tried and tasted: Tomato, goat’s cheese and caramelized onion flan

(Even as I upload this post it begins hailing in Melbourne. Hail the size of dragée. The recipe that follows the post is perfect for this weather. Served warm it gives a feeling of snuggling under warm blankets. I do love that feeling.) 

What makes a good cookbook? Rather what do I think makes a good cookbook?
1.    Recipes that have been tried, tasted and that actually work when you follow the instructions.
2.    Instructions that are clear and give you an idea of what to expect. Eg. When making bread: Let the dough sit for 30 minutes is NOT as good as saying ‘let the dough sit for 30 minutes till it doubles in size’. Or when making a curry: ‘Fry the spices for 10 minutes till they give off a cooked aroma’ is BETTER than saying fry the spices for 10 minutes.
3.    Pictures that give me an idea of the finished product.
4.    Proper index that makes it easy to search for a particular recipe.
5.    But most importantly, a friendly cookbook. I don’t mind a cookbook with only 10 recipes, but those recipes need to work. They don’t have to be fancy recipes but rather recipes that make me come back and make them again. Eg. I haven’t read Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but I have a feeling I’d hate it. While I understand what JC did for “cooking in America”, I don’t like a cookbook that makes me feel like a dunce. I like a cookbook that says “You might be a dunce but here let me show you how to work with your dunce-ness and have something good to eat it at the end of it”.

The Baker, Leanne Kitchen
One of my best friends on my cookbook shelf – and one of my absolute favourites – is The Baker by Leanne Kitchen. The book was a housewarming gift in 2010. At first I was daunted by the idea of yeast and cookies with poppy seeds and kept putting off trying anything from the book. Till one day I woke up with an unexplained, extreme craving for “caramel custard”. Have you ever developed a sudden craving – no one’s mentioned it, you haven’t read about it or seen it on TV but you know you really, really want to eat it – for a particular dish?

‘Caramel custard’ or flan – as I found out after some frantic Googling – was one of Ma’s quick go-tos when she had to make a dessert but didn’t want to make anything too complicated. I remember her setting the flan in a round, steel roti box (the ones with a lid?) I remember the box sitting inside the oven so it wouldn’t be disturbed till the flan set. I remember Ma adding just a bit of vanilla essence to mask the taste (and smell) of eggs. I remember Papa being critical about the layer of caramel at the bottom and complaining if it was too runny. I miss Ma so much.

I never did make the caramel custard. Mainly because I did not have a proper flan tin (has a lid) and I don’t have an Indian roti box. However, once I started reading about flans the craving grew and I remembered seeing a flan recipe in The Baker. While Ma’s caramel custard was sweet, this particular recipe was for a savoury flan. Perhaps I was meant to try the flan that day because when I checked in the fridge, I strangely had all the ingredients. Strange because the recipe calls for goat’s cheese and that’s not something I usually have.

It was also the first time I made pastry at home. Perhaps I tried it because Ms Kitchen provided a solution for blind-baking: she did not insist on pastry weights but instead suggested using rice or kidney beans as a substitute. For those who might not know, “blind-baking (sometimes called "pre-baking") is the process of baking a pie crust or other pastry without the filling. Blind baking a pie crust is necessary when it will be filled with an unbaked filling (such as with pudding or cream pies) or when the filling has a shorter bake time than the crust. Blind baking a pie crust also helps prevent the pie crust from becoming soggy from its filling.” (More on Wiki here)

The flan turned out perfectly and was very tasty. I’ve made it a couple of times at home – for Partner and me – but the real test for the recipe, and my amateur baking, was when I tried it for family and friends at Christmas last year. While initially everyone refused because they were either full or wanted only a “thin slice”, every last crumb was devoured. I was very grateful to Ms Kitchen. Nothing pleases me more than when my family likes something I’ve made for them.

I’ve tried cookies, cakes and bread from The Baker and I’m very glad to share that everything has turned out well. I also love the photographs in the book. While obviously shot professionally, each of the photographs has a very homey feel: a cutting board here, a trusted knife there, a casually folded  tea towel and often sprinkles of flour and crumbs from the baked goodies. I also sheepishly confess, most of the utensils used in the shots look like stuff I (can and) have in my kitchen. :D Now I want to buy Leanne Kitchen’s other books, particularly The Butcher, The Dairy and her latest, Turkey: Recipes and tales from the road.

I highly recommend The Baker, you won’t be disappointed. Till you get the book, here’s the recipe for the flan and a picture of how it turned out for me the first time (and every time since).

Prep time: 1 hour 20 mins including freezing dough;  Cooking time: 1 hour 40 minutes including blind-baking

Tomato and goat's cheese flan (recipe follows)

200g plain (all purpose) flour/maida
¼ TSP salt
120 g cold unsalted butter, chopped
60 ml iced water
2 TBS olive oil
3 onions, thinly sliced
60 g crumbled goat’s cheese
3 roma tomatoes, sliced 5mm thick
½ TSP rosemary
6 egg yolks
2 eggs
250 ml pouring (whipping) cream

  1. Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the salt. Lightly rub in the butter with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre, then add the iced water to the well. Mix until a rough dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead until just smooth, then gently press together into a ball. Form into a flat disc, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 
  2. Lightly grease a 25 cm (10 inch) loose-based round tart tin. Roll out the chilled pastry on a lightly floured surface until 3mm think. Roll the pastry around the rolling pin, then lift and ease it into the tin, gently pressing to fit the side. Trim the edges, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  3.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
  4. To caramelize onion, heat the olive oil a large frying pan, add the onion, then cover and cook over low heat, stirring often, for 30 minutes, or until the onion has reduced in volume and is golden. 
  5. Prick the base of the chilled pastry case with a fork. Line with baking paper and half fill with rice or dried beans, or baking beads if you have them. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the paper and beads/rice and bake for a further 10 minutes or until the pastry is golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Meanwhile, reduce the oven temperature to 160 deg celcius. 
  6. Spread the caramelized onion evenly over the pastry case. Scatter the goat’s cheese over, top with the tomato slices and sprinkle with the rosemary. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks, eggs and cream until smooth and well combined. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, then carefully pour into the pastry case. 
  7. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the filling has just set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly in the tin before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature, the flan is best eaten the day it is made.

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