apparently, this results in an even lighter, flakier product than regular laminated dough. The technical term is inverse puff pastry, or pâté feuilletée inversée. In this method, the beurrage (butter combined with a little flour and thoroughly chilled to form a block) is folded around the détrempe (the basic flour-based dough), instead of the other way around. After that, the method is basically the same as any other laminated dough — roll, fold, chill, repeat. Here, I’ll show you:

This bake is not difficult, but it is time consuming. However, a lot of the time is spent waiting between turns — as each round of rolling and folding is called — while the dough chills. So it’s not a bad way to spend a Saturday, especially during a pandemic. Of course, the easier, quicker way would be to use store-bought puff pastry, which most of the recipes for arlettes found on the internet call for.

The only mistake I made was setting the oven temperature too low. (My fault for not converting Celsius to Fahrenheit correctly.) They came out nice and crisp, but I don’t think the sugar had caramelized enough. Make sure your oven is set at 400°F. 

I also had some difficulty flipping them over halfway through baking, as they were still very limp and doughy. While this might not have been a problem if they were baked at the proper temperature, I came up with what I thought was a pretty ingenious way of flipping them. I simply put an extra silicone mat and baking sheet upside down on top of the baking sheet with the arlettes, flipped the whole thing upside down, and then removed the hot (Be careful!) baking sheet and silicone mat and put the arlettes back in the oven on the new baking sheet. Yes, I dirtied twice as many baking sheets, but I didn’t lose a single arlette!

These are delicious, light and crispy, wafer-thin cookies that reminded me of the scraps of pie dough sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar that my mother would bake as a treat whenever she made a pie. And true confession: I didn’t share any of these with friends — my husband and I ate them all by ourselves! 

You can find Paul Hollywood’s recipe here., but I have adapted it for American bakers below.

Arlettes

Credit: BBC.co.uk
Adapted for American bakers

For the dough:

  • 1/3 c. + 2 T. bread flour
  • 1/3 c. + 2 T. all-purpose flour
  • 1 t. salt
  • 3 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • ¼ c. cold water

For the butter layer:

  • 9 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 T. bread flour
  • 3 T. all-purpose flour

For the filling:

  • 3 T. granulated sugar
  • 2 t. cinnamon
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

Directions

  1. First, make the dough: Put flours, salt, melted butter and cold water in a bowl and gently mix to form a dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead for 5 minutes until smooth. Shape dough into a 5-inch square, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for an hour (or freeze for 20-30 minutes).
  2. To make the butter layer, cream the butter and flours together using an electric mixer. Sandwich the mixture between two sheets of plastic wrap and roll out to a rectangle about 5 inches wide by 10 inches long. Chill in the fridge for 25 minutes.
  3. Unwrap the chilled dough and butter layer. On a lightly floured surface, place the chilled butter layer with the short end closest to you. Place the square of dough in the center of the butter sheet, making sure the side edges of the dough square are aligned with the edges of the butter layer. Lift the edge of the butter sheet farthest from you and fold it down over the dough, then fold the edge closest to you up over the dough. The two edges should meet in the middle so the dough is completely enclosed in the butter sheet.
  4. Roll out to a rectangle, keeping the edges as straight as possible. Fold the top quarter down and the bottom quarter up so they meet neatly in the center, then fold in half along the center line. This is called a book turn. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for 25 minutes.
  5. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll it out into a rectangle again, then make another book turn. Wrap in cling film and chill for another 25 minutes.
  6. For the filling, mix the granulated sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to a rectangle, as before, and sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar over it. Make another book turn to incorporate the cinnamon-sugar, then roll out the pastry into a rectangle that’s 4½ by 8 inches and about ½-inch thick. Roll up the pastry from the short end like a Swiss roll. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 25 minutes.
  7. While dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with silicone mats or nonstick parchment paper. Trim the ends of the roll and cut into eight ½-inch thick slices. Dust the work surface heavily with powdered sugar and roll each piece of dough out very thin, turning it to coat with the sugar and to prevent sticking.
  8. Place the thin discs of dough on the prepared trays and bake for about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, carefully flip the pastries over and cook for another 3-4 minutes or until golden-brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. These are best served the same day they are made but will keep in an airtight container for a few days.
Next up: An Edible Biscuit Box and 36 Biscuits

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