Somerset Cottage's twice-baked blue cheese soufflé and lemon cream pieby Lauraine Jacobs
When the owners of Bethlehem’s Somerset Cottage opened their doors 30 years ago, their aim was to be part of the community.
Thirty years ago, Anne and Rick Butcher found the dream site to open their first restaurant, Somerset Cottage, in rural Bethlehem, on the outskirts of Tauranga. The tiny property, tucked away from the bright lights and traffic and surrounded by shelter-belt hedges, was exactly what they had envisioned from their Wellington base. At that time, there was a dearth of local artisan products and few restaurants or shops nearby. Now, although the city has crept up on them, with a vast shopping precinct opposite their restaurant and wide streets replacing the farmland, they are still serving loyal customers, now with a more local menu.
So, what keeps a restaurant sustainable for such a long time? This couple have ideal qualifications. Rick is in charge in the kitchen, runs frequent cooking classes and likes to surprise customers with his food discoveries. He puts nothing on the menu that he and Anne would not eat themselves. Anne, a former accountant, runs the business side, works with the front of house staff and produces Somerset’s excellent wine list. Together, they enthusiastically source local products from food artisans and Bay of Plenty farms.
As Anne explains, “We have a lot of customers who’ve been with us right from the start and have become good friends. We have young people who first came to us as babes in arms with their parents, who we’ve watched grow up into stunning young people, introduce us to their partners and start bringing in their own babies. We had always wanted to emulate the idea of those French restaurants in the countryside that kept doing what they did for generations, who were not empire builders but happy to be a part of the local community.”
Customers often talk about dishes from the late 80s that shocked them at the time, and for those people there’s a “Things we can’t take off” section of the Somerset menu. But the Butchers read extensively and travel frequently to discover and keep up with food trends and new ingredients and are keen about the authenticity of flavours as fresh and original ingredients become available.
They sell favoured local products, such as honey, milk, cheese, spices and chocolate from a small display in their bar area. The freezer is stocked with takeaway meals such as duck confit, pies and crème brûlée and other items from their menu.
After 30 successful years, Anne says the restaurant is not a finished project. Like all good businesses, it has needed constant modifications and changes, and the Butchers would like to create some accommodation and redevelop their bar area.
Cooking school classes in the restaurant kitchen take up a lot of their time and energy, so they would also like to see that very rewarding part of their life take even more shape. Another exploratory European trip is also on the cards.
This recipe is a favourite and on Somerset Cottage’s “Things we can’t take off” section of the menu. If you’re entertaining, this dish is ideal, because it can be prepared ahead, turned out into baking dishes and finished at the last minute with the second baking. Be sure to have everyone seated before it comes out of the oven, as it deflates rapidly.
Twice-Baked Blue Cheese Soufflé
75g blue cheese
1 tbsp chopped thyme
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
½ tsp salt
3 egg yolks
2 egg whites
3 pears, cut into wedges
juice of 2 oranges
4 tbsp sugar
Melt the butter in a large saucepan, then add the flour. Stir over the heat to combine and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Heat the milk separately, then whisk it in a little at a time. When all the milk has been added, mix in the cheese, thyme, nutmeg, salt and pepper. When the cheese has melted, whisk in the yolks. Leave to cool while you grease and flour 8 small ramekins.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks in a clean bowl, then fold into the cheese mixture. Spoon this into the ramekins until they’re just over half full. Place greased tinfoil to cover each and place them in a baking dish. Pour enough hot water into the dish to come halfway up the ramekins. Bake for 25 minutes, rotate the tray and cook another 25 minutes. Refrigerate until needed.
Place the wedges of pear in an ovenproof dish, add the orange juice and sugar and cover with foil. Bake until the pears are soft – about 15 minutes.
To finish, tip the soufflés into individual ovenproof dishes. Surround with a few wedges of pear. Pour around a tablespoon of cream and bake at 180°C for about 15 minutes or until golden and well risen.
Wine match: gewürztraminer
Bethlehem is in the heart of Bay of Plenty’s citrus-growing area, so this tart from Somerset Cottage’s menu uses freshly picked lemons and mandarins. In a commercial kitchen, a sugar thermometer is used to give an accurate indication of the temperatures to cook the lemon cream. They sell for under $10 at good kitchenware shops.
Lemon Cream Pie
3/4 cup flour
80g unsalted butter, diced
4 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp icing sugar
an extra egg yolk for glazing
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 egg yolk
220g butter, diced
Make the pastry using a food processor. Add the flour, butter and sugars, then pulse until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add 1 egg and pulse until the dough looks damp. Tip out onto a bench, then knead until smooth. Roll out to fit a 20-22cm tart tin. Chill for 20 minutes minimum.
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Fill the pastry case with crushed baking paper, then use baking beads or rice to weight the paper. Bake the case blind until the base is golden. Brush with the egg yolk, then return it to the oven for 5 minutes. Set aside.
To make the filling, place a saucepan half full of water on the heat. Put the juice, eggs, sugar and salt into a medium-sized stainless-steel bowl and whisk over the heat continuously until the mixture is thick and coats the spoon. (If you have a sugar thermometer, 82°C.) Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly (to 60°C). Whisk in the diced butter until well incorporated.
To finish, pour the filling into the baked tart shell and refrigerate overnight.
Serve with pine nuts that have been sautéed in a little butter, and peeled, sliced mandarins.
Wine match: a late-harvest riesling
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