Maison Bertaux’s cheese soufflé tart

Maison Bertaux, the pâtisserie on Greek Street, is possibly the only survivor of all the French businesses in Soho. Opened in 1871, it is owned today by Michèle Wade, a charming and energetic proprietrix if there ever was one. She has maintained the high standards of M et Mme Vignaud, her predecessors, though she doesn’t hide behind the front door like the harassed Monsieur did. I dropped in there the other day to buy some croissants and Michèle popped one of her delicious cheese soufflé tarts into the bag. She has been feeding me them for far longer than the ten years she has owned the shop because she was a waitress there before. If only some of the other small shops in Soho had staff willing to take over when the owners retired, we might still have a dairy in Frith Street, a chocolatier in Brewer Street and an épicerie on Old Compton Street.

Ingredients

Pastry

  • 250 g butter, cut into small dice and still slightly firm from the fridge
  • 375 g plain flour
  • 75 ml milk
  • 1 egg
  • a pinch of salt
  • butter

Cheese Filling

  • 300 ml milk
  • 150 g butter
  • 150 g plain flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 250 g Cheddar (or Gruyère if you wish), grated
  • 150 g parmesan, grated
  • salt and pepper

Method

Making the Pastry

In a food processor work the butter and flour for a few seconds until they have the texture of breadcrumbs. Beat the milk and egg together with the salt and quickly work into the dough, still in the food processor. Form this pastry into a fat cylinder, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Butter a 25 cm loose-bottomed tart tin and form a pastry case in the same way as explained. It is essential to make this case well ahead and freeze, as this aids the blind baking.

Elsewhere I’ve been very dismissive of baking blind but unfortunately it is essential for this recipe. However, the forgiving nature of this pastry makes the job simpler.

Blind-Baking the Pastry Case

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Wrap the frozen pastry case in three layers of clingfilm, pushing the plastic into the well of the case. Fill this well with dried beans or peas and press lightly to ensure the pastry is going to be held in place. Loosen the clingfilm from under the tart case and press the beans again. Then bunch the excess clingfilm around the outside rim; this will contract during baking, providing a lip of plastic to hold when you remove the beans. Bake for 15 minutes, remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Carefully remove the clingfilm-wrapped beans and store for another day. Return the pastry case to the oven for a further 5 minutes.

Making the Filling

Put the milk on to warm but do not allow to boil. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over a medium flame, add the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring continually with a wooden spoon. Gradually add the hot milk, still stirring all the time. Cook over a low heat for a few minutes, stirring continuously. The mixture will thicken alarmingly and start to form a smooth clump around your spoon, coming away cleanly from the sides of the pan.

Remove from the heat and immediately beat in the eggs, one by one. Add the cheeses, mix well and check the seasoning. This cheesy choux paste can be made in advance, and indeed will survive several days in the fridge, relatively unscathed.

Turn the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas 7. Put the pastry case on a heavy baking sheet and pour the filling in. Bake for 15 minutes until the filling has started to rise and brown, then turn the oven down to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6 and continue baking for another 20 minutes.

Serving

This tart emerges from the oven risen like a soufflé. Obviously, this is the best time to serve, although cutting slices will be a little difficult. When the tart cools, the risen parts will sink considerably but it will still taste wonderful.

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