Journalist and Lounge columnist
If I’m hosting a party, I like guests to feel spoiled but ideally without working myself into a frenzy beforehand. If you have a couple of easy baking recipes up your sleeve, then you’re set to impress.
I’ve been making this French onion tart for over 20 years, when I discovered the great British food writer Elizabeth David. It’s such a regular in my repertoire, my copy of French Provincial Cooking falls open at this page. Most of the ingredients will be found in the barest of cupboards—ideal if you have unexpected guests—yet the flavours are rich enough to feel celebratory. Tarte a l’Oignon never fails to draw “oohs” and “aahs”.
The strawberry cupcakes started life as picnic treats for my kids back in Scotland, but I found the adults loved them just as much, maybe more, and these days I tend to make them for parties. The sponge mixture is made in a flash and it’s nice to vary the icing depending on which fruit is in season. Piled on a plate or cake stand these cupcakes make a dazzling festive centrepiece to any party.
22. TARTE A L’OIGNON
What you need
For the pastry: 100g plain flour, 50g cold butter, 1 egg (beaten lightly), a pinch of salt and iced water.
For the onion filling: 750g onions (local red onions are ideal), 50g butter, 1 tbsp of vegetable oil, 3 egg yolks, 250ml thick cream, nutmeg and salt and pepper for seasoning.
How to make it
First make the pastry. This is easiest in a food processor but can also be done by hand: Blitz the flour, salt and butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg and blitz again. The mixture should start to come together; if not, add a few drops of iced water until it does but use as little liquid as possible to ensure a nice crisp pastry. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap with cling film and leave in the fridge while you make the filling.
Peel and slice the onions very finely. If you have a slicing gadget or a food processor this will take seconds.
Melt the butter and oil in a large pan, add the onions, cover the pan and cook very slowly. Keep a close eye on the onions, stirring from time to time—they shouldn’t brown at all but be completely soft and golden. This will take about 30 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Beat together the egg yolks and cream, then stir in the onions. This recipe can be made completely ahead up to this point and assembled and baked when needed.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Roll out the pastry as thinly as possible and use it to line a 20cm tart or flan tin. Pour in the filling and cook for about 30 minutes. The tart should be set and golden brown on the top. Serve hot.
23. CRUSHED STRAWBERRY CUPCAKES
What you need
For about 18 cupcakes: 225g plain flour mixed with 2 level tsp of baking powder, a pinch of salt, 125g unsalted butter, 175g vanilla or caster sugar, 200ml soured cream, finely grated zest of 1 lemon, 1 egg, 2 egg yolks and 175ml milk. For the icing: 250g icing sugar (sifted), a handful of hulled fresh strawberries and a squeeze or two of lemon juice.
How to make it
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line a 12-hole muffin tray with paper cases (you’ll have to make two batches to use up all the mixture). Or, if you’d like the cakes to be more bite-sized, use a mini-muffin tray.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat the vanilla sugar and butter until pale and fluffy. In a third bowl, beat together the soured cream, lemon zest, egg, egg yolks and milk until well mixed.
Gradually add the egg and cream mixture to the butter and sugar. When the mixture is completely smooth, carefully fold in the flour. When all the ingredients are combined, spoon the mixture into the muffin cases to about three-quarters full—you need to leave room for the icing. Bake for about 20 minutes—when you press, the sponge should spring back.
While the cupcakes are in the oven, make the icing. Carefully hull the strawberries—you don’t want any traces of stalk to interfere with the luscious soft berryness. Thoroughly sift the icing sugar into a bowl, spritz with a little lemon juice, then with a fork, crush in a couple of strawberries at a time. Go slowly, you don’t want this icing to be too runny. Leave the cupcakes to cool on a rack then top with generous teaspoonfuls of icing to about 4mm thick.