One of my favourite things to cook are tarts and pies. Anything with pastry. I think it is one of the most rewarding things to make. It takes a bit of time and a bit of organising but the end result is well worth it. There are very few places you can go to purchase a good whole tart or pie from and generally they cost a pretty penny. So if there is one thing I really want my kids to master in the kitchen it is pastry, so they can be confident to whip up a good quiche, tart or pie.
I stick with a very basic Donna Hay recipe for shortcrust pastry. There are a few things I do which guarantee great pastry every time. The first one is I use a food processor. My food processor is almost 10 years old, falling apart and very much in need of replacing. I’m trying really hard to save up for a brilliant replacement – can’t wait. But in the meantime I really couldn’t do without my well loved processor we were generously given as a wedding present.
Once I have blitzed the cold, cold butter into the flour I add just a little water at a time while continuing to blitz. I just add enough water to get the dough to form heaps and heaps of little balls. If it has formed one big ball in the food processor I find that it is too sticky and too wet. So you need to stop adding water before it gets to that stage. Then tip out onto a floured bench and give only 2 or 3 kneads. Wrap in plastic wrap and rest in fridge for 1/2 and hour.
The second tip is to use Glad Go-Betweens – it is a freezer film and it is brilliant. I rip off 2 longish sheets of Go Betweens and roll out half the pastry in between. There is enough dough to make 2 x 26cm round tarts. The Go Between film means you don’t need to add extra flour which makes the pastry too dry. Roll pastry 3mm thick then peel off the top layer of Go Betweens. Then use the bottom layer of Go Betweens to pick up the pastry and invert over the tart tin. Press the pastry into place then peel off the Go Between. I then lay the Go Between just over the top of the tart tin and roll a rolling pin over to neatly trim off the excess pastry. Repeat with the remaining pastry in another tin or wrap up and store in freezer for another day. Don’t throw away the Go Between film – give a light clean and store in the freezer for the next pastry rolling session.
Prick the pastry base all over with a fork and place the tin in the freezer. My third tip is freezing the pastry in the tin as it means you don’t need to fill the tin with baking weights to blind bake. Just preheat the oven and take the tart tin straight from the freezer and into the hot oven and bake for 20 minutes. So easy. It minimises shrinking and takes out a whole fiddly stage of blind baking with foil and weights. Revolutionary!
Fourth and final tip – practice, practice, practice.
A week ago a friend of mine invited a lovely group of fellow school mums to her house for a ‘start of year’ lunch. Everyone brought something to share which I love because you get to sample lots of people’s delicious cooking creations. There was an Onion and Blue Cheese tart that I just had to have seconds of as it was so delicious. It was a Stephanie Alexander recipe which I thought I would replicate at home but then I thought I might take the onions up a notch with some balsamic vinegar and brown sugar.
Levi, Tilda and Essie all saw the blue cheese before I made the tart and were turning up there noses at the strong smell. But I didn’t tell them blue cheese was in the tart and they ate it very happily and I believe they said it was delicious! As the onions were quite sweet I think that was appealing to them but I also found the blue cheese was quite mild once baked in the tart. But you could replace the blue cheese quite happily with some crumbled feta or brie.
I loved this tart. I only had baby spinach but I would have loved a rocket salad drizzled with white balsamic vinegar and olive oil. A green salad just completes it.
caramelised onion and blue cheese tart
2 cups plain flour
145g cold unsalted butter, cubed
roughly 2 tablespoons ice cold water
7 brown onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water
100g blue cheese crumbled (or feta, brie, grated Gruyere or cheddar)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Process the flour and butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Whilst continuing to blitz, add just enough ice cold water to bring the dough together in small clumps. Tip out onto a floured bench and give just a light knead. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
If you have 2 x 26cm round tart tins then roll out two rounds of pastry, 3mm thick, to line both tins. If you don’t then store half the dough in the freezer for another time. The filling only makes enough for 1 tart but I still prefer to line 2 tins with pastry and keep one in the freezer for a speedy meal another day. Prick the base of the tart with a fork and put in the freezer until frozen. I find it can be frozen within an hour but I prefer to do this the day before just to be sure.
Preheat oven to 180 degrees and take tart tin straight from the freezer and into the hot oven to bake for 20 minutes.
In a heavy based pot place the sliced onions, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper and water. Bring to the boil then simmer, stirring from time to time, for about 45 minutes. It needs to cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the onions are soft and sweet. Keep an eye on it at the end of the cooking time, stirring frequently, so the onions don’t catch on the bottom of the pot and burn. Allow time for the onions to cool slightly.
In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, cream and a little seasoning. Spread the caramelised onions over the base of the tart. Top with crumbled blue cheese. Pour over the cream and egg mix and bake for 20 minutes or until filling is set.
Best served warm with dressed rocket leaves or a big green salad.