We were watching an old episode of Baking with Julia the other night and chef Michel Richard came on to make puff pastry. And one of the things he made with that puff pastry was a Tourte Milanese.
I have made more than my share of puff pastry in the past and when I found some decent stuff at the grocers, I pretty much put away my recipe and said hell with it. I don’t take a lot of shortcuts, but spending the day in the kitchen rolling, folding, chilling, rolling, folding, chilling, just isn’t as much fun as it used to be. I may make an exception the next time I make this – and there definitely will be a next time – but there is some really good store-bought out there made with decent ingredients if you take the time to look.
I have had the Baking with Julia cookbook for 20 years and have made many things from it – but I had never really noticed the Torte Milanese until I saw the TV episode. I can’t believe I have been missing out on this for 20 years! I am in the process of re-reading the entire cookbook, right now. Who knows what other treasures have been collecting dust. Such first world problems…
The recipe calls for an 8″ springform pan. I have a 10 1/2″ and a 6″ but no 8″ (actually, I’ll have one on Saturday – I just ordered one on Amazon) so I used an 8″ x 3″ cake pan. It worked and I was able to get it out of the pan while it was warm, but I could use an 8″ pan, anyway… what the hell.
The recipe takes a while to put together, but it’s all easy stuff. It also needs some serious cooling time, if you want it to hold together, so making it early in the day for the evening would probably work better than my making it in the afternoon for dinner – in the wrong pan.
Michel Richard Cooking With Julia
- 1 pound puff pastry, chilled
For the Eggs
- 10 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 teaspoons snipped fresh tarragon
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preparing the Pastry:
Generously butter an 8 1/2 inch springform pan. The butter will help the pastry stick to the sides of the pan. Cut off one quarter of the pastry, cover, and set aside. Roll out remaining puff pastry on a lightly floured board to a ¼ inch thick round. Carefully fit the pastry into the pan, pressing to get a smooth fit. Don’t worry about perfection, but do leave a 1 inch overhang.
Roll out the smaller piece of pastry until it is ¼ inch thick. Cut out an 8-inch circle of dough for the top of the tourte and lift it onto a plate. Cover both the crust and the lid with plastic wrap and keep them refrigerated while you prepare the filling.
Making the Eggs:
The eggs are used to seal the tourte. Whisk eggs, herbs, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Melt the butter in a large skillet over low heat and pour in the eggs. Gently but constantly stir the eggs around in the pan. You want to cook them slowly and loosely since they will be cooked further in the tourte. Slide the eggs onto a plate, without mounding them, and cover immediately with plastic wrap. The eggs need to be cooled before assembling the tourte.
- 6 large red bell peppers
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1½ pounds spinach, trimmed and washed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)
- 8 ounces Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
- 8 ounces smoked ham, thinly sliced
- 1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water and a pinch of salt
Roast the peppers:
Place whole and untrimmed, directly over the flame of a gas burner. As soon as one portion of the skin is charred, turn the pepper. When black and blistered all over, drop into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let steam for about 20 minutes. Use your fingers to rub off skin.
Cut each pepper once from top to bottom, cut away the stem, then open the peppers and lay them flat. Trim away the inside veins and discard the seeds; season peppers with salt and pepper and set aside, covered, until needed.
Cook the Spinach in a large quantity of boiling salted water for 1 minute to blanch it. Drain spinach in a colander, rinse with cold water, and squeeze to extract all of the excess moisture.
Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet. Add garlic and blanched spinach and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and add the heavy cream if using. Bring quickly to a boil and stir so it mixes with the spinach. Remove the spinach from the skillet with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Assemble the Torte:
Remove the pastry-lined springform pan from the refrigerator and layer the filling ingredients in the following order: half the eggs, half the spinach, half the ham, half the cheese, all the roasted peppers, and then continue in reverse with the remaining half of the cheese, remaining half of ham, remaining half of spinach, and the remaining half of eggs.
Fold the excess crust in over the filling, and brush the rim of crust you’ve created with the egg wash. Center the rolled-out top crust over the torte and gently push the edge of the top crust down into the pan, pressing and sealing the top and bottom crusts along the sides.
Brush the top with the egg wash and cut a vent in the center of the crust. Use the point of the knife to etch a design in the top crust, taking care to cut only halfway into the dough.
Chill the fully loaded tourte for 30 minutes to 1 hour before baking.
Preheat oven to 350°F and place rack in lower third of oven.
Bake the Tourte:
Place the tourte on a jelly-roll pan, give it another coat of egg wash, and bake it for 1 hour 10 minutes, or until puffed and deeply golden. Remove from the oven and let rest on a rack until it is just warm or reaches room temperature. Run a blunt knife around the edges of the pan and release the sides.
Okay… It sounds like a lot of work and… well… it is. Kinda. It can all be done in stages and put together when you want to bake it. It can also be done a day or two in advance and served slightly chilled or at room temperature.
We let it cool for about 45 minutes and the cheese was still warm and runny – and that’s how I would recommend serving it, but your results may vary.
There’s really no wrong way to do it – except not doing it at all.
The beauty of this is that every bite was different. Some would be more egg, another more pepper. Or a combination of crust and spinach. Or spinach and cheese and a bit of ham.
It really was excellent.
Thank you, Julia for making me pay attention to this book!
And, for grins and giggles… here’s the PBS episode!