Here’s a recipe I tried from Patricia Michelson’s book, The Cheese Room – she owns and runs La Fromagerie, a pair of artisan cheesemongers in London. What attracted me to Caramelised shallots with Fourme d’Ambert on flaky pastry was less the M&S style title (these aren’t just shallots; they are slow-cooked, caramelised shallots with an exotic sounding cheese…), and more the fact that we are dealing with a plain old cheese and onion tart. Now, I think it’s fair to say that the cheese and onion partnership could not be less fashionable; it is a pairing that has been largely lost to processed, flavour-added, edible-food-like-substances mass produced in some factory. Thus the gauntlet was thrown down: could cheese and onion be rescued from foodie obscurity and factory processing?
So, ingredients gathered I set about making the recipe. With the oven pre-heating to 200c, the flaky pastry gets rolled out to the fit the 20cm tin that I had to borrow upon discovering that once again my blackened, shoddy, severely less than adequate cookware had been binned without my knowledge by people with higher standards than myself. Undeterred, the pastry gets scored just before the side, and the base is pricked with a fork. Looking at the cooking times and the thickness of the pastry involved, all of my instincts scream that it should get a light blind-baking at this point, but as usual, I cave in and follow the recipe, regretting it later. It annoys me that so many recipes skip pretty important details just for the appearance of simplicity.
Next, the shallots get caramelised in butter. This takes at least 45 minutes; Leiths maintains at least an hour. The recipe suggests putting in a bit of balsamic at this point: I do. Although Fourme’s a pretty laid back blue, I’m anticipating the need for sweet/sharp to cut through its creamy richness.
While the shallots are gently caramelising, the cream-cheese mixture is made. The Fourme d’Ambert is roughly mashed with fromage blanc and cream, as even mild cheeses need to be leavened before cooking with them in this kind of recipe. Thyme leaves are incorporated into the mixture, and in my case, small rings of the spring onion that would otherwise have gone manky.
Once the shallots are caramelised, they are lifted out of the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. The remaining onion-butter-balsamic in the pan is hit with a high heat and reduced to a golden liquor.
Finally, the cheese-mix is pressed onto the pastry, and the shallots are pushed through the mixture. The cooking liquor is poured sparingly over the top. At this stage it goes in the oven for an advised 25 – 30 min. I kept mine in a great deal longer following my craven failure to give the pastry a light blind bake, just to get a decent crust.
Once the cooking is done, remove the tart and set it to cool. A horrifying gelatinous quality at this point is normal: during cooling the paste will set. A note on re-heats: you can only ever melt cheese once. Further exposure to heat will simply lead to burning. This isn’t too bad if you want to give it a pleasant black-spotched top between the shallots, and I ended up with this result trying to save the pastry from chewiness.
And here’s the finished tart. The pastry was far from perfect given the lack of blind baking, but the paste was pretty spectacular. Despite the added cream and fromage blanc, the normally retiring Fourme asserted itself in a strong, savoury fashion. The smoky-sweet shallots just about managed to cut through the rich cheese. Unlike the bland-pappy prepared cheese and onion tarts available, this is definitely indulgent: a small amount goes a long way, and is best balanced with something like a clean salad. The tatin also benefits from resting for a day, for the flavours to settle down and even out.
http://bit.ly/dlMfTJ is a copy of the recipe used above, which they fail to attribute to Patricia – I would recommend picking up the ‘The Cheese Room’ as it has a whole bunch of recipes on my hitlist. Let me know if you have any great success or failure with it.