Free form thyme and onion tart


Free form pies are interesting and easy to make. They are also known as galettes and  crostatas,  a rustic kind of tart. You don't need a pie dish to make a free form tart, so none of the precision that is associated with rolling out a pie crust is necessary; no need to fiddle with the edges, no need to roll out the pastry larger than the pie dish, no need to patch the inevitable holes and cracks, no need to bake blind! Just roll out the pastry into a circle, spread your chosen filling over it, fold the edges and bake it.

Why onion as a filling? Well, as with their prettier tart pan cousins, the free form is good with both a sweet and a savoury filling. And what is the cheapest vegetable in the market today? Yes, onions. And don't think that I'm kidding you- after the onions have done their time in the pan, you won't believe the flavour this humble vegetable holds in its many layers. When baked, the onion has an extremely savoury flavour, and a hint of sweetness that is intrinsic to the onion.
On the flip side, I've used a rich shortcrust, also known as pâte brisée.  But then, what's a tart without a rich, tender crumb? This recipe makes one 8" tart.

4 large onions, sliced fine
4 sprigs fresh thyme or 2 tsp dried leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp butter
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Pâte brisée
110 gm flour
80 gm cold diced unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
Ice water for mixing
50 gm grated Cheddar cheese

Heat oil in a frying pan, add in the butter  and when it melts, toss in the sliced onions.
Saute for about 15 minutes, and when the onions turn glassy, sprinkle over the salt and pepper, reduce heat and then cook for about 45 minutes, stirring every now and then.
Towards the end of this time, the onions should have reduced in bulk, and have turned a very pale brown. Add in the balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce and continue cooking till the liquids have been absorbed.
Cool the onion before filling the tart.

To make the pastry, sift flour into a mixing bowl, stir in the salt and the butter.
Rub in with fingertips till it is like breadcrumbs.
If there are some larger bits of butter, it's fine because it helps keep the pastry more tender.
Sprinkle a little water at a time till you can form the crumbs together into a ball.
Cover with cling wrap and chill for about half an hour.
By this time, your onion filling should be at room temperature.
Take the pastry out of the fridge, dust your worktop with a little flour and roll the pastry into something that looks like a 9½" circle.
Sprinkle most of the cheese to within one and half inches from the edges of the pastry, keep aside 1 tbsp of the onion and spoon the remaining over.
Fold the edges of the pastry over, leaving a gap in the centre. It should look like a half open drawstring bag!
Sprinkle the remaining cheese on the top and place the remaining onion in the middle.
Carefully place the tart on a sheet of grease proof paper and place the paper with the tart on a baking sheet.
Bake in a preheated 200°C oven for about 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 190°C for about 25 minutes or till the crust bakes to a light golden colour.
Remove from the oven.
Slice in wedges and serve hot.

Golden, luscious free form thyme and onion tart

Sweet and Sour Chicken


 What is it with Chinese food that it's a favourite with a lot of folks? Is it because of the the taste, or the colour or that it's pretty fast to cook once the prep is over? Or is it because, for a lot of us, a change from what we eat most days?
Of course, in Chennai, authentic Chinese food is about as elusive as the proverbial flash in the pan. It smells like the real thing, looks like the real thing but it isn't quite all there.
One recipe that you can't go wrong with is a sweet and sour sauce. This is because there are only a handful of ingredients and the components of the sauce are available in most store cupboards.
This is my version and it tastes quite like the one from the hawker stall near home. I served mine with fried rice.

Sweet and Sour Chicken
450 gm chicken breast, sliced in 1" cubes
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp Chinese wine (optional)
1 tsp oil
2 tbsp cornflour
Cornflour for coating
Oil for deep frying

The vegetables

1 onion, cut in wedges
3 cloves garlic, chopped1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut in wedges
1/2 capsicum, cut in wedges
1 tomato, cut in wedges or a handful of cherry tomatoes
Coriander leaves for garnish

200 ml chicken stock
4 tbsp tomato sauce
1 tbsp chilli garlic sauce
1/2 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
Salt to taste

1 tbsp cornflour mixed with 3 tbsp water  

Mix the egg white, salt, sugar, Chinese wine (if using) and oil. Marinate the chicken in this mixture then add the 2 tablespoons of cornflour. Mix well, keep aside for half an hour. 
Heat a wok, toss the marinated cubes into more cornflour and deep fry in hot oil in batches. Remove onto kitchen towels. When all the chicken pieces have been fried, reheat the oil and put the cubes back into the pan. Toss them around and then remove onto more kitchen towels to drain the oil. This helps to keep the meat crisp.

Fried chicken cubes

Mix all the ingredients for the sauce, keep aside.
Reheat the wok to smoking point, saute onion wedges for about a minute, then the garlic. Stir for a few seconds, then saute cucumber and capsicum pieces.

Now pour in the prepared sauce.
When the sizzle dies down, allow it to come to a boil. Toss in the tomato, thicken the sauce with the cornflour solution and check seasoning.
Put the chicken cubes into the sauce, toss well to mix and then dish out. 
Garnish with coriander leaves.
Serve with steamed rice or fried rice.

Cooking class for kids


 Is there an aspiring chef in your home? One who is 12 years or older? Well, this post is especially for them.
I will be conducting "Young Chef at Work", a 3 day baking workshop on May 14, 16 and 18th.

On day 1, the young chefs will learn to make 2 kinds of sandwiches, fried vegetable noodles, Tim Tam squares and camp style macaroni.
On day 2, they will learn to make bubble & squeak, shortbread cookies, scone pizza and apple doughnuts.
On day 3, they will be making ooey gooey cake, chocochip bread pudding, double chocolate brownie muffins and scotch pancakes.

All classes will be held from 10.30am to 2.30pm at Kottivakkam. 



Sunny Singapore beckoned me for a few days. Staring at bake shop windows is one of my favourite ways of spending time. Each time I go there, I find new designs on cakes, stuffed buns in innovative shapes and how to do all these and more, in the form of books and equipment, in baking supply shops!
Now I'm back at Chennai, my head buzzing with ideas and a stack of new recipes to try out.

Blondies are such a change from brownies. No, I'm not saying that dark chocolate is boring, just that a change of colour, like a change of scenery, can be uplifting. This recipe does use dark chocolate chunks, but it is only as a topping and a bit to stir through to provide some contrast to the white chocolate bits. Also, blondies are usually made with brown sugar, but I made mine with part white sugar. Feel free to make yours with all brown sugar. And with only white chocolate.

You can either use chocolate chips or chop a chocolate bar into chunks.

Chunky Chocolate Walnut Blondies
280gm  plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
150 gm butter
300 gm brown sugar
100 gm white sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence

50 gm chopped walnuts
60 gm dark chocolate chunks
60 gm white chocolate chunks

Line an 9"x 13" baking pan with greaseproof paper.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl, keep aside.
Warm butter over low heat till melted, add in the sugar.
Stir, then add in eggs and the essence.
Mix well with a wooden spoon, then gently fold in the flour.
Stir through half the chopped nuts and chocolate chips, then scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
Sprinkle the remaining nuts and the chocolate chips over the top of the batter.
Bake at 180oC  for 20 minutes.
Allow to cool completely then remove onto a cutting board and slice into 32.
Enjoy your blondie with a cup of hot tea.

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