A random trip out for ice-cream and waffles saw me going home with a three kilogram sack of red onions. I was full and happy after I stepped out of the ice-cream parlor and then something red caught my attention. The shop next door was selling sacks of onions for three bucks. I bought a sack without thinking.
Even after giving away some, I knew I had to use them up pretty soon. Onion chutney and caramelised onion jam was on the top of the list. However, curiously, I settled for a tart because I miraculously found some shortcrust pastry dough in my freezer. I have almost forgotten about it! It was a happy surprise as I was just craving for some tart/pie. Lesson learnt: always keep some pastry dough on hand. You’ll never know when you might need it.
I also found some leftover blue cheese from a dinner that I’ve vacuumed-packed and stashed away. That’s how incidental this tart came about.
I’m not much of a spontaneous person. While most girls would love to be whisked away on a surprise holiday planned by their partners, I’m not one of them. J can attest to that; I’m not one to give the most positive response one hopes for. Most of the time, I thrive on order and plans. Before I start to sound like a freak, I do like occasional bursts of randomness and spontaneity.
This incidental spontaneity rewarded me with some unexpected caramelised onion and blue cheese tart. This tart has a buttery and flaky crust and it is so perfect with those soft and sweet caramelised onions that contrast well with blue cheese.
Note to myself: be more spontaneous and let that spontaneity begin in the kitchen.
Recipe: Caramelised onions and blue cheese tart
I urge you to try this even if you may not be like blue cheese. I only started appreciating blue cheeses when I tasted one with a glass of Muscat. That moment transformed my opinion of them. There is just something about sweets (fig jam and dessert wine) with blue cheese; the two may not seem like a fated pair but in fact, they are.
This savoury shortcrust pastry is a keeper – you can actually use it for both sweet and savoury items. I’ve adapted it from the Bourke Street Bakery Baking companion, one of my favourite cookbooks. I’ve also included some tips on how to work with pastry.
For the caramelised onions:
Makes enough for a 9-inch tart
600g red onions, washed, peeled and sliced
a generous pinch of salt
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
250ml apple juice
1 tbsp sugar
a splash of red wine (optional)
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
1. Heat some olive oil/cooking oil in a large pan (big enough for all the onions). When the oil is hot, place all the onions in the pan and sweat them. Add in the pinch of salt and cook them until softened but not browned, stirring occasionally. This should be done over low heat and would take about 10 – 15 minutes.
2. After the onions are softened and translucent, add in the balsamic vinegar, apple juice and sugar. Cook at a low heat until the liquid has evaporated and the onions are browned and caramelised. Scrape the bottom every once in a while to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. This should take about another 30 -45 minutes.
3. Add in the thyme and deglaze with the red wine at the end of the cooking process. Leave to cool at room temperature before filling the tart.
For the savoury shortcrust pastry:
Makes enough pastry for a 9-inch tart and 6-inch tart with some remaining pastry dough
( Recipe adapted from Bourke Street Bakery: The ultimate baking companion)
300g plain flour, chilled
150g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
7ml vinegar, chilled
80ml water, chilled
1. Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add in the butter and use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour to partly combine. You should see squashed pieces of butter through the floury mixture. This does not need to be uniform.
2. Turn out onto a clean surface and combine the vinegar and water over the flour mixture (a little at a time, you may not need all the liquid. Just enough so that the dough comes together.). Smear the mixture against the table and gather the dough together. Repeat this until the dough comes together. You should see steaks of butter marbled through the pastry – this gives the tart a flaky texture. Try to work the dough as little as possible.
3. Shape the dough into flat disc and wrap it in clingfilm. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. This dough can be made in advanced and chilled or freezed until required.
4. Remove the pastry from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature for about 10 – 20 minutes. Sprinkle flour onto your work bench and rolling pin and begin to roll the pastry dough away from you, turning the pastry dough 90 degrees every once in a while. Sprinkle extra flour on the bench and rolling pin if it is necessary – this is to ensure that the pastry dough does not stick.
5. The dough should be about 3mm in thickness. Cut the pastry dough to about slightly larger than the size of your tart tins. You can use cookie cutters (for individual tin moulds) or a knife for larger tarts. Transfer the pastry dough carefully into the tart tins.Using your fingers, push the pastry dough into the base and move your fingers around the rims and sides of the tin.
6. Chill these tins for about an hour to relax the gluten before blind baking. Line the tarts with a crumpled piece of baking parchment filled with uncooked rice/beans/pie weights. Bake at 200 degrees celicus for about 30 minutes for large tarts or 20 minutes for small tarts. Remove the pie weights/rice at this point and bake for another 3 – 5 minutes. The tart shell should look lightly golden and the base should be dry. If it is not, return to the oven. This will ensure that you will not get a soggy bottom after filling the tarts.
*Keeping cool: Always remember that pastry likes the cold. That is why we chill the ingredients (flour, water, vinegar, butter) before working with them. I would measure out the ingredients and place them in the fridge for about 15 minutes before using. It helps prevent the butter from melting and from seeping out. And it helps gives pastry its flakiness. This also means that it is best to work in a cool environment (air-con is best) and on a cool working surface (like marble). Oh and if you have warm hands, try immersing them in a basin of cold/ice water before starting on pastry-making.
*Working fast: I can’t stress how important it is not to overwork pastry dough. An overworked dough would mean developing gluten and it will result in a tough pastry.
*Hand vs Machine: I like doing my pastry by hand so I can get a feel of the dough. But I know many swear by using food processor. If you are using a food processor, pulse the ingredients in 2 seconds burst for a few times. Never leave the food processor running with your pastry ingredients while you do other things.
*Adequate resting: Rest time is as important as the active time you take to make pastry. It is imperative that you give the pastry dough time to chill and rest in the fridge. This allows the gluten in the dough to relax giving a more delicate texture. It also prevents the tart from shrinking when baked. Do not rush through this step – you need to rest the dough for at least 1/2 hour.
*Flour, roll, turn: I find that rolling out the pastry dough is the hardest especially in a hot kitchen. The dough starts to become sticky or when it starts to tear.
First, start by allowing the pastry dough to sit at room temperature a little before rolling it out. I like to do this in an air-conditioned environment and with baking parchment over my table. Don’t be afraid to flour your work surface and rolling pin – it helps it from sticking. That being said, don’t create a flour storm or you will be incorporating too much flour into your pastry making it tough! Move and turn your pastry dough 90 degrees clockwise after every one or two rolls. And chill the dough between two sheets of baking parchment if it gets too soft and finicky.
*Blind baking: It means to bake the pastry cases before adding the filling This helps to create a flaky and crispy crust that can hold moist fillings without becoming wet and soggy. Place a large sheet of crumpled (so that it does not cut or tear the delicate pastry) baking parchment over the pastry. Fill it with uncooked rice/beans or pie weights. This prevents the pastry base from rising and the sides from sliding. Bake only until lightly golden and dry as you would be baking it for the second time.
Assembling and baking the tarts:
1. Dust the base of the tart with some breadcrumbs (stale bread that has been placed in a food processor). This is optional, it’s just extra protection for the base (no soggy bases). Tear up some blue cheese (I used Bleu d’Auvergne) and scatter them evenly in the blind-baked tarts. Add in the cooled caramelize onions over them and fill the tart to the brim.
2. Bake in a preheated 180 degrees celcius oven for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool slightly. Serve with some sprigs of fresh thyme.
You can also fill and bake the tarts with your favourite fillings like cherry tomatoes, feta cheese and basil as seen below.