A tart or quiche, with a bottle of white wine, is the perfect Friday supper. Creamy, comforting, undemanding; and the wine goes down easily. What I do find demanding, though, is the pastry. My kitchen table becomes a floury shambles.
Experts advise you to wrap the dough in cling film and to refrigerate it for at least half an hour. After that time, I find, it has dried out. It crumbles as soon as you threaten it with a rolling pin. Or, if you have compensated by adding a little more water, the dough sticks to the rolling pin and to the board; it makes tough pastry, too.
That is why I was pleased to see the tart recipe in my friend Vivienne Menkes' elegantly written Alsace: The Complete Guide (o.p., but you can pick up second-hand copies). You don't have to roll the pastry: you just shove it into the tart tin by hand. I have made some changes -- reducing the quantities, for example (Vivienne suggests a pastry made with 250 g of flour, which is far more than I need for my 22 cm tart tin). I also bake the pastry blind before filling it.
140 g flour
70 g butter
About 2 tbsp water
1/4 tsp salt
3 medium onions
lard, or butter and oil
56 g butter
56 g plain flour
280 ml milk
2 egg yolks
Salt, pepper, nutmeg
Rub the 70 g of butter into the flour. Add salt, and just enough water to form a malleable dough. With your hands, spread the dough into a buttered tart tin (mine, as I said, is 22 cms in width). Prick the dough with a fork. Line the tin with foil or kitchen paper, weighed down -- to stop the pastry bubbling up -- with baking beans. (I don't have baking beans: I use a cake tin.) Bake in a gas mark 5/190 celsius oven for 15 minutes; remove the foil or paper, and bake for about 5 minutes longer, until the pastry is no longer tacky.
In a heavy saucepan, melt enough lard, or butter and oil, to fry the onions. (Sorry not to be more helpful on the quantity.) Add the onions, and a little salt; cover the pan, and cook on a very low heat. When, after about 20 minutes, the onions have wilted and are swimming in water, uncover the pan to allow the liquid to evaporate. Cook until you have a golden, sweet mass. (Menus sometimes, a little pretentiously, call this an onion confit.)
Melt the 56 g butter in a small saucepan. Add the flour, and cook for a minute, until you have a sandy (but not dark) roux. Still on the heat, add the milk in stages, stirring to incorporate each pouring before you add the next. You will have a double-thick bechamel, of the sort you would use in a souffle. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Allow the sauce to cool before stirring in the eggs (you don't want them to scramble).
Stir the onions into the sauce, then pour the mixture into the pastry case. Bake in the centre of a gas mark 3/160 celsius oven for about 25 minutes, until the filling is set and golden.
The ingredients for pastry should not be warm. I cut the butter into cubes, and put them and the flour into the fridge for at least half an hour before starting. I put the water into a bowl with some ice.
I haven't yet decided whether simply whizzing the flour and butter in a food processor results in tougher pastry than you get by rubbing them together with your fingertips. What I do know is that I prefer to make the dough by hand, rather than pouring water through the processor funnel.
An Alsace onion tart usually includes bacon. Vivienne recommends pouring boiling water over bacon strips or lardons before draining and drying them. You then add them to the bechamel and onion sauce.
The filling for most savoury tarts is a custard. This one is very nice too; but it is a floury sauce inside a floury casing. That's the Alsaciens: they like food that fills them up.