I remember my first encounter with a tuile. I was roughly ten. My family had received a box of the delicate little things as a Christmas gift from one of the neighbors. We placed it on the pile of food loot that accumulated in one corner of the kitchen counter each year…a heap of goodies so large it sustained my sister and I through two weeks of after-school snacking and desserts. The Klocko’s cookies always went first. Then anything that was chocolate. Then the caramel corn. And after that, well, whatever you could scrounge. A little store-bought shortbread perhaps. Put it together with an overlooked chocolate chip meringue and you had a passable dessert. One year I discovered beneath the mound of stained paper plates, crumpled tin foil and plastic wrap a thin oblong box. Inside were about a dozen paper thin, tubular cookies, each about the thickness of a Sharpie marker, whose edges had been dipped in chocolate. I picked one up and took a bite. This is hardly worth my time, now is it? I remember thinking. I should have known, the box was so light. I put the other half back in the box, which sat there untouched until Easter.
It took a college trip overseas and lunch in a Paris hotel for me to understand what a tuile was all about. It’s not a main-course type of deal. It’s an accompaniment. It’s a bit of texture with a little ice cream or chocolate mousse. It’s a flavor counterpoint to fresh berries and cream. It’s an interesting piece of decoration on a fancy plated dessert. But it’s almost never a centerpiece. If dessert were The Tonight Show, the tuile would be the Ed McMahon. Rarely noticed, but critical in their own odd, dorky way.
Tuiles come in many forms. They can be almost cookie-like, or they can be whispy and lacy. They can be plain, vanilla-flavored, citrus flavored, almond-flavored, anise-flavored, sprinkled with nuts, drizzled with caramel or dipped in chocolate. But probably their most endearing characteristic is that when warm, they can be shaped and/or cut into virtually any shape you can think of: classic bent-circles, cups, cones, tubes, squiggles, free-forms, you name it.
Quite the versatile little cookie, no? Oh yes, master these and the doors of the fancy plated dessert world will swing wide open to you.