Archive for September, 2009

Vols-au-Vents – Daring Bakers Challenge September 2009

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

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The September 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

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I was a bit intimidated seeing puff pastry was one of the chosen recipes for this month’s Daring Bakers challenge, but also excited to finally be “pushed” into making it.

Steph, our lovely host for this month, provided a great video showing how to make the puff pastry and it was brilliant! I would strongly recommend anyone wanting to make this or any other puff pastry recipe, to first watch the video.

I was just amazed at how easy the puff pastry was to make and roll, it didn’t take as long as I expected either (maybe 2-3 hours – mostly consisting of resting). The pastry looked perfect, very similar to the one on the video – lovely and smooth.

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I think the biggest problem for me was doing the vol-au-vent cases on a busy day – and this made it feel like it was taking forever. Plus the fact that I was making three different fillings…

Apart from the restricted time, the vol-au-vents turned out very well. They looked just like bought vol-au-vents and all the fillings were thoroughly enjoyed (once I tweaked my chicken and mushroom filling – a request from a family member).

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I am definitely thinking of making some more puff pastry after being pleasantly surprised by this recipe, although I think it might have to involved custard this time… like perhaps my Portuguese Custard Tarts. Not many things can be more rewarding than custard with pastry.

Forming and Baking the Vols-au-Vent

Yield: 1/3 of the puff pastry recipe below will yield about 8-10 1.5” vols-au-vent or 4 4” vols-au-vent

-well-chilled puff pastry dough (recipe below)
-egg wash (1 egg or yolk beaten with a small amount of water)
-your filling of choice

Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Using a knife or metal bench scraper, divide your chilled puff pastry dough into three equal pieces. Work with one piece of the dough, and leave the rest wrapped and chilled. (If you are looking to make more vols-au-vent than the yield stated above, you can roll and cut the remaining two pieces of dough as well…if not, then leave refrigerated for the time being or prepare it for longer-term freezer storage. See the “Tips” section below for more storage info.)

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On a lightly floured surface, roll the piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick. Transfer it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting.

(This assumes you will be using round cutters, but if you do not have them, it is possible to cut square vols-au-vents using a sharp chef’s knife.) For smaller, hors d’oeuvre sized vols-au-vent, use a 1.5” round cutter to cut out 8-10 circles. For larger sized vols-au-vent, fit for a main course or dessert, use a 4” cutter to cut out about 4 circles. Make clean, sharp cuts and try not to twist your cutters back and forth or drag your knife through the dough. Half of these rounds will be for the bases, and the other half will be for the sides. (Save any scrap by stacking—not wadding up—the pieces…they can be re-rolled and used if you need extra dough. If you do need to re-roll scrap to get enough disks, be sure to use any rounds cut from it for the bases, not the ring-shaped sides.)

Using a ¾-inch cutter for small vols-au-vent, or a 2- to 2.5-inch round cutter for large, cut centers from half of the rounds to make rings. These rings will become the sides of the vols-au-vent, while the solid disks will be the bottoms. You can either save the center cut-outs to bake off as little “caps” for you vols-au-vent, or put them in the scrap pile.

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Dock the solid bottom rounds with a fork (prick them lightly, making sure not to go all the way through the pastry) and lightly brush them with egg wash. Place the rings directly on top of the bottom rounds and very lightly press them to adhere. Brush the top rings lightly with egg wash, trying not to drip any down the sides (which may inhibit rise). If you are using the little “caps,” dock and egg wash them as well.

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Refrigerate the assembled vols-au-vent on the lined baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). (You could also cover and refrigerate them for a few hours at this point.)

Once the oven is heated, remove the sheet from the refrigerator and place a silicon baking mat (preferred because of its weight) or another sheet of parchment over top of the shells. This will help them rise evenly. Bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (180ºC), and remove the silicon mat or parchment sheet from the top of the vols-au-vent. If the centers have risen up inside the vols-au-vent, you can gently press them down. Continue baking (with no sheet on top) until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more. (If you are baking the center “caps” they will likely be finished well ahead of the shells, so keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven when browned.)

Remove to a rack to cool. Cool to room temperature for cold fillings or to warm for hot fillings.

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Fill and serve.

*For additional rise on the larger-sized vols-au-vents, you can stack one or two additional ring layers on top of each other (using egg wash to “glue”). This will give higher sides to larger vols-au-vents, but is not advisable for the smaller ones, whose bases may not be large enough to support the extra weight.

