This is an approximation of French onion tart in bite-size form: light crisp pastry and tender savoury middles. The recipe has its origins in an issue of Stella magazine when I was learning to bake during sixthform (don’t let’s think about how long ago that was; my age is showing), and my Pearents seem to have a particular appetite for it around winter time.
For the cook, it’s straightforward to make. The important part is to make sure you soften and brown the onions properly for the richest flavour and texture.
Only patience is required: onions take about 30 – 40 minutes to properly brown, but you don’t need to do much during that time. You just wait for it to fully become itself. (Or use this quick method–let me know how it goes….)
You can make the onions at least a day in advance, and the pastry can be kept chilled for a week or frozen for a month, making them amenable to the busiest schedule or lackadaisical work ethic.
The pastry is just the kind I almost always use. It is the sloppiest rough puff pastry you can imagine–I don’t want tall, perfect layers, just long buttery flakes. The most elbow grease you’ll use is cutting the butter into the flour.
This isn’t as quick as Delia’s method but I’ve found that this yields better flakiness. For me it’s done in just over an hour, chilling included, possibly saving a little time due to practise (this isn’t skill, unless you count greed and impatience as talents).
The tartlets are good to share at gatherings or to keep in the fridge for easy pickings. For a quicker baked dish that still contains the joy of starch and caramelised onion, try goat’s cheese, caramelised onion, honey, and rocket flatbread pizza.
Makes about 500g.
You’ll need a hand-held pastry blender. I love mine, it takes up very little space and can be used to mash other things, like chestnuts into sugar. Briefly freezing the flour and butter at the start ensures that everything stays cold without too much effort; I get the crispest, flakiest pastry this way.
250g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
150g cold unsalted butter, diced
Mix the flour and salt together. Add the cold diced butter, tossing well to coat each and every cube. Transfer mixture to a suitable sealed container and freeze for at least 20 minutes. (I like to do everything in this step in a plastic freezer bag, which I also use to wrap the finished dough as it’s conveniently floured.)
Turn frozen flour and butter into a large bowl. Cut together using a pastry blender until the butter is about the size of peas. Gradually add cold water by the tablespoon, concentrating on dry areas. Mix very well with a round-bladed knife between additions to form large clumps with only a little crumbliness. You might find it helpful to temporarily remove the clumpy dough to better get at the floury bits. Bring everything together with your hand into a lumpy dough. Wrap and chill for 20 minutes.
On lightly floured surface, roll out dough to a rectangle about 1 cm thick. Fold the top third down towards the centre, then fold the bottom third over that. Turn the folded dough 90 degrees (left or right, doesn’t matter), roll out to a rectangle again.
Repeat the turning and folding once more until the dough is lightly streaked with butter. Lightly fold, wrap, and chill for at least 20 minutes before using.
Makes 24 tarts. (people usually want at least 3 – 4 to themselves)
Keeps chilled for 4 days; reheat at 190 degrees C/170 fan for 10 minutes.
Leave time for browning and cooling the onions. Salt is added in the beginning to draw out water and ensure evening softening. This slows the browning but you need them silky.
filling (enough for pretty much exactly 24 tarts)
3 medium-large yellow/white onions, about 500g – 600g (unprepared weight)
25g unsalted butter
Spot of cooking oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 whole eggs or 6 egg yolks (or a mixture; you just want enough to hold the onions together)
3 – 4 tablespoons milk/cream
Salt, pepper, and nutmeg/mace to season
At least 300g pastry, any kind you like, but would recommend flaky.
Brown onions: Top, tail, halve and peel the onions. Slice thinly (around 5mm) into half-moons. ( I dump the sliced onion straight into the cold pan as I go and melt the butter around the onions later, but you may wish to be more orderly than this…)
Melt the butter and oil over a medium heat. Add the onion slices, stirring to coat. Sprinkle over the 1/2 teaspoon salt. Total browning time is about 40 minutes. Let the onions sizzle, stirring occasionally; after 10 minutes everything should have softened and shrunk. Turn the heat down a little bit so the frying onions gently sing to you. After another 10 minutes, add the sugar.
Once the onions are translucent, silky, and have shrunk to about half their original volume, turn up the heat to a lively sizzle, stirring frequently. If it catches, splash in a little water. You want the onions richly dark. They’ll shrink alarmingly. Transfer the little pile to a bowl and leave to cool. It can be chilled at this point.
Make the filling: Mix cooled onions with the eggs (and/or their yolks). Add just enough milk to loosen the mixture, suspending the onion in a little light custard. Season well with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Assemble and bake the tarts: Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius/200 fan. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out to about the thickness of a pound coin (3 mm). Cut out 8 cm rounds and use them to line a 12 hole tart tray. Divide half the onion filling evenly amongst the tartlets. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes until everything is puffed and browned. Leave to cool slightly then turn out the tarts. Allow tray to get completely cold before proceeding with the second batch.
p.s. You can cram a pile of cheese on top of each tart before they go into the oven when either cooking or reheating. Yes, you–do it.