filling the empty nest with food
A well-written recipe is a lovely thing. And I don’t fully appreciate them until I have to follow a recipe that raises more questions than it answers. Suffice it to say that some of Escoffier’s recipes are maddeningly vague.
In these mushroom tarts, the béchamel (white sauce) recipe spells out specific weights for each ingredient, but after that the procedures for mixing and cooking get lax. Likewise the pastry. Clearly, precise amounts in sauces and pastry dough matter. But what happened to the precision when it comes to the mixing and stirring?
And then, for the filling, you seem to be able to mix together whatever quantities of mushrooms and béchamel strike your fancy. “Garnish the pastry with mushrooms, sautéed in butter with a little chopped onion, thickened with Béchamel sauce and cooled.” How much sauce? More mushrooms than sauce? Equal proportions? Or what?! And at what temperature do you cook them and for how long?! “Cook in a hot oven and serve immediately.”
Oui, Monsieur. Whatever you say.
Sauce Béchamel (adapted from Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire)
40 grams butter
50 grams flour, sifted
700 ml milk or cream (heated)
Melt butter in a saucepan. Stir in flour, stirring continuously and cooking for only a few minutes, until the taste of raw flour disappears.
Pour hot milk or cream into the roux. Bring to a boil while stirring, season with a sprig of thyme, a pinch each of ground pepper, nutmeg, and salt. Cook gently for one hour. (Although, if you’re in a hurry, you can cheat and cook the béchamel for only a few minutes once it comes to the boil.)
Pastry dough (for special flans and fruit tarts; adapted from Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire)
500 grams sifted flour
10 grams salt
50 grams powdered sugar
300 grams softened butter
1 1/2 deciliter water
Spread out the flour in a crown shape. In the middle, add the salt, sugar, egg, and butter. Mix the middle ingredients together first. Incorporate the flour little by little and knead it twice. (Escoffier’s instructions leave out the water, so I added it at the end, before the kneading, as you do in most pie crusts.) Gather the dough into a ball and keep it cold.
The pastry recipe makes much more than you need for a few mushroom tartelettes, but you can freeze the leftover dough or refrigerate it. It makes a lovely tart crust.