Working weekends is the bane of an English teacher’s life. Obviously it’s the time when the vast majority of students are free from their normal school/work routine, and so English language centres squeeze in as many classes as possible on those precious days. For my whole working life, I’ve had to work every Saturday. Now finally I am in the joyous position of only having to work some Saturdays, and what a difference it makes. After two consecutive two-day-weekends, I have never felt so relaxed in my life.
This weekend it was just as well I had the two days off, otherwise half of my mini-weekend would have been gone slaving away on this tart. It almost defeated me. Usually making shortcrust pastry is easy and enjoyable for me, but for this tart I tried a slightly different pastry recipe and it was a complete disaster. As soon as I tried to line the tin, it just fell apart. I attempted to patch it up, and it looked like it might survive, but after blind-baking it was just riddled with cracks and gaping chasms.
So I reverted back to my classic pastry recipe, but yet again it cracked when I lined the case – possibly this time it was my own agitation making me clumsy. I almost threw the towel in during the second blind baking and binned the lot, but decided just to persevere in the desperate hope that it would hold together, and I’m so glad I did. This patchwork job went much more smoothly, so while a bit of the filling seeped out the bottom and it’s certainly not the prettiest thing you’ll ever see, at least it is recognisable as a tart. And a jolly tasty one too, with a beautiful cheesy custard, a layer of delicious caramelised onions and the pastry case that, against all odds, was actually very nice. Not a soggy bottom in sight!
Caramelised Onion & Gruyere Tart
Serves 4, adapted from How To Eat by Nigella Lawson
140g plain flour
70g butter, diced
about 4 tbsp cold water
drop of oil
500g red onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp soft brown sugar
4 tbsp red wine
1 egg yolk
250ml creme fraiche
pinch of nutmeg
60g Gruyere, grated
1. Make the pastry first – rub the butter into the flour, then add the cold water as needed to form a dough. Bring together into a ball, and roll out on a floured surface. Line a 20cm shallow tin, and chill in the fridge for about 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C and place a baking tray inside to warm up.
2. Melt the butter with the drop of oil in a frying pan. Add the onions and spinkle over some salt. Cook on medium-low heat for 12 minutes until soft.
3. Stir in the sugar, reduce the heat further, cover the onions with foil and cook for another 20 minutes on the lowest heat until very soft.
4. Remove the foil, turn up the heat and add the wine. Cook on medium heat for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Season, remove to a bowl and leave to cool slightly.
6. Take the chilled pastry case from the fridge, place it on the preheated backing tray and bake it blind for 15 minutes, then remove the beans and paper and return to the oven for another 12 minutes. Remove and let it cool a little. Turn down the oven to 180C.
7. Make a custard by beating together the eggs, yolk and creme fraiche. Season generously with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
8. Line the pastry case with the mushy red onions onions, sprinkle most of the grated Gruyere on top, then pour on the custard. Finish off with the rest of the cheese on top. (No photos at this stage because I had pretty much given up on it.)
10. Bake for 30-35 minutes until set but not firm. Delicious warm or cold.