First, what is an arlette? I had never heard of, or seen, arlettes before. French pastry chef Dominique Ansel suspects that they were invented at the onset of the 20th century – around the same time as the palmier – but for some reason they lost out in the popularity stakes.
I searched for the recipe online without much joy but, after speaking to a friend, I found out that her mum used to make them when she was little – she was kind enough to give me the recipe.
At first glance the recipe looks quite straightforward – if you’re comfortable making puff pastry, that is. Make the pastry, fill with spiced sugar, roll, cut into slices, flatten and bake. What could possibly go wrong?
How to make arlettes
1. Start by making the puff pastry. Add plain flour, a pinch of salt and cubed pieces of unsalted, chilled butter to a bowl.
4. Knead the dough on a clean surface for 2-3 minutes, wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes. Take more unsalted chilled butter and roll it out between 2 sheets of cling film or baking paper. Roll the butter into a 8cm x 10cm rectangle and roll the chilled dough into 12cm x 25cm rectangle. Place the piece of butter on the dough and wrap the dough around it.
5. Start rolling the dough into a long rectangle. Fold the top third of the pastry down and the bottom third of the pastry up, making neat folds, then wrap it in cling film to chill, in the fridge, for 30 minutes.
6. Roll out and fold the pastry again, repeating this step at least twice more in order to achieve the flaky effect in the biscuits.
(After every roll and fold, I chilled the pastry for 30 minutes – it will be interesting to see how the contestants will manage doing this in the tent with, I am sure, very little time. I remember when we had to make kouign amann, in series five, which also included making puff pastry in a very short amount of time – God help them if it is a hot day.)
7. Once the pastry is chilled, roll it out into a big square – roughly 30cm x 30cm. In a bowl mix demerara sugar with ground cinnamon. Brush some melted butter over the rolled pastry, then sprinkle the spiced sugar evenly over it. Start rolling up the pastry tightly from one end (like a swiss roll).
8. Wrap the roll in cling film and chill for 30-60 minutes . Once chilled, cut the roll into thin slices, roughly 5mm thick – use a sharp knife as you don’t want to squash the layers.
9. Take one piece at a time, sprinkle with caster sugar, then roll it into nice, thin oval shapes – roughly 2mm thick. The sugar will melt and caramelise to give the biscuits extra crunch.
10. Place these on a baking tray, covered with baking paper. Chill for another 30 minutes, then bake for 15-20 minutes until crisp and golden brown.
The tricky bits
For me, the most difficult thing in this challenge would be time, time and more time. I have no idea how will they find enough time to chill the pastry for so long after every turn, roll and shaping.
Making the pastry is not tricky if you know how but, once the pastry is made, I found rolling the cut pieces into ovals quite difficult. I was making the arlettes on a very hot day, in a very hot kitchen. As soon as I started rolling the biscuits they were melting under the rolling pin and I could not do anything about it.
This challenge reminded me of my baked alaska, in series five, melting in front of my eyes while tears rolled down my face – I’ll never be able to forget that one!
How did they turn out?
After a very long day, and so much chilling, was all that effort worth it? Definitely YES! As soon as the biscuits were out of the oven, and cooled, my kids and I were all over them and they were gone in seconds.
I’ll be making them again for sure but maybe I’ll skip the pastry-making and use ready puff pastry instead.