Pommes Dauphinoise is one of those recipes that foodies get their knickers in knot about, coming over all authenticker-than-thou, and arguing about cheese and garlic and so on. Maybe they have a point, because this is a tricky dish to get right, especially if you live in South Africa where there are so few varieties of potato, and these are so erratically labelled, that often you can't tell whether you've got a waxy or a floury on your hands until you've actually cooked the darn thing. You can follow the same recipe to the letter ten times and get a different result each time: swimming in liquid or dry as a bone, or curdled to a nasty mess, if you're particularly unlucky.
The way to achieve a perfect, tender result is to simmer the potato slices in cream and milk on your stovetop before you bake them: this way you can adjust the amount of liquid needed before the dish goes into the oven.
I never peel potatoes for this dish, because I think the skins add to the flavour, and, besides, the slices are so thin that any peel just isn't an issue. But go ahead if you're picky. You can add garlic, thyme or a sprig of rosemary to the cooking liquid, if you like, but I think it's perfect as it is.
Creamy Scalloped Potatoes, the foolproof way
300 ml cream
2 cups (500 ml) full-cream milk, plus more to top up
half an onion, peeled
2.5 ml freshly grated nutmeg
salt and freshly milled pepper
8 medium potatoes
4 T (60 ml) butter
a clove of garlic, peeled
Preheat the oven to 170° C. Pour the cream and two cups of the milk into a saucepan. Add the onion,the bayleaf and the nutmeg, and season well with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer for five minutes. Using a mandolin or the slicing attachment on your food processor, cut the potatoes, skins and all, into very thin slices. Tip the slices into the hot cream/milk mixture (don't leave the slices to stand for longer than a minute or so, as they will turn brown). Now add enough extra milk to just cover the potatoes. Add the butter.
Simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until the potato slices are tender, but still holding their shape, and the liquid has thickened slightly. Remove the onion and the bayleaf, and check the seasoning: you may need to add more nutmeg.
If the potatoes have absorbed a lot of liquid, top up again with milk so that the liquid just barely covers the slices. Cut the garlic clove in half and rub it all over the bottom of a baking dish (no need to grease it; the liquid is buttery enough).
Carefully tip the potatoes and liquid into the baking dish, and give it a gentle shake to distribute the slices evenly. Scatter a few pieces of cold butter over the top of the dish, and bake at 170° C for 30-40 minutes, or until tender and golden on top.