*Although they are at their best filled and eaten soon after baking, baked vols-au-vent shells can be stored airtight for a day.

*Shaped, unbaked vols-au-vent can be wrapped and frozen for up to a month (bake from frozen, egg-washing them first).

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough

From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

Steph’s note: This recipe makes more than you will need for the quantity of vols-au-vent stated above. While I encourage you to make the full recipe of puff pastry, as extra dough freezes well, you can halve it successfully if you’d rather not have much leftover.

There is a wonderful on-line video from the PBS show “Baking with Julia” that accompanies the book. In it, Michel Richard and Julia Child demonstrate making puff pastry dough (although they go on to use it in other applications). They do seem to give slightly different ingredient measurements verbally than the ones in the book…I listed the recipe as it appears printed in the book.

2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter

plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Mixing the Dough:

Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

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Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

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Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that’s about 1″ thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

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Incorporating the Butter:

Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10″ square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with “ears,” or flaps.

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Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don’t just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8″ square.

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To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:

Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24″ (don’t worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24″, everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

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With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24″ and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

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Chilling the Dough:

If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you’ve completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

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Steph’s extra tips:

-While this is not included in the original recipe we are using (and I did not do this in my own trials), many puff pastry recipes use a teaspoon or two of white vinegar or lemon juice, added to the ice water, in the détrempe dough. This adds acidity, which relaxes the gluten in the dough by breaking down the proteins, making rolling easier. You are welcome to try this if you wish.

-Keep things cool by using the refrigerator as your friend! If you see any butter starting to leak through the dough during the turning process, rub a little flour on the exposed dough and chill straight away. Although you should certainly chill the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns, if you feel the dough getting to soft or hard to work with at any point, pop in the fridge for a rest.

-Not to sound contradictory, but if you chill your paton longer than the recommended time between turns, the butter can firm up too much. If this seems to be the case, I advise letting it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to give it a chance to soften before proceeding to roll. You don’t want the hard butter to separate into chuncks or break through the dough…you want it to roll evenly, in a continuous layer.

-Roll the puff pastry gently but firmly, and don’t roll your pin over the edges, which will prevent them from rising properly. Don’t roll your puff thinner than about about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick, or you will not get the rise you are looking for.

-Try to keep “neat” edges and corners during the rolling and turning process, so the layers are properly aligned. Give the edges of the paton a scooch with your rolling pin or a bench scraper to keep straight edges and 90-degree corners.

-Brush off excess flour before turning dough and after rolling.

-Make clean cuts. Don’t drag your knife through the puff or twist your cutters too much, which can inhibit rise.

-When egg washing puff pastry, try not to let extra egg wash drip down the cut edges, which can also inhibit rise.

-Extra puff pastry dough freezes beautifully. It’s best to roll it into a sheet about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick (similar to store-bought puff) and freeze firm on a lined baking sheet. Then you can easily wrap the sheet in plastic, then foil (and if you have a sealable plastic bag big enough, place the wrapped dough inside) and return to the freezer for up to a few months. Defrost in the refrigerator when ready to use.

-You can also freeze well-wrapped, unbaked cut and shaped puff pastry (i.e., unbaked vols-au-vent shells). Bake from frozen, without thawing first.

-Homemade puff pastry is precious stuff, so save any clean scraps. Stack or overlap them, rather than balling them up, to help keep the integrity of the layers. Then give them a singe “turn” and gently re-roll. Scrap puff can be used for applications where a super-high rise is not necessary (such as palmiers, cheese straws, napoleons, or even the bottom bases for your vols-au-vent).

For My Fillings:

Try and fill vol-au-vents on the day they are made.

Salmon and Cream Cheese
120g cream cheese
50ml thickened cream
Juice of 1/2 a small lemon
1 sprig of dill
smoked salmon, cut into 3 x 3 cm squares or similar

Soften the cream-cheese by mixing vigorously with a spoon. When the cream-cheese has softened, add the lemon juice and cream and mix until combined. Once combined stir in 1/8 teaspoon dill. Spoon into vol-au-vent cases, top with a piece of smoked salmon and a small piece of dill.

