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Pâte brisée for a pillow

I know it’s been said about all sorts of things, but this is the stuff that dreams are made of. I mean it.

Our recent discussion of eating, sleeping, and breathing food got me thinking, a dangerous activity that inevitably ends with me hunched over a pile of open cookbooks and recipe clippings. In that post, I’d mentioned a roasted-onion tart that once came to me in a dream, beckoning from a shelf in a bakery window, its thick topknot of translucent onion gleaming under the lights. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen its exact likeness in my waking life, but dear reader, I’ve come close. If the onion tart in my dream was, let’s say, the Platonic form of onion tarthood, its real-life copy is the Alsatian onion tart. And deep within my accordion file of clippings lies the recipe.

A specialty of the Alsace* region of northeastern France, la tarte à l’oignon is perfect winter fare: delicate but rich, sweet but earthy, light but grounding. I made it for the first time—and then over and over and over again—last winter. It begins with a hefty amount of thinly slivered onions, sautéed until lightly caramelized and then doused with a mixture of egg and heavy cream, poured into a tart shell, and baked to golden.

Every onion comes into the world hoping to find its end in this tart. As the French would say, “C’est mortel!” (It’s killer!). Me, I say it’s just plain dreamy. I’d like to stretch out on its bed of onions and custard and rest my head on a firm pillow of pâte brisée. Never mind the little details, like the shards of buttery pastry in my hair. One could find worse places to hibernate for winter.

*Alsace is also, incidentally, the home of choucroute garnie, a traditional dish of sauerkraut and various forms of pork. Those Alsatians are brilliant.

Tarte à l’Oignon, or Alsatian Onion Tart
Adapted from André Soltner in The New York Times, October 20, 2003

No matter what recipe she was talking about, my father’s mother—a little Jewish woman from Poland with dyed red hair and a thick accent—would always begin by saying, “First, you brown an onion.” Too bad she never got to taste this tart. It makes a nice lunch or a light supper when served with a simple green salad, some good bread, and a crisp, dry Alsatian white wine, such as Pinot Blanc.

1 half-recipe Martha Stewart’s pâte brisée without sugar (flaky pie dough; enough for one 9” tart shell), unbaked
1-2 Tbs olive oil
1-1 ½ lbs yellow onions (about 2 large), peeled and very thinly sliced
1 large egg
½ cup heavy cream
Freshly ground pepper
Grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Roll out the pâte brisée, and line a 9” removable-bottom tart shell with it. Cover it with plastic wrap, and chill it in the refrigerator.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and sauté the onions, stirring regularly, until they are lightly golden—just beginning to caramelize—and tender. Remove the skillet from the heat.

In a small bowl, beat the egg and cream together. Add a pinch or two of salt and pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Add this to the onions, stirring to combine.

Remove the tart shell from the refrigerator, and fill it with the onion and egg mixture. Bake tart for 25 minutes, or until the filling is golden brown and set. Serve hot or warm.

Serves 5 to 6.


Anonymous Clotilde said...

Beautiful writing Molly, I especially loved the "Every onion comes into the world hoping to find its end in this tart" -- genius! And this has reminded me how much I love onion tarts and how long it's been since I made one!

Oh, and I made your friend Glenn's banana bread (only in muffins and with pecans) the other day : fabulous recipe, my thanks to you both!

6:31 AM, February 21, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Clotilde, I'm thrilled to hear that you made and enjoyed the banana bread! I'll bet Glenn never dreamed that his recipe would travel all the way to Paris...
And do keep me posted on the onion tart, if you make one. So simple, so wonderful. Ahh.

8:56 AM, February 21, 2005  
Blogger stef said...

that does look like some really good tart! great picture but i am sure it pales in comparison to actually tasting it.

1:04 PM, February 21, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Thanks, Stef! You should give the recipe a whirl and see what you think of the photo-to-real-life comparison...

4:21 PM, February 21, 2005  
Blogger probonobaker said...

That is one amazing looking tart. Your crust appears perfect. I also use Martha Stewart's Pate Brisee recipe for my tarts and they pale in comparison to yours.

I will have to give the onion tart a go, it looks delicious.

I have been enjoying your site. Thanks!



7:52 AM, February 23, 2005  
Blogger s'kat said...

That is indeed truly a thing of beauty. But it seems to be calling out for a smattering of crispy bacon across the top... ;)

8:50 AM, February 23, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Gemma, thanks for stopping by! I just took a peek around your site, and your pretzels look delicious! Yum. As for Martha Stewart's pate brisee, my experience is that practice--LOTS of it--makes perfect. I seem to have hit my stride with it as of late, but for a while, there was sticky dough, some flat crusts, and much sweating on my part!

