For the past few months, my ideas and inspiration for making new meals gravitated towards baking. Either sweet or savory, it did not matter as long as my hands are touching dough or mixing batter. My excuse is the winter weather and the need to feel warmth even if it comes from a 350-degree oven. But the truth is I love to bake. I can’t lay it all on the winter chill. Whether it is savory, like my beef empanadas, or something sweet like lemon syrup saffron cake, I get immense satisfaction stirring, whipping, kneading and baking. Now, all I want to do is bake bread and make this irresistible onion tart.
For the past month or so, I put this savory tart on the back burner. Actually, I waffled between making French onion soup, a classic French flatbread Pissialadière, and a creamy onion tart. Every time I saw a photo of caramelized onions topping a savory crust or custard on social media my hunger resurfaced. Clearly, I craved the taste of slowly browned and fragrant onions. It was time to give in.
I have Mom’s recipe for Quiche Loraine that I have made for years, but I wanted to try something a little different. With the premise of testing a new recipe from Deborah Madison’s cookbook, Vegetable Literacy, I forged ahead. It is a big tease looking through a vegetable cookbook in the middle of February. All these tantalizing photos of bright spring and summer vegetables dancing off the pages as I look out my window and feel the chill of the snow-covered landscape. Yet, in between my daydreams of freshly harvested greens and succulent sweet tomatoes, I kept returning to the chapter on onions and this fragrant onion tart made quite an impression.
Pastry Crust for an Onion Tart
There were two things that caught my attention, the first one being she makes a 100% whole wheat pastry crust. Often, I add some whole wheat pastry flour to my flour mix when I make pie dough. It adds a nutty flavor and more texture. It is my experience, a pie crust made with nothing but whole wheat flour is often dry and heavy. In all my years of testing Deborah Madison’s recipes, I never experienced a heavy or dry recipe. Her cooking is not the vegetarian cooking of the 70’s, it is much more refined. Though I am sure her whole wheat pie crust is a good one, I did change the recipe slightly by substituting some whole wheat pastry flour with the whole wheat flour. There is less gluten in pastry flour, so I knew it would help create a lighter crust.
Fillings in Onion Tart
Additionally, I was surprised that she uses white onions in the tart not sweet onions like Vidalia onions. The only times I see white onions in a recipe is for Mexican food. White onions are less sharp than yellow onions, therefore your eyes will not sting as much when you mince them. That makes a big difference when you must dice 3 large onions. A good sharp knife helps as well because it makes a cleaner cut.
The onions are diced and cooked in butter until light brown. This process takes some time but be patient. It won’t take as long as caramelizing onions. The subtle difference between browned and caramelized onions is noticeable here with a light onion flavor that is delightfully sweet. I love caramelized onions, but I have never tasted onions so sweet before. Also, the sweet browned onions are very fragrant which compliments the onion tart nicely.
Instead of bacon, I quickly fried sliced prosciutto and added it to the filling. The smokiness of bacon tastes great with cheese and eggs, but I wanted to keep the flavor on the delicate side to compliment the sweet onion flavor of the tart. If you ever have more prosciutto than you need, this is the perfect recipe to help use up a couple of slices.
Onion Tart for Days
After making this onion tart I still crave that luscious sweetness and fragrance of slowly cooked browned onions. It is just too good to eat once in a while. Fragrant, sweet, and irresistible onion tart is perfect for a light supper, luncheon, brunch or appetizer. Additionally, it is a great choice for cocktail party food when portioned into small bites. This is a meal for any season or any time of day and a real crowd pleaser.
Irresistible Onion Tart
Fragrant and sweet browned onions are the foundation of this savory custard tart. It may have rich ingredients, but it won't make you feel heavy. I love how aged or smoked Gouda adds some extra depth of flavor to the tart, but Gruyère or Comte are good substitutes. If you do not have whole wheat pastry flour you can use all whole wheat flour instead. You can make the pastry dough and cook the onions a day ahead. The pastry dough will keep in the refrigerator covered in plastic wrap for 3 days. Or, freeze it for up to 3 months. The onions are best eaten within 24 hours of making them. Onion tart is perfect for brunch, lunch, a light supper or as an appetizer for a cocktail party. It is a very versatile food you can make all year long. Special equipment: 9-inch (23 cm) tart pan with removable bottom. You can use any shape, square, circle or an 11 x 8.5-inch ( 28.5 x 20 cm) rectangle tart pan. Stand mixer (optional) Rimmed sheet pan large enough to hold your tart pan. This recipe is slightly adapted from Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison.
