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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Idiot-Proof Tartlets for When You're Feeding the 500

No it wasn't a typo: When I wrote last week that 500 people were popping around for nibbles and drinks I was not making it up.


They are and they're coming at 6 p.m. to celebrate Australia Day, so they will expect a feed.


Just think, while you emerged from your slumbers around half an hour ago, I have already been up for hours -- slaving, slaving over a phalanx of stoves.


My hands are sore from rolling out 1,000 pastries, my thumb and pinkie have serious sharp knife nicks, I burned my left thumb on a saucepan not an hour ago and have to keep dipping it in iced water to keep the tears from leaking out. And my back is aching from exhaustion. Two weeks of rather full-on cooking has meant life has been a bit single-minded.


I have become that wide-eyed vision -- the food obsessed. I cannot but think of food. I cook all day and read recipes late at night. I even had a nightmare that I was drowning in a berry coulis. I remember someone in a boat rowing over to save me: They reached out their hand to grab me, but their arm turned into the plastic paddle of a food processor and I started to sink quite fast. Surely, surely I will soon relax and remember those other things in life that consume one's soul -- like sex and love and peace in Bosnia.


But strangely enough, I'm rather chirpy. No news flashes or updates to follow this blunt statement: It may all end in tears if my salmon isn't poached to perfection, or some klutz (i.e. me) upends one of my three roasts on the kitchen floor, but overall, if I don't dwell too much on the discomforts, it's rather fun.


All I can say is -- don't try this at home. For goodness sake call in the caterers. I can't, of course, because I AM the caterer. So there's nothing to turn to but chocolate bars and glasses of sherry and shopping for expensive clothes on my day off.


So, what's for dinner? Oh, just a few things I threw together at the last moment. One of which is such a treat I whipped up 1,000. You don't want anyone missing out.


It's a pastry shell that is idiot proof, shatter-proof (very necessary when you are dealing with such numbers) and a snap to make. I found the recipe in a cooking magazine, and it called for such wonderful extravagances as Parmesan cheese. I dutifully followed the instructions and found myself using up most of my budget on cheese alone. Then after about 200 of them with the expensive cheese, I switched to cheap(ish) and you can't tell the difference.


They can be made in advance, and frozen for weeks. And making them is a perfectly therapeutic task. Just don't make 1,000. I can tell you how shatter-proof they are by giving you the amazing statistic that out of the 1,000 I made, only four broke apart. Oh yes, and I lost 10 in one tragic lapse because I was so fascinated by the shapes I was making when rolling the pastry that some burned in the oven. I had just mastered the African continent and was aiming to get Madagascar in too, when I remembered them. Chastised, I just stuck to the more simple shapes of Greenland and North America after that.


The cheese I have been using hails from Finland (Hail Finns! My life has suddenly taken on new meaning now that I know the Finnish word for oatmeal -- t?ysjyv?hiutaleita -- no wonder I had trouble spotting it on the supermarket shelves) and it is a large cylindrical shape that could also be put to use as a domestic weapon. It is tasty and much cheaper than Parmesan and holds together well in these tarts.





Savory Pastry Tarts


1 cup plain flour


1/2 cup cheese (any firm variety)


100 grams butter, cut into cubes and softened


1 egg yolk


3 tablespoons ice water





Preheat oven to 200 Celsius. In the bowl of a food processor combine the flour and cheese and whiz quickly to combine. Add the chopped butter at room temperature and combine again. Add the egg yolk and process until crumbly and then finally pour in the very cold water one tablespoon at a time until the machine starts to labor and prepare to take off (about 15 to 20 seconds). Remove, divide into three small disks, cover in plastic and place in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.


Prepare small pastry cases by brushing them with melted butter.


Roll the pastry out to a flat even thickness (too thin and they will burn) and cut to fit your pastry shells. Prick the bottoms violently with a fork and bake in the hot oven for about 15 to 20 minutes. This should yield about 24 small pastries. Watch them regularly as they tend to overcook quickly.


Turn out and cool and then proceed with your fillings.


No time to give you a detailed description right now -- there's lots of work to be done before the guests arrive. But mine will have the following: roasted bell peppers with a parsley and pine nut stuffing; simmered mushrooms in sherry; caramelized onions; poached salmon and dill. Hmm, sounds tempting. I will expect a report on Monday about how your pastries turned out. But don't call too early -- I have promised myself I'll be in bed and asleep most of the day.