I know some of you are making New Years resolutions to avoid all carbs and/or sugar, but consider this recipe for one of your cheat days. This tarte au sucre is a wonderfully simple and classic afternoon treat many French children grow up eating after a day of school. Like a tarte tropezienne, which is a brioche cake filled with custard, this tarte au sucre derives much of its sweetness from one particular component in the dish. In a tarte tropezienne, that sweetness comes from the custard filling. In a tarte au sucre, the sweet factor happens to be the caramelized sugar topping. Unlike an American cake, this tart’s “cake” layer is really just a yeast dough with minimal sweetness. That’s why this tarte is enjoyed as a sweet snack after school (or mid-workday) rather than a decadent dessert after a meal.
The great thing about the dough for this tart is that you really don’t need to knead it very long. Instead, it’s more about stirring the ingredients together, which includes a dash of orange extract and a pinch of orange zest, until a wet, sticky dough forms rather than any real folding technique. The orange flavors are subtle but add a touch of brightness to the tart and round out the buttery flavor. The dough rests until it’s expanded in size, and then it’s simply flipped out into a prepared pan and stretched to reach the edges of the pan. The glorious sugar topping is sweet and crisp, and is created with a mere sprinkling of brown sugar and cubes of butter, evenly dispersed along the top.
Once baked, the dough transforms into this buttery, quick bread-like layer but with all the flavor and carb-goodness you get from the yeast. The sugar and butter on top bubble and brown until they’re transformed into a brûlée-reminiscent topping. It’s just the kind of treat that you can enjoy during the middle of the day without feeling like you’ve gone too far on a sugar rampage. I think these French people are totally onto something…
- 6.5 tbsp (~ 90 g) unsalted butter, softened and diced
- 1.75 tsp (5 g) active dry yeast
- 3.5 tbsp (5 cl) warm milk, 105°F - 110°F
- 2 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour, plus more as needed to shape
- 2 tbsp (30 g) granulated sugar
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/2 tsp orange extract (optional)
- 1 tsp orange zest
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter, diced
- brown sugar, to sprinkle on top (about 1/3 cup or ~ 40 g)
- Pour the warm milk over the yeast in a small bowl. Don’t stir; let the yeast rest in the milk for about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine the all-purpose flour, sugar, and salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the dry ingredients; add the egg yolks, yeast-milk mixture, orange extract, and orange zest to this well. Stir together until the wet and dry ingredients are combined.
- Stir the softened butter into the dough and knead for approximately 5 minutes until a sticky dough forms. Add all-purpose flour to the dough, if needed, to try and form a compact ball shape. (note: dough should remain wet and sticky, though)
- Grease a large bowl before placing the dough ball into it. Cover the bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap, then store the dough in a warm place for 1 to 1/2 hours. The dough should expand in size (almost double the original size).
- Preheat the oven to 360°F. Grease a 9 or 10 inch cake-pan. Turn the dough out into your prepared pan. Use your fingers to gently press the dough out in the pan so that it’s evenly spread out all the way to the edges of the pan.
- Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly all over the top of the dough. Disperse the diced butter all over the top. Bake the cake for about 25 to 30 minutes, until the top has gotten golden brown and caramelized. Best served warm.