And s'kat, I wholeheartedly agree...while I do love the onion tart as is, a little bacon might be in order! I think, actually, that some versions of this tart include bacon, and of course Alsace is very pro-pork.

9:09 AM, February 23, 2005  
Anonymous Tara said...

Hubba, hubba. Kate just bought tart pans and I think that I may have to temporarily steal one for this. It looks and sounds fabulous.

Great post too. The use of platonic form cracked me up. Very clever.

7:33 AM, February 24, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Tara, it was terrific to meet you last night. And yes, steal one of those pans!

1:08 PM, February 24, 2005  
Blogger Anne said...

Mm, mm, mm! This is one I will definitely try, and soon! I plan to make it during my stay-at-home-week, next week - I'll let you know how it turns out! It sounds really delicious!

11:32 PM, February 24, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Anne, I am infinitely jealous of your stay-at-home week! [Sniffle, sniffle.] Let me know how the tart turns out!

9:45 AM, February 25, 2005  
Blogger Anne said...

Molly, it was wonderful! I made it on Sunday, and it was really yummy! I used a larger pie dish though, so I got a flatter pie - same gorgeous flavor, but I want to try it with a deeper dish next time. And there will certainly be a next time - many more next times!

12:15 AM, March 01, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Anne, that's great news! Thanks for reporting back...

7:40 AM, March 01, 2005  
Anonymous Jimmy said...

Molly, Made your tart for dinner last nite. I cannot believe how sweet tasting it was. In my usual way I did play with the fat content a bit. I took the advice of s'kat and sprinkled crumbled bacon on top. Even though I've had very good success with Martha's pastry crust recipe even before I knew who she was I attempted to replicate my grandmother's ultra flaky version. I replaced one stick of butter with the equivalent amount of ****. Yes,I said ****! OK, I couldn't really say it but you can guess what I used. I also substituted half and half for the ice water. Die young you say? Too late for that!!!!!!!!!

12:10 PM, March 04, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Jimmy, I'm thrilled to hear that you made the tart! And would that be LARD that you used, hmmm? I'll bet it was killer, in every sense of the word. Did you share with Bec? And did she eat all the bacon off the top?

8:02 AM, March 05, 2005  
Blogger Zarah Maria said...

Nothing short of divine this one Molly! Mmm, the crust, the onions, the scent - it was all fabulous! Thank you for sharing the recipe!

11:32 AM, April 03, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

I'm so glad, Zarah Maria! Thanks so much for giving it a go.

3:21 PM, April 03, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When my parents returned from a trip to Alsace a year or so ago they talked more about this famous tart than about the regional art or architecture.... I immediately began developing a recipe to fit their taste memory (any excuse for a savory tart -- I too love the Martha tart dough experience). I'm sure every patisserie in Alsace has its own recipe, but mine uses bacon. Instead of sprinkling the bacon on top, I cook it in the tart to both add texture and an infusion of flavor. I chop 6-8 ounces of bacon (preferably thick-cut, well-marbled) into 1/4-inch pieces, then cook in a large skillet (or wok for me) until just beginning to crisp (do not burn it!). My secret tip: grind in lots of black pepper to bring out that country pork flavor. Remove bacon and set aside. Pour off and dispose all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat and return to heat. Now use this bacon fat to cook your onions as in your regular recipe. Salt the onions as usual to sweat, but reduce the overall salt in the recipe to compensate for the salt in the bacon. Return the bacon to the pan when the onions are done, then continue with your recipe.

1:45 AM, August 03, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Anonymous, thanks so much for sharing your bacon version. Alsace is indeed a very pork-happy place, and I imagine the bacon would lend a nice smoky, salty complexity to the tart. Mmm. Sounds wonderful...

6:12 PM, August 03, 2005  
Blogger Isabelle said...

I ate a Tarte d'Alsace while in Paris last month. Fantastic taste... it had carmelized onion, bacon, cheese and creme fresh (sp)on a sort of pizza crust - very thin - almost like a lavosh. Have been searching for a recipe ever since. Also, Trader Joes now has a frozen one.

8:09 AM, November 23, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Isabelle, that tarte d'Alsace sounds wonderful! It must be a close relative of this tarte a l'oignon, or surely a branch from the same tree. And thanks for the Trader Joe's tip!

