Friday, February 15, 2008

Tarte au sucre (Sugar pie)

Tarte au sucre from France is not your sugar pie from Quebec that I’ve had at Christmas since inheriting a French Canadian brother-in-law. It’s a sugar yeast cake more similar to brioche. It’s light and airy topped with butter and brown sugar, more like a rustic coffee cake.

My first challenge for this item was finding the right type of recipe to use. When you search for “Tarte au sucre”, the most common recipe that the search finds is the traditional French Canadian sugar pie made with brown sugar, cream, and vanilla. No yeast in sight. Obviously, this wasn’t the right type of sugar pie.

In my search for this recipe, I thought I’d found a similar dessert called La Galette Pérougienne, which means a flat cake made of puff pastry (or in this case brioche) from the ancient town of Pérouges. Pérouges is a medieval, walled town in the Ain region, which is part of the Rhône-Alpes region.

I even found a recipe for La Galette Pérougienne from the ancient town of Pérouges. I thought I’d hit the jackpot. But, there must be a typo in the recipe because it didn’t turn out (at least that’s my theory!). The recipe says to bake for 5 minutes, which may be the problem. I increased the time in the oven, but perhaps not enough. It turned out doughy, and inedible. So back to internet searching I went.

Attempt #2: I found a recipe that showed a picture of how the dessert looks when finished. I thought this would be the one. However, the dough was stringy and yeasty. The topping was tasty, though.

Attempt #3: During my next quest, I found out that the north of France is the largest sugar-producing region of France and is famous for producing sugar from beets. Then I found a recipe for Sugar Tart from my old standby— It says this is a “Belgian” classic, which borders France on the north. When I tried this recipe (without using the food processor as is suggested), it remained flat as a pancake!

Attempt #4: Back to research. I found a recipe with pictures of the different stages. This one used a bread maker. Although, during this experiment, I wanted to replicate the tools I’d have at cooking school, and I’m pretty sure bread makers are not in the kitchen, I was desperate. I thought that if this recipe worked, then I would have something I could try by hand. So back to my kitchen I went. This time though, I used the recipe from but followed the technique described on the blog. This one was flat, chewy, and inedible.

So, I thought through all the different recipes I had tried. The one in Attempt #2 tasted the best of the bunch, which isn’t saying much. But, I thought that if I used the method used in Attempt #4 (namely using the bread maker), that I might be in luck. I also made sure the milk was no hotter than 110°F since I’d read that any higher could kill the yeast. And, I proofed the yeast to make sure it was alive and kicking. So, I gave it one last whirl. Guess what! It worked. Finally, I had a recipe that I could eat and enjoy.

Recipe for Tarte au sucre adapted from Link and Link and Link

⅓ cup whole milk, warmed to 110°F (use an instant read thermometer if you have one)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 package (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons flour (more as needed)
2 large eggs
¾ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons butter
½ cup brown sugar

To make the yeast dough, proof the yeast in the warmed milk and add the sugar. Wait 2 minutes until the mixture is foamy.

If you’re using a bread maker, add all the ingredients for the dough and use the basic dough or basic French dough setting.

If you’re making the dough by hand, sift the flour on a marble slab or board and make a well in the center. Add the eggs, salt, and dissolved yeast mixture. Briefly mix the central ingredients then draw in the flour with both hands, pulling the dough into large crumbs with the fingertips. Knead the dough for 5 to 10 minutes or until very smooth and elastic, adding more flour if necessary so that the dough is not sticky. Pound the butter to soften it thoroughly, then work in into the dough, slapping the dough on the work surface, until the butter is thoroughly incorporated. The dough should be smooth, not sticky. Transfer the dough to a light oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise until almost doubled in bulk.

Thoroughly butter the pie pan. Transfer the risen dough to a floured work surface and fold it in thirds, patting it to knock out the air. Flour your hands and flatten the dough into the base, not the sides of the pan. Let rise for 15 minutes and then spread with butter cubes and sprinkle with the brown sugar. Let rise for 15 minutes and then bake for 15 or 20 minutes in a 400°F oven. Serve at room temperature.

Use orange zest or lemon zest in the dough.
Fold some chocolate pieces into the dough.
Sift some icing sugar on top for decoration.
Serve with crème anglaise.

Tasting Notes

Once I finally mastered the recipe and technique, I found the sugar yeast cake a light snack perfect for breakfast or brunch. It's not too sweet. My husband added butter on top, heated it in the microwave, and slowly finished off the whole thing.

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Running total: $160.49 + $2.69 = $163.18

Butter used so far: 2 pounds, 25.5 tablespoons