Les Cornuelles - Biscuits secs triangulaires spécialité de Villebois-Lavalette en Charente

Family recipes: traditional "Cornuelles" biscuits for Palm Sunday

'Les cornuelles', triangular, dry shortbread biscuits with a hole in the middle are the speciality of Villebois-Lavalette in Charente, on the edge of the Périgord. Though the origin of the biscuit is unsure, we know that "Cornuelles" were traditionally eaten on Palm Sunday.

A traditional, family biscuit

'Cornuelles' are made with shortbread pastry basted with egg yolk that gives them their golden shine. Traditionally anise seeds were scattered over the three angles. Today, they've been replaced with small pink or white aniseed sweets.

The three angles represent the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The central hole is for inserting a sprig of boxwood during the Blessing of the Palms (before Easter in the Christian tradition).

As the shortbread is only made for two or three weeks over the Palm Sunday period, it is eagerly anticipated in the region. For many, it takes them back to childhood. Here's my Aunty Danie's recipe.

The Recipe

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Standing time for the pastry: 1 hour
Baking time: 12 minutes

For twelve Cornuelles

Ingredients:
500 g flour
250 g softened butter
240 g granulated sugar
3 eggs
½-sachet baking powder
1 table spoon of Pastis (or other aniseed liquor)
1 table spoon of Vanilla extract
60 g aniseed sugar balls (from the bakers or on line)
1 egg yolk + 1 desert spoon of milk for the glazing

Preparation:
Beat the butter and sugar together without turning the mixture white. Add the eggs, one after the other. Add the Pastis and Vanilla Extract.
In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and the sugar then add them to the previous mixture with your fingertips until you get a smooth ball.
Put in cling film and leave to rest for an hour in a cool place.
Pre-heat the oven to 180°.
Roll out the pastry on a floured work surface. Roll it down to 5mm thick then make the triangle shapes (traditionally 15cm for the base and 18cm for the sides). Use a ruler to form the triangles and a serrated pastry wheel to give a zigzag shape to the sides.
Place the 'cornouelles' on a baking paper covered tray.
Use the back of a fork to make a striped pattern on the 'cornuelles' joining all the angles together. Then baste the biscuits with a mix of egg yolk and a few drops of milk.
Make a 3cm wide hole in the centre of each triangle (a bottle top will make an ideal pastry cutter)
Sprinkle a few aniseed sugar on the corners.

Put the 'cornuelles' into the oven and bake for about 12 minutes at 180°. They should be slightly golden on the top but not too much because otherwise they'll become dry.

Eat them lukewarm or cold.

The Palm Sunday and Cornuelles fair

The Palm Sunday and Cornuelles fair is held every year, one week before Easter, in the town of Villebois-Lavalette situated 30 minutes south of Angoulême on the Périgord road. In this small commune that considers itself the birthplace of Cornuelle biscuits, the local speciality has pride of place just for one day: mass and blessing, procession of giant cornuelles...

If you're going near Villebois-Lavalette, don't miss a visit to the village with its 17th century market halls and at the top of the hill, a 12th and 17th century castle open to visits from June to September. To find your way around the village, follow the path marked with cornuelle-decorated bronze nails...

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