12:23 PM, November 30, 2005  
Anonymous rosie said...

I lived in Alsace (Strasbourg) 10 yrs ago (I can't believe its been that long). I've had some of the best memories there, many of them culinary because my french-maman was such a great cook. Thanks so much for posting such a great recipe. I too love the Alsatians, they're great people.

12:01 PM, June 26, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Rosie, it's my pleasure. I'm very jealous of your days with an Alsatian maman - I hope this tart lives up to hers!

5:00 PM, June 26, 2006  
Anonymous Damien said...

Molly, I have finally stolen your picture as promised and linked into our website where we talk about pairing Alsatian wines and food. I have been salivating thinking about the various pairings and I think your picture and recipe set the tone perfectly. The page is at www.candidwines.com/schaetzelpairings.html.

Thanks again, and please let me know if you need any other recognition beyond the links.


11:46 AM, August 02, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

So glad to hear it, Damien! Your site is looking terrific, and you're right - I think the photo sets the perfect tone. Cheers to you!

1:47 PM, August 02, 2006  
Blogger dc365 said...

Did I mention I'm also Alsatian?? Well, my dad is, and his mom taught my mom how to make authentic Alsatian onion tart. So this recipe reminds me of my childhood! Lucky me!!

Other amazing Alsatian specialties you may want to try your hand at include fleishneke, tarte aux pommes (made with flan), and tartiflette (which is actually a potato recipe, though it sounds like a cake), pate vogienne and kouglof. And tarte flambee, but that is really more for restaurants, or those that have a brick fire pizza oven.

1:55 PM, August 21, 2007  
Blogger Rachael said...

Oh this looks wonderful! I linked here from Deb's site. I will definitely be trying this too. I wonder about mixing lots of caramelized garlic in after the onions are browned up... (in my book, one can never have enough garlic)

6:32 AM, December 06, 2007  
Anonymous Laura said...

Molly, I was driving home today in the pouring rain when suddenly it occurred to me that this tart is what I needed for dinner. I had seen this post months ago, but haven't made it until now. I can't think of anything better on such a wet, cold night than a little caramelized onion--helped along, of course, by plenty of buttery pastry and a little cream!

5:54 PM, March 03, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi, dutch girl in france, work in a restaurant where my bosses mother made us this tart. in search of the recipe i landed on your site. ♥♥*loOve*♥♥ your site, it is very insperational, lots of complements for you. made this tart today, and how wonderfull it is, would like to say ambrosia, overate myself a little bit... i as well loved the "every onion comes into this world...." sentence. thank you, i will come back many times i'm sure, and i will recommend you to everyone i now who loves to cook. grosse bisous!

5:45 AM, April 18, 2008  
Anonymous gimletgirl said...

I made this for dinner... No time to the pate brisee (sorry), so bought a crust and rolled it out. Compensated by chopping/cooking some bacon to add (and used a bit of the bacon grease and olive oil for the onions). Still yum!!

6:28 PM, October 06, 2009  
Anonymous NSH said...

Oh my god this tart! Couldn't believe that 1/2 cup of liquid (it worked great with soymilk) and an egg plus onions could transform into this thing...I've just started a new job that I'm not that excited about (okay, I hate it), but I'm already excited to eat the leftovers at my desk tomorrow come lunchtime!

7:39 PM, September 07, 2010  
Anonymous Harriet said...

Hi Molly--I just wanted to say that this is perhaps my husband's favorite thing that I make (it's way up there, anyway). I have a lot of fun making it, too. Thanks so much for posting it.

9:22 PM, August 31, 2011  
Blogger hannahalehandra said...

Molly I know this recipe has been on your blog for a long time now but I just had to comment to thank you for it! I tried it out a couple of months back and have made it several times since. It's so heavenly. It made my boyfriend a very happy man after coming home from work! And so for this, a million thank-yous. Kiss from England.xo http://hannahalehandra.blogspot.com/

4:12 AM, November 19, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Molly

I am making 2 of these delicious onion tarts for a party tonight - i see you have not pre baked the pastry - is it not necessary ?

I hope i get your response before i go :)

I love your site & thank you for your excellent methods & explantions - easy to follow .
Warm regards Sharon

6:41 AM, March 18, 2015  
Blogger Molly said...

Sharon, it's not necessary to pre-bake the pastry here. But actually, if I were to make this tart today, I think I *would* pre-bake it - just because I now like my pastry to get a little more browned in the oven than I used to. It's up to you and your preferences.

11:10 AM, March 18, 2015  

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