I recently spent some time in Saskatoon. It was a bit like revisiting an old album (or for a less poetic example, rewatching the first season of Digimon on Youtube) where you discover that you remember so much. There is so much familiar, and maybe it’s a particular exchange (and if we’re talking English-dubbed Digimon, almost certainly some terrible puns) or a particular street or shop, but some of it is in fact crystalline in its clarity. And some of it was not even the recall of memories that had been slightly out of reach–I realised a number of childhood memories that I had falsely attributed to Victoria were in fact Saskatoon. Despite the drastically different location–one on an island, and one in the prairies–there is something similar about the feeling between the two cities, perhaps to do with the size and the people and this trajectory of gentle growth. It’s perhaps a strange comparison to make, but there is also the architecture of a smaller downtown packed with beautiful older buildings.
As for the baking. Well. Many things, such as funerals and the like, are not often particularly cheerful–though they can be many other things, such as cathartic, releasing, memorable, and reminiscent. However, bookending anything not particularly cheerful with visits to bakeries and a box of pastries tends to be, if not positive, at the very least not a negative development.
It was in one sort of situation or another that we found ourselves at Little Bird Patisserie. In a word it was incredible; while we didn’t arrive in time for a famed cruffin, the croissants were spectacular, crisp, light, flaky, well-browned, and perhaps what made them stand out the most–well-salted.
t was a bit of a fantasy shop for me actually; apparently they serve afternoon tea, a creative and rotating array of pastries savoury and sweet, and of course a fantastic croissant.
But anyways, after recovering from all the croissant-induced satiety and gaiety, there was also their “tartiflette“. It essentially sang of smokey cured meat, aged cheese, all nestled between packed layers of thinly sliced potatoes under a crisp, deep brown crust. And so while the croissants are something I hope to (re)visit someday, for the moment the tartiflette took priority.
Looking into the namesake a bit, tartiflette, it turns out, is a gratin-type dish, completely different from the tart. It does retain the same sort of spirited mishmash of rich and winter-y ingredients and intense carbohydrate piling.
In making this tart, I used what meat and cheese I had in the fridge. As I had hard cheeses, and because conceptualizing putting together the tart wasn’t clicking otherwise, I made a very thick and rich bechamel (more along the lines of a suspension of milk in melted cheese than the converse). Onions, shallots and cured meat was cooked together until the onions were softened and sweet. All of this was layered with parboiled potatoes.
On the potatoes front, I imagine this working just perfectly with waxy small red potatoes (and the skins would look so pretty as well). I used the small, wrinkled, and fervently sprouting kennebecs leftover from the summer however. They’re starchier, but still worked nicely. Not having any fresh herbs was a bit of shock, so I used a tad bit of dried thyme–and wish that I had not been so worried and just went for it.
It was a good tart–especially eaten warm, it is rich and heavy. The bottom crust stayed flaky and didn’t become at all sodden, and the thin spread of bechamel overtop crisped up beautifully.
However, it did end up a bit more like a scalloped potatoes tart than I would have hoped. I did identify a number of changes I would make to remedy this. First, I should have sliced the potatoes more thinly; really, I sliced them approximately scalloped-potatoes-type thickness. This would result in more thin layers and less of a “chunky” texture. Further, along with more layers, I would have spread out the bechamel more thinly. Finally, I also would have liked a greater herby presence–so if you have fresh thyme, put in plenty, and maybe even some parsley stems.
Makes 1 large rectangular tart (roughly 26 x 15 cm). Inspired by the tartiflette at Little Bird Patisserie and then by this tartiflette recipe in the Guardian by Felicity Cloake.
166 g cold butter
200 g whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp kosher salt
40-50 mL cold water
Cut the butter into thin pieces.
Mix together the flour and salt on the countertop. Add the butter, turning to coat both sides with flour. Using the heel of your hand, flatten the butter into the flour. Use a bench scraper to “fold” the butter flour mixture in half on top of itself. Repeat these steps until the butter forms many thin flakes. Make a well in the centre and add the water, working the dough in the same manner by turning it over onto itself until a cohesive pastry is formed. Wrap and chill completely.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and line a large rectangular pan (26 x 15 cm). Blind bake for 20-25 minutes, then remove the baking weight and bake for another 5-10 minutes or until the pastry is a bit browned.
600 g small potatos
50 g coppa (as I had some very discounted old coppa…otherwise, smokey bacon or lardons)
1 tbsp butter
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the washed potatoes. Parboil until just tender. Drain, cover in cold water, and set aside to cool.
Thinly slice the onion and finely mince the shallot. Take the coppa or bacon and cut into small strips or pieces. Melt the butter in a pan over medium, add the onions and shallots and cook until very soft and the onions smell cooked. Add the coppa or bacon and continue to cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally until the onions are a bit sweet. Set aside.
Return to the cooled potatoes, drying them off and slicing very thinly.
1 tbsp butter
1/8 tsp dry thyme
1 1/2 tsp flour
150 mL half-and-half or milk…I used primarily half-and-half
1 bay leaf
30 g gruyere
80 g aged white cheddar
Melt the butter in a small saucepan with the thyme, add the flour and whisk until thick and cooked. Gradually whisk in the half-and-half or milk until smooth. Add the bay leaf and let sit over a gentle heat (steaming, not simmering) for around 10 minutes.
While the bay leaf infuses, roughly grate the cheeses. Remove the bay leaf and add the cheese a handful at a time to the sauce, whisking until melted before the next handful. Add a bit of black pepper.
onion, shallot and copa mixture
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Arrange a single layer of sliced potatoes on the bottom of the tart. Spread half of the onion mixture and a generous third of the bechamel over top. Repeat. Finally, set down a last layer of potatoes and spread with the scant remaining bechamel. A tiny sprinkle of salt over the potato layers may have some merit.
Bake for around 40 minutes or until a bit bubbly and deeply golden. Let cool on a wire rack–some time is required to allow the filling to set a bit, but it is best warm. Store in the fridge, but before eating, do warm it up in the oven. I insist.