The holidays are over and it’s time to get back into the swing of things. I opted to start Monday morning off gently by cleaning out some tanks that we needed yesterday for moving eagle rays* – a necessary task, but one that didn’t require too much brain power. Ideal for the first day back at the lab. So we’re starting off gently on the blog, too, with a super simple recipe for a little French biscuit called langue de chat, which translates as “cat’s tongue.” No cats are involved in this recipe, so nobody panic – the name derives from the supposed similarity in appearance between the biscuits and a cat’s tongue.
Now in France, langues de chat are fairly run-of-the-mill – you can buy a packet in any supermarket – but outwith France, they’re virtually impossible to find (and extortionately priced if you do). My mum adores langues de chat but, living in Edinburgh, she doesn’t get to eat them terribly often, so when I happened across a recipe a few years ago, I set about making some as a surprise for her birthday. I felt a bit silly because I’d never even thought to look for a recipe – like croissants, they’re so readily available that nobody bothers to make them. Except that unlike croissants, they’re ridiculously easy and quick to make, and homemade langues de chat are infinitely better than their industrial counterparts (and also don’t contain any dubious ingredients like powdered egg whites and palm oil).
My mum loved them, and now I make langues de chat from time to time as an accompaniment for desserts if I want to jazz them up a little – their characteristic pale centres and browned edges make them all pretty and presentable. Incidentally, it’s this distinctive appearance that is the trickiest part of these biscuits, as it can be ruined by a few seconds too long in the oven, but taking them out too soon means that they won’t be fully baked. Watching them like a hawk is recommended.
Apologies for the quality, but see what I mean? It’s also taken me a few years to get them looking close to perfect – the original recipe suggests using two teaspoons to form the little batons, but they inevitably end up a little wonky. So this time I decided to try piping the batons and it worked much better. They’re not perfectly uniform, but more importantly, they’re not wonky, so I’m happy with them (hence why they’re finally making an appearance on ze blog). So what does one do with langues de chat? They’re thin, dainty and a little crunchy, but not particularly filling, so they lend themselves well to any kind of accompanying-a-dessert situation – they’re good to serve with sorbets or ice creams, with desserts that would do well with a little added crunch (think poached fruit, chocolate mousse, etc.), or for dipping in syrups or chocolate fondues – or just something to nibble on with a cup of tea.
Langues de chat
Makes about 35
Adapted from Guide de cuisine de l’Etudiant
The batter is incredibly straightforward to make, but the baking part can be a little tricky – keep an eye on them in the oven as a few seconds too long can result in the loss of their distinctive pale centres. The quantities in this recipe make enough for about 2 or 3 people (because it’s impossible to have just one) with a little bit of snacking on the side, but can easily be scaled up to make more. They go brilliantly with ice cream, poached fruit, chocolate fondue, or just on their own with a cup of tea. They’ll keep in an airtight container for 2-3 days (they may start to lose their crunch a little after a couple of days).
4 knobs of unsalted butter (roughly walnut-sized)
2 heaped tbsp caster sugar
3 heaped tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
1. Prepare a piping bag with a round tip of about 8mm in diameter. Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan oven 170°C. Lightly butter a couple of baking sheets.
2. Only just melt the butter in a small heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Remove from the heat and add the sugar, whisking well until the mixture becomes pale and smooth. Sift in the flour and mix well, followed by the egg and the vanilla extract, once again mixing until smooth (if the mixture becomes too liquid-y, add a little bit of flour).
3. Transfer the mixture to the piping bag and pipe thin batons of about 3cm in length onto the baking trays, leaving enough space (about 2-3cm) between each so that they can spread out in the oven. (Alternatively, you can use two teaspoons to form the batons, but this is a slower, more fiddly method and the biscuits may end up a little wonky.)
4. Bake for 8-12 mins, making sure to keep an eye on them – only the edges should brown, the middle should stay pale. (The batter will spread or flatten quite quickly at the start, but if the batter starts to spread too much and the biscuits run into each other, turn the temperature right up to make the batter “seize” and stop it spreading. When they come out of the oven, cut them apart and return to the oven for about 3 mins so that the edges can dry properly.)
5. Allow to cool fully on a wire rack before eating.
*For anybody wondering why the heck I was moving eagle rays, an explanation will find its way into a future post.