- ¾ cup plus 2 Tb (123 g) Whole wheat flour
- ¼ cup (38 g) whole wheat pastry flour
- 6 TB (106 g) cold butter, cut into small pieces
- ½ tsp Kosher salt
- 3 TB ice water
Onion Tart filling
- 1 TB olive oil for frying the prosciutto
- 2 thin slices of prosciutto or 2 pieces of bacon (optional)
- 2 TB (7 g) butter
- 1½ lbs (725 g) white onions, diced
- 2 tsp fresh thyme or rosemary minced
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup (125 ml) milk
- ½ cup (125 ml) crème fraîche or heavy cream
- 1 cup (70 g) aged or smoked Gouda cheese, grated using the large holes on a box grater
Make the pie dough
Make the dough by hand or use a stand mixer.
By hand: Add the two types of flour and Kosher salt to a large bowl. Add the butter and mix the butter and flour with your hands. Press down on the butter between your thumbs and fingers to break up the pieces and press into the flour. Continue to do this until the butter and flour are mixed together and looks like pebbles.
Add the water and mix together with your hands. Add more water if it looks and feels dry, about a teaspoon at a time.
Gather the dough and turn it out onto the counter. Press together and form a flat disc in the shape of your tart pan, about an inch (2.5 cm) thick. A circle, square or rectangle shape.
Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour or more. The tart dough can be made 3 days in advance and kept wrapped in the refrigerator.
By stand mixer: Add the flour to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the pieces of butter and mix the butter and flour on low until the flour looks like pebbles. Add the water and stir on low speed until just mixed together. Add more water if the pastry dough looks dry. Be careful not to over-mix the dough. Turn the dough onto a counter and shape into a flat disc into the shape of your tart pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour or more.
Make the tart filling
Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C. If you have a baking stone place it in your oven on the middle rack. For a crispy bottom crust, you want to heat the stone in the oven for an hour before baking.
If using the prosciutto, add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to a skillet and turn the heat to medium-high. Slice the prosciutto into strips, about a 1/2-inch (1 cm) wide and not longer than 2-inches (5 cm) long. When the skillet is hot, add the sliced prosciutto and cook until the strips are brown and crispy. Stir occasionally to prevent the strips from sticking and burning. About 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and spoon the prosciutto slices on a plate. Set aside.
If you are using bacon add the two pieces of bacon to a hot and dry skillet and cook the bacon until they are brown and crisp. Turn the pieces over every now and then for even browning. Remove the bacon from the pan onto a plate lined with paper towels and pat dry. When the bacon is cool, crumble them into bite-size pieces. Set aside.
Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. Turn the heat to medium and add the butter. When the butter is melted and stops sizzling, add the diced onions. Stir to coat the onions with butter. Add the thyme, a pinch of Kosher salt and a couple of grounds of fresh black pepper. Stir to mix.
Cook the onions on medium to medium-low until they are very soft and lightly browned, not caramelized, but starting to go in that direction. This is a slow process, about 25 minutes. The onions will be very soft and translucent with an even light brown color. While cooking, occasionally stir the onions for even browning and prevent them from sticking and burning. Taste for seasoning and add more thyme, Kosher salt or black pepper if needed. Turn off the heat and cool.
Remove the tart dough from the refrigerator and let it rest on a lightly floured work surface for 10 minutes. Pound the dough with your rolling pin a few times to relax and shape the dough. Roll the dough in the shape of your tart pan to about a ¼-inch (.5 cm) thickness, and large enough to fit the shape of your tart pan with a slight overhang. For a 9-inch (23 cm) round tart pan the diameter should be around 12-inches (30 cm).
Drape the dough into your tart pan and trim the edges to an inch (2.5 cm) overhang. Fold the edge of the dough inward and press along the sides and bottom of the pastry to fit the dough into the pan. The height of the tart is equal to the height of the pan. Place the tart pan on a rimmed sheet pan and loosely cover the tart with plastic wrap. Chill the tart in the refrigerator for 15 - 20 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and crème fraîche.
When the onions are cool and just before you want to assemble the tart, add the grated cheese, onions, and prosciutto if using, to the egg mixture. Stir to mix.
Remove the tart from the refrigerator and add the egg mixture. Even out the filling and place in the oven. Bake until the tart is golden brown and set in the middle, about 45-50 minutes.
Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature. Remove the side of the tart pan by resting the tart on top of a large can, (like canned tomatoes), and slide the side rim down. Make sure the crust is not sticking anywhere along the rim before you slide it off.
Serve warm or room temperature.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
It appears that many cultures have a traditional stuffed pastry snack, at least in the Mediterranean. In Greece, Spanakopita is a popular appetizer made with phyllo dough, spinach and feta cheese. I also just learned about an Israeli stuffed pastry, Bureka, pronounced börek. Like spanakopita, it originated from Greece and Turkey but landed in Israel. Essentially, Burekas are individual stuffed pastry made with puff pastry or phyllo dough and filled with a savory filling of meats, cheese or vegetables.
