Saturday, September 29, 2007


Caramelised Onion Tart

I am aware that today's recipe may not be the most inspiring because I am making yet another tart. Yes, another tart recipe. Well, what can I say? It is Saturday. Though not suffering from an alcohol-induced hang-over (those days are very few and far between, anyway), I am suffering one from too much reading. I just don't want to think anymore. And the best lunch time meal I can make without thinking is a tart.

Having said that, I cannot leave well alone any recipe, even if it is a simple one of onions or leeks, so I am keen to share any success from my tinkering.

Today there are a few sources of inspiration. Primarily I am motivated by the Caramelised Onion and Anchovy Tart that features in this month's Donna Hay Magazine. I am slowly developing a liking for anchovies, the salty fishes that augment a roast of lamb with savoury depth or that gives heads of garlic roasted in olive oil an edge of nuttiness (see my Bagna Cauda). I just didn't have any on hand, and, because I wanted to relax in the kitchen for a bit, I was inclined to make my own pastry - just not a puff pastry, which is what the Donna Hay recipe uses. I also thought making the caramelised onions more complex with the inclusion of a herb, as in Suzanne Goin's Saffron Onions, and with the addition of alcohol, like Tamasin Day-Lewis' sherry-sozzled adaptation of the Markwicks' Blue Cheese and Tart with Red Onion Marmalade in The Art of the Tart: Savory and Sweet.

For the pastry, remember to start off with fridge-cold flour and butter, and also keep a cup of iced water to hand. As for the marscapone cheese and heavy cream that are used to make the "cheese topping," they lend incredible richness and smoothness. A mild, melting cheese ensures that the topping remains velvety and is not overpowering, for the caramelised onions should take centre stage here.

Rich Shortcrust Pastry
(from Nigella Lawson's How To Eat: Pleasures and Principles of Good Food)

5oz/140g flour, sifted
2 1/2oz/70g unsalted butter, cut up into small cubes
1 tablespoon orange juice (or lemon juice)
1 egg
1 pinch salt
black pepper, freshly ground
iced water, might not be necessary

1) In a bowl, rub together the flour and butter with the tips of your fingers until a granular consistency is reached.
2) Separate the egg. You can choose whether to keep the whites or not, for they can optionally be used after the pastry has baked blind.
3) To the egg yolk, lightly beat in the orange juice, salt, and pepper - one or two cranks from the pepper mill should suffice.
4) Mix egg and flour mixtures together with hands (mixing in one direction) or wooden spoon. You want the mixture to cohere into a ball. If it does not seem to be coming together, add **one** tablespoon of iced water at a time. You may not need any, but if you do need it, be careful not to add too much because you'll end up with a wet mess and the damage will be done - unless, of course, you want to pour out the excess and add in a bit more flour, but that is a gamble, and I wouldn't recommend it.
5) Once a ball has been formed, create a flat disc, and cover in cling-film. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
6) Bring pastry out of the fridge and let rest for 5-10 minutes, to allow flexibility.
7) Preheat oven to 390 F/200 C.
8) Put pastry on a floured surface. Roll it out with a floured rolling pin, turning the pastry after each pass of the rolling pin to ensure it doesn't stick to your surface. Roll it out so it can fit into a prepared (that is to say, buttered and floured) 9 or 10" tart shell.
9) Allow to sit in tart shell in fridge for 15 minutes.
10) Cover pastry with parchment paper onto which put baking beans (this is to weight down the pastry, so it doesn't rise and bubble during the initial baking process).
11) Bake for 15 minutes.
12) Remove parchment paper and beans. Prick base with tines of fork and then dab egg whites over the surface to give a crispy result, if you kept the whites, that is.
13) Bake for a further 5 minutes.

Caramelised Onions
(Adapted from Tamasin Day-Lewis' The Art of the Tart: Savory and Sweet)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2oz/60g unsalted butter
2 medium onions, sliced thinly
1 small red onion, sliced thinly
1 1/2 tablespoons thyme (or as you prefer)
a pinch each of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons brandy

1) In a skillet over medium heat, combine the olive oil and butter.
2) When the butter has melted, throw in the onions and thyme, followed by the salt, pepper, and sugar. Stir frequently, coating the onion slices in the oil and butter. Cook the slices down until quite feeble, approximately 25 minutes.
3) Stir in red wine vinegar and brandy. Once the alcohol has evaporated, remove from the heat.

Caramelised Onion Tart

Baked tart shell, as above
Caramelised onions, as above
1/4 cup marscapone cheese
1/4 cup heavy/double cream
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese, or whatever cheese you prefer
a pinch each of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1) Preheat oven to 390 F/200 C.
2) In a bowl, combine marscapone and cream until smooth, then add cheese, and a pinch each of salt and pepper.
3) Layer the onion over the base of the tart shell.
4) Pour the marscapone mixture over the onions.
5) Bake until golden, approximately 15 minutes.

