Tag Archives: gruyere

Cheese & Cayenne Pepper

My nanna was a great cook;  one of the things she made that stood out for me as a greedy child (nothing much changed there then!) was her Sables. French for ‘sand’,  they were particularly delicious cheese biscuits with a spicy kick that she would serve with drinks, cut into triangles and sprinkled with salt. Google tells me that they date back to 1670, and originated in Southern Normandy. Asking one day how she made them, I remember her saying. ‘easy as pie – equal quantities of butter, flour and cheese with a large pinch of cayenne pepper’ . I never forgot that, and although I have tried numerous other recipes – mainly for cheese straws (I like the statuesque impact of a spray of them on the table) I always go back to this one. You can’t make them into straws as the dough is too sticky, but they are always a huge hit whenever I serve them.

The brilliant thing is that they also welcome other flavours – I love poppy seeds in the dough itself, but I have also rolled them in the seeds for a pretty, crunchy border, or you can also add herbs (rosemary is good) crushed black pepper, chilli flakes or even garlic. I tend to use Gruyere cheese, but any hard cheese would be good – especially a strong cheddar. I have grated it finely here, but larger bits add a good crunch if you don’t have the seeds. The addition of cayenne pepper is quite unusual however, but it works so well with cheese and I often sprinkle it on cauliflower and macaroni cheese too for a bit of a kick! (see Tomato & Chilli, below). Some recipes advocate an egg yolk, but I’ve always found this makes the mixture too wet.

INGREDIENTS – makes 20 (I often double up….)

75g plain flour
75g cold unsalted butter, cubed
75g Gruyere cheese, grated
½ tsp cayenne pepper
Sea salt


– Sift the flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl or food processor. Add the butter.

– Rub in or blitz in the processor until it resembles breadcrumbs.
– Add the cheese, poppy seeds and cayenne pepper.


– bring the mixture together with your hands or pulse in the processor.

– Roll out into a sausage shape, wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.

– Heat oven to 200 degress and butter two baking sheets.
– Slice the biscuits off the roll in 5mm thickness (I find this easier than rolling out the dough as it’s still quite sticky).
– Put them on the sheets, leaving plenty of room for spreading.

– Bake for ten minutes – keep an eye on them as they can go too dark quite quickly.

– Once out of the oven, grind some sea salt on them and leave to cool for a few mins before transferring to a wire rack.

These are best eaten completely cold – I find if they are warm they are a little too greasy (although I know pinching one beforehand is virtually impossible to resist). These are fabulous with a glass of ice cold champagne – or sherry, should you wish to carry on my grandmother’s tradition…





Onion & Sherry

I am a little obsessed with the favours that alcohol can add to a dish. Being introduced by Jamie Oliver to white wine and vodka in risotto has started a lifelong fascination with the culinary art of ‘bunging in the booze’.  I rarely make a Bolognese without chucking in left over red wine (I know – an oxymoron if ever there was one…) and a bottle of Marsala rarely lasts more than a month by my hob. There are always a couple of cans of ale or stout waiting to be poured into a casserole. The only drink I actually rarely buy or cook with is cider – even though I always love it when I do drink it. Why does that happen? It might be something to do childhood associations with difficult Sunday lunches; my mother for some reason thought cider was nothing more than a fizzy apple juice, and served it to us from a fairly young age.  It may go some way to explaining the arguments over dessert and apathetic afternoons slumped in front of the box.

One aperitif, which has enjoyed resurgence in popularity amongst the cognoscenti, is Sherry, so obviously my thoughts have turned to what it can add to my cooking. As I’ve said, I use Marsala with reckless abandon, and being Sicily’s answer to sherry (will I be in trouble with purists here?) I’m guessing it could be replaced with a Spanish Fino.  However, I’m slightly ashamed to admit that the only way I am familiar with it is as an official ingredient is in Trifle and French Onion Soup, adding a dark nutty pungency to its rich caramelized flavour. A quick Google reveals an incredibly wide variety of dishes – including fabulous desserts with rhubarb and peaches. One I will try imminently however, is James Martin’s sherry roasted parsnips.

Fo this week’s recipe however, I am returning to onions. As well as exploring innovative or lesser-known flavour pairings, I also want to investigate new ways of combining old favourites. My husband is a huge onion fan, and I never turn down savoury pastry so I decided to see how well onions and sherry could work by combining our two passions to create an Onion  & Sherry Tart. I made it as I would a Tart Tatin, and it was lovely with a simple rocket salad.

INGREDIENTS – serves 4

– 230g ready-rolled all butter pastry

– 50g unsalted butter

– 4-6 small onions, halved

– 100ml sweet oloroso sherry

– handful of fresh thyme


–  Melt the butter in a heavy-based ovenproof frying pan. I used a Le Creuset omelette pan – which is 20cm across the base, 25cm across the top and 5cm deep.

–        Add the onion halves, cut-side up, and fry gently for 20 minutes until soft and starting to caramelise, turning them over gently halfway through.


–         Heat oven to 200 degrees c.

–        Add the sherry and thyme sprigs, season well, then cover with damp greaseproof paper tucked in.


–        Transfer to the oven for 20 minutes until the onions are soft.

–        Roll out the pastry to size and drape it over the pan, tucking in the edges around the softened onions.

–        Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and crisp.


–       Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for a few minutes before turning out carefully.


–         Sprinkle with grated Gruyere or Parmesan if desired.

The sherry really created a delicious syrupy sauce – which was even more yummy cold. For ease of eating I think next time I may slice up the onions (although admittedly, it wouldn’t look so pretty).

What boozy recipes are your favourites?