Earlier this week I really wanted to bake, but I was in the mood for something savory. Unfortunately, I do not have a lot of savory baking recipes in my memory box, so I looked to a new cookbook I borrowed from the library, Breaking Breads by Uri Scheft. Uri Scheft is a baker from Israel and owns bakeries in Tel Aviv and New York City. His cookbook focuses on Israeli bread baking. This is a wonderful cookbook with clearly written instructions along with photographs featuring each step. Reading this cookbook is like having Uri Scheft standing at your side and calmly teaching you how to bake bread.
Savory Stuffed Pastry
I did not have the time to bake bread and go through the different proofing stages so I decided to bake one of the burekas recipes featured in his cookbook. The photograph of the Swiss Chard bureka was so appealing and I could clearly visualize a group of friends sitting around a table, having drinks, eating burekas with tahini, olives and pickles. It was an all are welcome greeting with a large platter of delicious bites.
At the time, there were three things that attracted me to the recipe: the photograph as mentioned earlier, Swiss chard, and store-bought pastry dough. As Uri points out, puff pastry is very difficult for the average home baker to make, so buying puff pastry is a great time-saving alternative. I like to make a lot of food from scratch, but now puff pastry dough is out of my league. Buying it saves me a lot of time and worry.
I love braised Swiss chard. This leafy green is not as soft and mild as spinach, or bitter and tough like kale. It stands between the two in flavors and texture. I also love the vivid yellow and purple stems in rainbow chard. Swiss chard has a great balance of body and flavor that is not too bitter. With a sprinkle of lemon zest over Swiss chard and this bitter green vegetable really brightens up.
More recipes with Mediterranean Feel
Uri Scheft’s recipe had all my favorite ingredients with the convenience of store-bought puff pastry dough and I was eager to try it. This is not a difficult recipe to make, but working with puff pastry has its challenges. Each time I bake with it I get a different outcome. So clearly, there is more I should learn. However, listed here are a few key considerations when baking with puff pastry.
Good to know tips working with stuffed pastry
Look for good quality puff pastry made with all butter. The butter helps the laminating process of the pastry and creates the flakes.
My purchased puff pastry came in a one pound box with 2 sheets. The recipe calls for 5 strips of pastry cut at least 4 inches wide and about 12 inches long. How you figure the placement and division of the strips is up to you. I pinched the two pieces together and rolled out the pastry to the dimensions I needed. Unfortunately, I did not achieve a lot of puff. This could be for many reasons, one being the pastry dough is made with vegetable oil and not butter. Or, the dough was too warm. I often find the layers stick together. Here is a great article from Bon Appetit about working with puff pastry dough.
Remove as much of the liquid from the cooked vegetables drained out. Excess liquid will make the pastry soggy and weigh it down. Gently press on the vegetables in a fine mesh strainer with the back of a wooden spoon. Be careful not to mush the vegetables.
Make sure the prepared filled pastries are cold before you put them in a preheated oven. Either place in the freezer for twenty minutes or refrigerate for one hour. Don’t skip this step. The butter in the pastry dough must be cold to create a nice flaky pastry.
Advance preparation: Make the bureka and place them on a rimmed baking sheet in the freezer. Once they are frozen, put the burekas in a freezer bag and keep in the freezer for up to a month. When you are ready to bake, paint the egg wash over the frozen burekas and place them directly on a hot baking stone or an upside rimmed baking sheet in the preheated oven. Bake until golden brown.
For the Love of New Discoveries
I am sure by now you know how much I love learning about new foods and techniques. Cooking and baking is always a process of discovery, whether I made the dish for many years or just for the first time. New discoveries energize me and make me more curious. I was thrilled to learn about this savory stuffed pastry and hope to perfect my technique as I continue to make them. Happy cooking.
As always, I would love to hear from you and about your culinary adventures. You and follow me on Instagram @lemonthymeandginger, Facebook or leave a comment under this recipe on my blog.
Stuffed Pastry with Swiss Chard and Feta
Stuffed pastry with Swiss chard and feta cheese makes a great appetizer or serve for any meal of the day. This recipe is an adaption of a traditional Israeli snack called Bureka. Serve with yogurt tahini spread, olives, and hard-boiled eggs, to create the perfect al fresco meal. Please don't be discouraged by the long prep time. Most of the prep time is waiting for the dough to chill, or the vegetables to cool. With the cooling and chilling time in mind, just make sure you have plenty of time to make these savory stuffed pastries. This stuffed pastry recipe can be made in advance and frozen for up to one month for your convenience. This recipe is slightly adapted from Breaking Breads by Uri Scheft.
