Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Cheese tart

In my recipe for Alsace onion tart, I recommended a very simple way of dealing with the pastry: after rubbing in the butter and forming the dough, you simply spread the dough in the tart tin by hand. Elizabeth David says that she finds this "the easiest and most generally successful tart pastry": that is good enough for me. It was light and crisp when I made it last Friday.

Elizabeth David's cheese tart has a kind of souffle as a filling. Her recipe is suspect: she suggests a thick bechamel made with 1 oz butter, 2 tbsp flour, and 1/4 pint milk. That is more flour than the butter will absorb; and it will make a quadruple thick, rather than double thick, sauce. She must mean 2 oz, surely.

For the pastry
140 g flour
70 g butter
About 2 tbsp water
1/4 tsp salt

For the filling
28 g butter
28 g (about 1 tbsp) flour
140 ml milk
60 g Gruyere, grated
2 eggs, separated
Pepper, dash of nutmeg, dash of cayenne or chilli pepper
1 tbsp Parmesan, grated

Cut the butter into small cubes, and put them into the fridge for 30 minutes to chill. Then rub them into the flour; they do not have to be absorbed completely. Add salt, and just enough water to form a malleable dough. With your hands, spread the dough into a buttered tart tin (mine is 22 cms in diameter). 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 use a cake tin.) Bake in a gas mark 5/190 C oven for 15 minutes, remove the foil or paper, and bake for about five minutes longer, until the pastry is no longer tacky.

Meanwhile, melt the 28 g butter in a small saucepan, stir in the flour, and allow the mixture to cook gently for a minute, until you have a sandy roux. Turn up the heat a little, and stir in the milk a few splashes at a time, incorporating each addition before making another. You should end up with a pasty sauce. Stir in the Gruyere, then the egg yolks, and add the seasoning. You may not need salt.

Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold them into the thick bechamel. I do this with a lifting and turning motion, until the egg and the sauce are blended.

Spread the sauce into the pastry case. It does not appear to be a particularly generous filling; but it will expand. Sprinkle the Parmesan on top.

Elizabeth David suggests that you bake the tart at gas mark 6/200 C for about 15 minutes. I baked mine at gas mark 3/160 C for about 30 minutes. I wonder if the higher temperature would have caused the filling to become lighter and puffier.

I shall take a break tomorrow. Work -- of the kind I get paid for -- is banking up.

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