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Creamy Chicken and Mushroom
1 small chicken breast, cut in 4 chunks
6 mushrooms, halved and sliced
1 lemon, juice and rind
250ml (1 cup) white wine
3 sprigs of thyme
50g butter
3 tablespoon plain flour
250ml (1 cup) milk
100ml thickened cream

Combine wine, lemon juice, lemon rind, thyme and ¼ cup water in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and add the chicken. Cook for 10 minutes or until cooked. Remove chicken, shred or cut into small pieces and strain juices from pan into a small bowl. Place the pan back onto medium heat and add the mushrooms. Add small amounts of juice to help the mushrooms cook. Once cooked (5-10 minutes), remove and place with chicken.

In a clean saucepan cook the butter on high until bubbling. Add flour and cook for a few minutes. Add the milk and whisk together. Continue to whisk on heat until mixture thickens. Add the cream and remove from stove. Stir in chicken and mushrooms.

Spoon chicken mixture into vol-au-vent cases and place in a 180C preheated oven for 10 minutes or until mixture and cases are heated through. Serve hot/warm.

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White Chocolate and Raspberry Cream

50g white chocolate, chopped finely
250ml (1 cup) thickened cream
20 raspberries (fresh or frozen), chopped

Pistachio Praline
50g pistachios
50g caster sugar
3 tablespoons water

Place cream in a saucepan and just bring to the boil. Pour over chopped white chocolate in a bowl and whisk until chocolate has melted. Cool at room temperature and then cool in the fridge for a few hours. Once cooled, beat the white chocolate cream mix until fluffy. Fold through raspberries. Spoon into vol-au-vent cases and sprinkle with chopped praline.

For praline: Roast pistachios in 180C preheated oven for 5-10minutes. Place sugar and water in a small saucepan. Heat on low, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Then turn the heat up to medium-high and cook until golden brown. Pour over pistachios on baking paper and leave to cool. Chop praline into pieces when cooled.

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Chicken and Leek Risotto – Cooking Class 9

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

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Trying to guess what we were having for this cooking class was difficult. The host for this evening isn’t known for being adventurous. Most vegetables are normally off the list and fruits too.

That’s why we were all pleasantly surprised finding out we were making a risotto, with both leek and lemon. This is one of the reasons these cooking classes are so good (like the Daring Bakers Challenges I do). It forces us to try dishes we never thought of making plus finally making those that we have wanted to make for a while and never got around to it.

This risotto is very flavoursome, easy to prepare and heats up well for lunch. So this will go on the list of easy risottos to make.

Chicken and Leek Risotto

(I will update the recipe source when I get a chance to ask the host)

Serves: 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
600g chicken breast, roughly chopped
2 leeks, sliced
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 cups arborio/carnaroli rice
5 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups peas
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup parmesan, finely grated
2 tablespoons mint, chopped
salt and cracked pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 200C (180C fan forced oven).

Heat oil in frying pan over high heat, add chicken and cook until well browned. Remove chicken, set aside.

Put leeks and lemon zest into pan, cook until leeks soften.

Place leeks rice and stock in baking dish, cover tightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes.

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Add chicken pieces and peas, re-cover and bake for a further 20 minutes.

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Risotto will still be liquid – add lemon juice, mint, parmean, salt and pepper, stir well for 2 minutes to thicken risotto. Serve immediately.

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Chocolate Mousse

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

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While watching Nigella Lawson’s Express cooking show quite a while ago, I saw she made a lovely quick mousse, which doesn’t contain eggs and instead uses marshmallows to hold the mousse together.

I love chocolate, cream and marshmallows so this couldn’t go wrong… or so I thought…

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Nigella seemed to cook this in 5 minutes, with not much cooling involved for the chocolate mix. When I added the slightly cooled chocolate to my whipped cream, the cream MELTED!! Well, what was I expecting… This only really affected the look of the mousse, with it needing to be cooled in the fridge for a while to set.

If you let the chocolate mix cool a bit longer – before it sets itself, it can be folded through the whipped cream and can be spooned into individual serves or a decorative bowl for serving. I haven’t tried it slightly chilled yet, only refrigerated for a while, which is lovely and best served with vanilla ice cream to soften the richness from the mousse.

The one that didn't work... because the chocolate mix was too hot.

The one that didn't work... because the chocolate mix was too hot.

This is a great recipe for those who prefer not to eat raw eggs or who are allergic. I’m sure it would be a great recipe for kids to help with too… although then you may have to fight over who gets to lick the spatula and bowl 🙂

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Chocolate Mousse

Recipe by Nigella Lawson from Nigella Express

Serves: 4-6

150g mini marshmallows (or normal marshmallows, chopped)
50g soft butter
250g best-quality semisweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
60ml hot water from a recently boiled kettle
284ml heavy (thickened) cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put the marshmallows, butter, chocolate, and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Put the saucepan on the stove over a fairly gentle heat to melt, stirring every now and again. Remove from heat to cool.