Swiss Chard Filling
- 12 oz 342 g Swiss chard
- 5 oz 142 g spinach, tough stems removed
- 1 TB 100 g olive oil
- 1/2 yellow onion finely minced
- 2 celery stalks and leaves thinly sliced
- 1/2 tomato seeds removed and chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- Juice and zest from 1/2 a lemon
- 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
- Fresh ground pepper to taste
- 1 lb 455 g store-bought puff pastry - thawed if frozen
- All-purpose flour for rolling the pastry dough
- 1 1/4 cups 150 g feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 large egg
- 1 TB water
- For Garnishing
- Garnish with sesame seeds poppy seeds, everything bagel mixture, or dried herbs and spices
Swiss Chard Filling
Clean the Swiss Chard and remove the stems from the leaves. Cut the stems into 1/4 inch (.5 cm) chunks and set aside. Stack the chard leaves on top of each other and slice across the width into 1 inch (3 cm) ribbons. Then cut the ribbons in half across the width. Set aside.
Prepare the spinach the same as the Swiss Chard, but discard the stems. If you are using baby spinach there is no need to chop the leaves. However, remove any long stems from the baby spinach.
Turn the heat to medium and heat the olive oil in a large 10-inch skillet. Add the minced onion, celery and Swiss chard stems and 1/4 tsp of Kosher salt to the skillet and cook until softened, about 5-8 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent browning.
Add the chopped tomato, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and a couple of grinds of fresh black pepper. Cook the vegetables until the tomatoes break down about 2 - 3 minutes. Stir the vegetables frequently while they are cooking.
Add half of the Swiss chard greens and 1/4 tsp Kosher salt, and stir and cook until the leaves have wilted. Once the first batch cooks down, add the remaining Swiss Chard and cook until it is all wilted.
Scrape in the spinach leaves in the skillet with the vegetables in two batches. Once the spinach is heated and wilted, add the lemon juice. Stir and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and other seasonings if needed. Remember, the cheese in the filling will add a lot of salt to the bureka, so keep that in mind when you are tasting the vegetables.
Transfer the filling to a bowl and cool completely. The cooked vegetables can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator for several hours.
Once cooled, place the vegetables in a fine mesh strainer and drain out any excess water. Gently press down on the vegetables without squishing them.
Prepare the Puff Pastry
Make the egg wash. In a small bowl beat the egg, water and a pinch of salt until completely combined. Set aside.
Prepare two large rimmed baking sheets and line with parchment paper.
Lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin. Set the puff pastry on the floured surface, long side facing you, and lightly flour the top of the pastry. Gently roll the pastry into a rectangle about 20 inches (51 cm) by 12 inches (30.5 cm) and 1/16 inch thick. When you roll out the pastry dough, roll the pin in one direction beginning from about 1/3 of the way up from the side closest to you. Switch directions and roll the pin across the width in one direction. And switch again. Turn the pastry over and roll in one direction from each side. Repeat this until you have an even shaped rectangle about 1/16 inch thick. Rolling the pin back and forth confuses the dough and you do not get an even stretch. Be careful not to overwork the dough because it could get too warm. If the dough gets sticky and hard to work with, place on a rimmed baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Assembly, Chill and Bake
Divide the dough into 5 strips across the width of the pastry dough, about 4 inches (10 cm) wide and 12 inches (30.5 cm) long. Brush each strip with the egg wash. Reserve the egg wash for later.
Divide the sautéed vegetables into 5 equal portions about 1/2 cup (120 ml). Spread the Swiss chard mixture evenly down the middle of each strip. Add about a shy 1/4 cup (60 ml) of feta cheese crumbles on top of the vegetables. (If the dough is difficult to work with, chill it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.)
Fold the right side of the pastry strip over the filling and even with the left side of the pastry, like closing a book from the back to the front. Press on the edges and seal. Turn the filled pastry seam side down.
Twist each pastry into a spiral and make them into a U shape. Place each pastry on the prepared baking sheets. Place in the refrigerator and chill for one hour. Or place in the freezer and chill for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven for at least 30 minutes to 400°F (200°C / Gas Mark 6). If you have baking stones add them on the oven racks when you turn the oven on. Or turn a rimmed baking sheet large enough for two or three bureka to fit, upside down on an oven rack. The stones or the baking sheet will get good and hot and help create a crisp crust. If you only have one stone bake the burekas in batches.
Brush the burekas with the egg wash and garnish with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sea salt, or herbs and spices of your liking. Bake until the burekas are golden brown 30 - 35 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature.
Burekas are best eaten the same day they are made. Store any leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.