The sweet aroma coming from the oven will let you know when this elegantly luscious tart is ready. The first flavour to appear, at least on my tastebuds, is the brandy-coated onions, then the cheese, and finally the thyme. The pastry is incredibly buttery and flaky, adding to the richness of the contents of the tart shell. Feel free to do without the adornments of thyme, but a student must glamourise his or her life from time to time, however simply. This is an easy and fulfilling lunch for any season, and it might be a recipe I keep tinkering with over the next two months when I seek refuge from Master's thesis-induced fatigue.

This post is being submitted to Sarina at Trini Gourmet, who is hosting this month's Hay Hay, It's Donna Day.

Post script Go here for the Hay, Hay, It's Donna Day # 15 round-up.

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i love the idea of the mascarpone topping. this sounds like a delicious grown-up tart.
Shaun, this is a terrific amalgamation of several recipes! How interesting that the caramelized onion had brandy added, I can only imagine how wonderful that would taste in combination with the buttery crust and the smoothness of the cheesy filling.

p/s: I'm tackling my thesis too, but I am not quite at the writing stage, but data entry and analysis. I hate stats!!!
Your tinkering is a huge success!
WOW, all of those ingredients sound like a great combination! I am impressed that you made it for lunch. This would be a dinner item for me. All that I would need to add is a salad and a great bottle of wine! Looks lucious!
I must look up Donna, as I have not heard of her and am seeing more of her mentioned in the blog world.
Maybahay - Yes, the marscapone gives this an element of the "adult." The tart looks rather innocuous, but the luxury of the topping and the slight, sweet booziness of the onions makes this different to most others.

Nora B. - I love adding brandy all over the place. In fact, when I came back to NZ, that was all I bought duty-free :-) Tamasin Day-Lewis' recipe calls for sherry, which is lovely with red onions, but I wanted something with a little more heft. Overall, the tart is beautifully complex in taste, what with the varying textures and layers of flavours.

I wish you all the best with your thesis, knowing how difficult the writing process is, though it is simultaneously cathartic and makes one feel capable.

Cynthia - Thank you. Yes, this came off really well, and my parents also enjoyed it.

Winedeb - Sure, this could be a great dinner with salad and wine. A slice is enough for lunch, followed by some fruit.

It has taken me a while to participate in a Hay Hay, It's Donna Day event because I hadn't really given the donna hay magazine much thought - not because I didn't think I'd be interested, but because I was living in the US when I first heard of it, and I had no shortage of subscriptions!
Hey Shaun, thanks for all the support! =) I've been hankering after a tart for ages. I just decided to bake a strawberry tart this morning! =) I'll let you know how it goes!!!
Caramelized onions can make a masterpiece out of even baked cardboard. I can imagine how over-the-top they are slathering this rich pastry. Two kinds of onions are a great idea, too.

Shaun, I can't resist tinkering, either, although many recipes are just fine as is. That's why I can't join The Daring Bakers; one of its rules is to follow the recipes to the letter.
You've done a great amalgamation job there, and I'm sure it was a feast :)
Thanks so much for taking part in this month's round of Hay Hay it's Donna Day :) The roundup should be posted later today or tomorrow :D Stay Tuned!
Victoria - I'm still trying to find that recipe. I know that it involves chocolate :-) I really don't recall in which book or magazine I found it, but I will keep searching. I check out the strawberry tart and left a comment - it looks lovely.

Susan, lovie - Yes, caramelised onions can disguise anything as they imbue great depth of flavour to whatever they're served/cooked with. The red onions give a little extra sweetness, creating mild contrast on the base.

I know what you mean about the Daring Bakers, whose exploits I enjoy reading about every month. Besides, it seems like it can be quite stressful, and I don't need any extra stress right now. It is a good way, though, to be forced to learn a new baking basic every month.

Kelly-Jane - Thank you so much! It isn't the prettiest tart in the world, but it sure has incredible flavour, which is more important in my book.

TriniGourmet - It was a pleasure to participate. I will provide a link to the round-up at the end of my post once you are ready.
Great to have your entry in HHDD Shaun. I love caramalised onion in a tart.
caramaelized onions are enough to make my mouth water for this savoury tart!!
I thought it sounded delicious BEFORE I saw that you used mascarpone. Then I lost it :)
Have any left over?
Barbara - I am glad to have participated. This is a good event to cook something from the piles of magazines that amass in various corners of the house...

Mansi Desai - I always find caramelised onions to be comforting and delicious. I hope you give this a go. The thyme and brandy make a difference, a little "wow" factor.

Maryann - The marscapone ensures that the cheese topping is uniformly smooth. Its inherent richness adds luxury to this otherwise simple tart.
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