Party snacks should ideally do three things:
1) Not make you vomit later on when you’re trying to convince the pretty girl/boy with the really short dress/gold hotpants that going home with you is an excellent idea and should be done with wild and enthusiastic abandon.
2) Help insulate you against the 2 bottles of red wine and 7 shots of tequila that you’re still going to drink (mostly to help with all that wild and enthusiastic abandon with the pretty girl/boy later on), and finally…
3) …not be ‘some kind of meat on a stick’.
For the last 12 or so years that I’ve been cooking things for myself, it’s mostly just been in the category of ‘something for me to put in my mouth while I watch TV’. However, as time has gone by, I’ve started inviting people to, you know… eat with me. Sometimes it’s worked, sometimes it hasn’t. For every tour de force Moroccan-style Seared Chicken I’ve served up, I’ve also made Undercooked Prawn Mush In A Bowl (in a weird twist of fate my friend Greg has consistently been on the receiving-end of some of my most spectacular failed experiments, including the time I destroyed his toaster by shoving it full of mielie pap (a sort of South African corn porridge) convinced that it would be an excellent way to make a stiff, grilled alternative to potatoes). But slowly, I’ve gotten better at hiding that I still mostly don’t know what I’m doing, until recently, when a lovely friend of mine asked me to cook for her birthday party.
Apparently she wasn’t too concerned that by the end of her party she might have lost all her friends to Death By Party Snack.
Now – I’m always up for a challenge (which explains the ‘Summer of Jean-Shorts’ in ’92), but usually challenges like this only involve me. I can happily do this stupid stuff safe in the knowledge that only person who’s going to look like a toolbag is Yours Truly. But in this instance there was someone else’s Special Day involved, and I have to tell you, it scared the fuck out of me. But I had a budget, I had a brief (mostly vegetarian), a rapidly-shrinking set of balls – but fuck if I wasn’t going to give it a go.
Luckily, I had a notion that I’d mostly be okay as long as I: a) started early and b) drank lots – two golden rules that I followed to the letter (I’d finished a substantial amount of wine before midday, and once all the food had been trotted out, duly collapsed in a ridiculously boozed heap by about 8pm).
If the idea of a party snack is to line the stomach and keep you in a place where you can still get your drink on for as long as possible – there’s obviously only one route to go – and so this particular menu pretty much revolved around the twin pillars of bread and cheese. Not exactly sophisticated, sure. But did I fancy it all up? You bet. All pretty and such? Totally. But still – bread and cheese.
And so, mostly because I’m lazy and writing out everything I did for the party is a horrific amount of effort, I’m only going to do the recipe of which I was most proud.
Brioche Tart with Camembert and Roasted Red Onion
Brioche is the fourth best thing to be given to the world by the French (after kissing with tongue, Audrey Tatou and Peter Sellar’s accent in The Pink Panther). It’s almost criminally rich, needs quite a while to prepare, but so totally worth it that it’s become one of the things I dream about. I also dream about miniature horses, but that’s neither here nor there.
2 big tablespoons of caster sugar
15g dried yeast
100ml warm milk
1 tbspn of sea salt
9 eggs (yes, nine)
750g of cake flour
4 large red onions
5 large sprigs of thyme
2 tbpsn of olive oil
125g of camembert cheese
chives (finely chopped)
150ml of cream
What to do
Beat together the butter and caster sugar together. If you’ve got a fancy mixer thingie – then good for you, but if not, just let the butter soften a bit before you get going. Keep this to one side just for the moment. Put the yeast and the warm milk into a bowl and whisk until the yeast has fully dissolved. Now, beating the whole time, slowly add the eggs, salt and flour this milk/yeast mix and once its all in – keep beating for another ten minutes. This is probably the bit where you want to go out and by a proper mixer. After ten minutes, slowly add the butter and caster sugar a little at a time, and then beat for another five minutes. At this point, the dough should be glossy and elastic.
At this point scrape the mixture into a Tupperware or any sealable plastic container and let it rest/prove for about 2 hours. Unlike normal bread dough, you don’t want this to be near too much heat or the butter will start to separate from the dough mixture and that’s just grim. It should puff up nicely after 2 hours, at which point you need to gently deflate it, seal it back up and then bung it in the fridge for at least four hours or overnight.
When you’re ready to start turning this all into a tart, turn your oven on and up to about 200ºC. Then peel the onions and then cut them into largish chunks and get them on a roasting tray with the thyme, olive oil and some salt and pepper. Get this into the oven and roast them for about 20 minutes to half an hour. Once they’re starting to soften beautifully (the aroma is going to be insane), get it out and set it aside to cool. In the meantime, take a quantity of your brioche loaf and press it into a circular dish or tart tin and pop it in the oven for about 5 minutes (this is just to crispen up the base a bit, otherwise it does stay fairly wet). Once that’s done, spread the onions over the base and crumble in the camembert and the chopped up chives. Whisk together the cream and eggs and pour that over the onions. Then get that back in the oven and bake for about half an hour to 45 minutes until the brioche is cooked through and looking lovely (i.e. a nice golden brown).
This recipe makes waaaay more brioche dough than you need for just the tart. I suggest making the rest of it into a conventional loaf (just pop it in a greased baking tin, brush the top with a bit of egg yolk/milk mix and bake for about 30 minutes) to keep for breakfast the next day.
Also, a quick apology for the fairly slow start to the year (yes, another one….jeez can this guy ever just do something without apologizing? Ghard….), what with certain changes to my lifestyle (no, I didn’t get a sex-change) and my camera breaking – it’s been more difficult than I expected to update regularly. But, I’m going to say this in caps so that the point is made strongly – I’M NOT GOING ANYWHERE. There’s a bunch of exciting things coming, and now that I’m slightly better at handling my time – hopefully the posts and recipes will start flowing at a steadier rate again.