There is something so very special about being an expatriate even though, occasionally, I long for the familiarity of the country where I was born.
But just think: here, I am and always will be “the American.” Which gives me the advantage of the renegade. This creates advantages, one of which is that I can serve dinner in the kitchen. Now maybe people think the French eat dinner in their kitchen, images of the huge farm table festooned by pots hanging overhead. This has been true, and may still occasionally be true. But the reality of life in France is that people eat their meals in the dining room.
So, at my house, I transform my kitchen into a dining room, and I do it by popular request. Believe me, I love sitting at a dressed table in my timbered dining room, a fire at my back, the church delicately lit outside my window. But I acquiesce because I also love the theater of welcoming guests into my “laboratory,” the kitchen, where I develop and test recipes, teach my kitchen wisdom, and generally rule my world.
Besides, I’m always running a little on the late side, and when we’re in the kitchen enjoying aperitif and all the little dishes I like to serve with it, no one is bothered and I don’t miss a thing.
I’m a big appetizer person, so I put out a selection of little dishes that I’m either testing, or simply was inspired to make by a visit to the market, or the weather outside. Favorites are grilled shitakes, chicken liver pâté (half liver/half butter/lots of white pepper), and crisp pastry sticks.
The pastry sticks are lagniappe; they are the result of dessert, almost always a fruit tart, and the leftover pastry. Inevitably, however, they steal the show. In fact, as my friend Louis said the other night, a champagne glass in one hand, a pastry stick in the other: “Ces choses la, ce sont une tuerie” (These things, they are a killer).
He’s right, they are, and here is the recipe. Add them to your holiday repertoire. You can make them ahead – roll out the pastry, cut them, freeze them and bake at the last minute. Simple.
Make many. They’re killers.
ON RUE TATIN’S TENDER TART PASTRY FOR PASTRY STICKS
LA PATE TENDRE D’ON RUE TATIN
1 ½ cups (205 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon sea salt
12 tablespoons (180 g) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 12 pieces
5 to 6 tablespoons ice water
To season the pastry sticks:
2 tablespoons milk, to brush on the pastry
1 – 2 tablespoons of: cumin salt, hot paprika, curry powder….your choice (if you’re using spices, I recommend also adding salt)
- Preheat the oven to 425F; 210C.
- Place the flour and the salt in a food processor and process once to mix. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the 5 tablespoons ice water and pulse just until the pastry begins to hold together. If the pastry seem dry and dusty, add the remaining 1 tablespoon water.
- Transfer the pastry from the food processor to your work surface and form it into a flat round. Let it rest on a work surface, covered with a bowl, for at least 30 minutes. The pastry can sit several hours at room temperature, as long as the room isn’t warmer than 68 degrees.
- Lightly flour a work surface, and roll out the pastry until it is very thin – 1-1/2 millimeters or an impossible to quantify amount of inches. Lightly brush the pastry all over with milk (to help the herbs/spices adhere). Dust the pastry with whichever spices or herbs you’ve chosen (you can also sprinkle it with grated cheese). Cut the pastry with a pastry cutter, dipped regularly in flour so it doesn’t stick, and transfer the pastry sticks to a baking sheet. (At this point, you can also freeze them, though you’ll want to harden them up first. Put them on baking sheets in the refrigerator. When they’ve hardened up, put them in air-tight containers and freeze). You don’t need to leave much room between them – they puff up, not out.
- Bake in the center of the oven until the pastry sticks are puffed and golden, 8-12 minutes, depending on the reliability of your oven. Remove once they are baked, and let them cool on wire cooking racks. They can be frozen at this point as well, carefully stored in air-tight containers
Pastry for one 10 ½-inch (26 ½ cm) to 12-1/2 inch (31.5cm) tart – many pastry sticks. I’ve never counted.