Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mandoline and Other Pretentious French Cooking Terms (TWD BWJ French Apple Tart)

Cooks: Enough with the Francophilia already!

I appreciate all the cultural contributions from our well-read and well-fed friends in France. Thinkers like Rousseau and Hugo and Camus were all talented folks. God knows where we’d be without them. And God also knows that I’ve inhaled more than my share of brioche, Bordeaux and Brie. As a reader and an eater, I’m grateful, believe me.

But the French fussiness in cooking is simply too tedious for my all-American soul. It took me a year or two just to decipher what some of the terms meant.

I added a little extra sugar and butter so it wouldn't be too tart.
So in honor of this week’s assignment from Tuesdays with Dorie, the French Apple Tart, I’d like to share a few entries from a cooking glossary that I cobbled together: 
  1. Mandoline: A ridiculously sharp slicing tool that allows you to make paper-thin slices of just about anything, including your index finger. It is fitting that the folks who brought us the guillotine also brought us this handy little device. I’m happy to report that for this project, I successfully butchered my apples using the mandoline with nary a nick to my doigts (I hope that's French for fingers).
  2. French rolling pin: a wooden dowel with tapered ends. Beloved by real bakers, despised by those of us at home who couldn’t roll a piece of dough into an even circle if Julia Child were helping us guide the pin with her own huge and versatile man-hands. I used my trusty, all-American, blunt-end marble pin for this tart and the pastry survived, despite it's undulating terrain (see the photo below).
  3. Apple Compote: In Baking with Julia, Dorie refers to this as “a sweet thick puree.”  I call it applesauce with a few breadcrumbs thrown in. Tomato, tomahto. In this recipe, a compote of Granny Smith apples was layered into the tart pan on top of the dough. With a ratio of ¾ cup sugar to 6 apples, whatever you call it, it’s going to be good.
  4. Crepes: they’re just blintzes! What’s the big deal? This has nothing to do with the TWD project of the week, I just needed to get that off my chest.

French terms can be a little overwhelming to the American home cook. Many other sites have more complete lists and the real definitions of these words, such as this one for baking terms or this one for cooking terms. Please use the terms sparingly.

Old dough from the freezer+pathetic crimping skills = scary looking crust prior to baking. No worries: the apples made everything pretty again.
I didn't bother with the oven. For the compote, I mashed it all in a pot.
There were a number of fussy elements in the French Apple Tart recipe, such as chilling the dough not once but twice; roasting the apples in the oven then mashing them with sugar, cinnamon and bread crumbs before chilling and finally adding them to the pie shell to be baked once more; and there was a special fluting technique for the edges of the tart, which I massacred (yet another term gifted to us from the French).

Still, this French Apple Tart is a showstopper of a dessert, and I’ll probably make it again – perhaps for European Pi Day, which seems an appropriate time to be at least a little bit enamored with all things French.

For the complete, détaillé recipe, visit Laws of the Kitchen, or visit Amazon to buy the book. For accurate usage of the French language, visit anywhere but my blog.

PS: Somebody at TWD knew what she was doing when she picked the apple tart recipe for this week's post. Apparently January 23 is the American Pie Council's National Pie Day. It's not Pi Day, but still, any day that gives me an excuse to eat pie for all three meals is a day I want to support.


  1. Lovely apple tart! Enjoyed your post! And I really enjoyed this French Tart! Totally delicious! Bon appetit!

  2. Your tart turned out great. And, thanks to your post, I now realize that I own a French rolling pin. I never knew that I had one.

  3. Your pie is lovely. After taking the time to cut the crust at an angle for decoration I was disappointed it did not show in the finished product. Maybe I need to cut the slits deeper. Fun post! I thought this was a délicieux apple tart!

  4. Haha! I butchered my apples with a good old fashioned knife, no fancy mandolin in my kitchen. The recipe was quite fussy, but your tart looks like it was worth the effort.

  5. I agree that this was one fussy recipe... very french. I laughed out loud at your definitions, especially the mandolin which has nicked my doigts once or twice. Lovely tart!

  6. Thanks for the link to the "real" pi day!

  7. Don't hate the classic French cuisine. Leave it to the pros. Enjoy the food when they prepare it. You can go rustic, a different French tradition.

    Also, a French name for a device is not a pejorative term. It's just in a different language. I'm sure that a device similar to a mandolin and the name will sound super cool and be used by hipsters everywhere.

    With that said, the tart came out great.

    Long live freedom fries.

    1. Sorry MOTH, after an intensive (5 minute) Google search, it appears that Mandolin (or Mandoline, if you prefer) is the generic name for the slicer. There's even a "Japanese mandoline" out there. The closest we can come to an English name for this device is a "slicer." Somehow this doesn't have that same bourgeoisie ring.

    2. Exactly. It is just a name. And mandolin sounds way cooler than slicer.

    3. This from the man who speaks exactly one language -- English. (And don't tell me "food" is a language.) I married a snob.

  8. I love blintzes! Funny post and your tarte looks delicious.


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