Sunday, November 29, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day thirty-one, a tricky tart

French Village Lockdown Diaries day thirty-one advent cycling Charente
At church on the first Sunday in Advent

Day thirty-one, Sunday 29th November 2020


November is drawing to a close and today is the first Sunday of advent, although we are not peeking into our advent calendars just yet. Our thirty-two-kilometre bike ride today took us to a sweet little church in the Charente, where we stopped for our cake, perched in the sunshine on an ancient, lichen covered tomb stone. It was an invigorating ride as although the sun was out, there was a cold wind from the north, but I have now cycled over four thousand, eight hundred kilometres this year, so fingers crossed I’ll hit the five thousand.


French Village Lockdown Diaries day thirty-one advent onion tart
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's French Onion Tart

A tricky tart

I mentioned a few days ago that I’d set myself a December challenge; to follow a recipe from one of my many cookbooks at least once a week. Well, I have a cooking confession to make.


I was so excited at trying something new that even though it was still November, I found myself flicking through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's The River Cottage Year, which is cleverly set out in months to help with ideas on seasonal produce. Tucked into the November section was a French onion tart, that looked just perfect. I may have cobbled together an onion tart of sorts before, but not following this (or any other) recipe, I love any dish with onions, and having made Adrian cycle home with a five-kilo bag recently, knew I had the ingredients to hand. I was also confident it was a recipe I could cope with. How difficult can an onion tart be?


Well, trickier than I thought. I was very good and followed the recipe to the letter and as Hugh has never let me down before, I even dropped my own pastry recipe for his, including the bit where you don't chill it or roll it, just finger-press it into the dish and blind bake. The kilo of onions that had to be peeled, sliced and gently softened took me way longer than he said, but I can forgive him that, it was a delicious mix. My usual standard quiche recipe turns out successful quiches with a variety of fillings, time and again, made in a rectangle tray bake tin, which I find easier to portion than a round one. As directed by Hugh, this time I used a 23cm round dish and carefully cooked it for his 'around 30mins', whereas I'd normally ignore the clock completely and do it by eye. I was a little concerned about it getting too brown on top, so whipped it out to serve, hot from the oven, as per the book.


French Village Lockdown Diaries day thirty-one advent onion tart
My first attempt at French onion tart

I will admit that the flavour was good, and everyone ate it (although there were no alternatives offered), but I have to say it's my first experience of soggy bottoms and undercooked pastry. When Ed enquired as to what it was he could taste in the tart, I at first thought it was the nutmeg he was referring to, but when he clarified it as a funny texture he couldn’t identify, I realised he meant uncooked pastry. Adrian is not a fussy eater, in fact he’d eat anything I put in front of him, but when it comes to cooking, his idea of giving me a night off is when he’s in charge of the lasagne, and by that I mean warming up the one I’ve made earlier in the day. When even he suggested it might need a bit longer in the oven, maybe I should have listened. It definitely could have done with more cooking, as even the filling did its best to escape from its own pastry and flow over the plate.


I will not be defeated, however, but next time it will be Hugh’s filling and I’m going back to my pastry and my rectangle tin. Adrian says it just goes to show I don't actually need to follow a recipe to produce a tasty meal, bless him. 


With December only days away, my challenge may be more of a challenge than I at first thought and although in some ways this has spurred me on to do better next time, it has also given me a sinking feeling whenever I pick up a cookbook. Tonight it’s a family favourite, risotto, and no recipe required. 


  1. I'm impressed you started your challenge early Jacqui. What a shame about the pastry. It just goes to show your cook's instinct must be accurate (and based on years of experience no doubt). I suppose cookbooks don't allow for the variance between different ovens. Good luck for the next recipe.xx

    1. Thank you. I'm still searching through the cookbooks with help from Ed. good luck with your challenges too.


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