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Meanwhile, whip the cream with the vanilla until thick and then fold the cooled chocolate mixture into the whipped cream until you have a smooth, cohesive mixture. (I poured the chocolate mix in while cooling [not very hot] and it melted the cream and became liquid, not fluffy – although leaving in the fridge still resulted in lovely tasting mousse)

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Pour or scrape into 4 glasses or small dishes, about ¾ cup each in capacity, or 6 smaller (½ cup) ones, and chill until you want to eat. The sooner the better!

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French Onion Soup

Monday, September 14th, 2009

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I’ve been very busy in the last few weeks. I’ve been finishing off some photo albums (coffee table-style books) that I started almost a year ago. The deadline I had made for myself had been rapidly approaching and a sale prompted me to finish them off.

Finally it is completed, I’ve ordered the books and now I only have to worry about paying for them…

Sometimes in busy times and rough financial periods you need a quick, easy and cheap meal. What could be better than French Onion soup? (and yes, I finally got around to using up some more onions from that 10kg bag and I tried a new recipe)

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I know spring is already quite warm at the moment and soup may not be on your list of meals to make on a warm night… but the option’s always there if you don’t have many ingredients at home and need a cheap eat.

(Hopefully I can get back to cooking, posting, replying and reading others blogs now) 🙂

French Onion Soup

Recipe from Taste.com.au, Originally Good Taste – June 2001, Page 74

Serves: 4

50g (2 1/2 tablespoons) butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
750g brown onions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoons caster sugar
500ml (2 cups) beef stock
500ml (2 cups) water
250ml (1 cup) dry white wine
60ml (1/4 cup) brandy (optional – I didn’t use this)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
8 2cm-thick slices baguette (French bread stick)
90g (3/4 cup) coarsely grated gruyere cheese

Heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until butter melts. Increase heat to high. Add onions and cook, uncovered, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes or until the onions begin to soften.

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Reduce heat to medium. Add sugar and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until onions are golden and caramelised.

(You could even cook it a bit longer than this if you want)

(You could even cook it a bit longer than this if you want)

Add the stock, water, wine and brandy to the pan and season well with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil over medium-low heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat grill on medium. Place the baguette slices under preheated grill and toast for 1-2 minutes each side or until lightly toasted. Sprinkle one side of each slice with a little of the cheese. Grill for a further 1-2 minutes or until the cheese melts and is golden.

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Ladle the hot soup into serving bowls. Top with the cheese toasts and sprinkle with pepper just before serving.

The soup will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

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Caramelised Onion Tart

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

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Now what am I supposed to do with 10kg of onions? Some may think it’s a little crazy to buy 10kg of onions – especially for me who really didn’t fancy them and used to pick them out of every meal (Sorry Mum).

Well, this is the second time we’ve bought a bag this big and we easily went through the last one. I wanted to make both a caramelised onion tart and French onion soup with the onions, but never got around to it. This time I made sure we made use of these onions and tried some new recipes.

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And we are so happy to have tried this recipe. I can’t wait to make it again. It was absolutely gorgeous, very easy and didn’t require many ingredients or steps. As long as you’ve got someone who doesn’t cry too much cutting onions, you’ll be fine and it’s easy. It even heated up quite well at work – an extra bonus!

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Caramelised Onion Tart

Serves: 4 mains or 8 small entrees

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 brown onions, sliced
3 sprigs thyme
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1 tablespoon honey
14 Kalamata olives, chopped (pits removed)
2 sheets puff pastry

Preheat oven to 180ºC (160ºC fan forced).

Heat a saucepan on medium heat. Add butter and oil, once bubbling add onions and thyme and continue to stir. After a few minutes add the salt, sugar and honey and continue to cook and stir until onions become translucent and eventually caramelise. This will take 10-20 minutes.

Place each sheet of puff pastry on a baking paper lined tray and cook in oven for 5-10minutes, until starting to brown very slightly. Remove from oven and place caramelised onions on top, leaving a 2cm border around the edges. Top with sliced olives and place back in the oven and cook for 10-20 minutes, until the pastry is nice a golden brown colour. (It may puff a little, but will deflate once taken out of the oven).

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