Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I once remember joining my mother at a baby shower or wedding shower or something at a cozy little restaurant in western NY. I must have been about 7 years old and I believe it was Colden Country Kitchen (is that still around?). Anyways, I don't remember the exact venue or celebration, but I remember all the ladies ordered quiche. All of these grown up ladies celebrating a rite of passage for a fellow female could order anything they wanted, and they all picked quiche. Ever since that moment quiche has remained the absolute definition of sophistication in my mind. Like a good pair of high heels, a sexy black cocktail dress and a cordless drill, its something for every woman to have in her bag of tricks. And for some reason, I thought it would be difficult to make. I was so deceived.

"QUICHE". Even the word is somewhat complicated to spell or say, right? (I always think there is an “s” in there somewhere. I swear that at one point there was indeed an “s” until some Frenchman blackened it out with the end of his cigarette and changed the word forever).

The good news is that while a quiche is, admittedly, just teensy bit fussy to make, once it’s made it’s the most chilled-out food you could ever have in your house. Fill the shell at the last second for unexpected house guests. Cut it into wedges for an impromptu appetizer. I’m toying with the idea of strapping it to my back and carrying in on bicycle to my next picnic. It remains sturdy in your fridge for quite some time. And its versatile…in fact, I just created this filling based on what I had in my fridge!

This tart dough recipe is from James Peterson’s Glorious French Food. James calls this “basic pie and tart dough”. I have to tell you, James: the dough is awesome for quiche. But then I used the scraps to make apple hand pies and it was a little dense. Even Eric, who will eat anything that remotely resembles an apple pie, let it sit in the kitchen until I threw it out four days later. And I couldn’t blame him. It just wasn’t delicate. I suggest we stick to grandma’s proven pie crust and let James Peterson win the blue ribbon for a sturdy, flaky, reliable quiche dough.

Just looking at this recipe seems like its long and tedious. But I promise that once you get the method down, it’s as simple as Kraft Mac n’ Cheese. Well, almost.

1 stick plus 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter
1 and ¼ cups all purpose flour
1 large egg plus 1 yolk beaten with ¼ tsp salt and 1 tablespoon cold water
1 to 3 tablespoons ice water, added slowly

There are two ways to do this: in the food processor or with a pastry cutter by hand. I am usually a traditionalist but am happy that my pastry blender broke within two minutes of using it, forcing me to step into 2010 and use my food processor. It worked perfectly. The downside is that I need a new pastry blender.

First: get your butter really cold by sticking it in the freezer for 20 minutes. Take it out and cut it into about 36(ish) small pieces by slicing the unwrapped stick of butter long-wise, then turn it over and slice long-wise again, then make 8 cuts across it. Toss those pieces with the flour so they are well coated and stick the whole bowl back into the freezer for another 10 minutes. While it’s chilling, beat your egg mixture.

After 10 minutes in the freezer dump the well-chilled flour and butter into your food processor and pulse it about 12 times or until the flour and butter comes together in pea-sized chunks. Don't over pulse. While pulsing, add the egg mixture slowly. Depending on the size of your eggs and the humidity of the day, you may need to add anywhere from 1 to 3 tablespoons of water. Do it very slowly so you don’t over-moisturize your dough. Once the dough comes together in a ball on one side of the blade, STOP. Take the ball out, wrap it in plastic and stick it in the fridge for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours. I like doing this at night so I can start the next morning with dough ready for baking

The next step is to do what the French call “blind baking”: baking the tart shell without filling so it doesn’t get soggy when you add eggs. Get out your tart pan and butter it good. Preheat the overn to 400 degrees (I stick with 375 because I think my oven is a little hot and it browns too fast at 400).

Roll out the dough on a cleaned, lightly floured work surface or on a marble pastry board to about ¼ inch thick. I use a 10” tart pan and always find that I have a ton of dough left over. That extra dough is awesome for mini quiches or little cupcake quiches; just stuff the dough into the well-greased wells of mini cupcake tins!

Once you have rolled it out, gently gather it up and lay it into your greased tart pan. Use your fingers to press it into the ridges evenly and cut off any excess dough with a sharp knife. Use a fork to make a few fork marks in the bottom of the crust so it bakes though evenly.

Now, Robert Peterson says to refrigerate the dough-lined tart pan for another hour. The first time I did this I was pressed for time and skipped this step and it came out beautifully. If you’ve got 15 minutes, I say give it a good chill. Otherwise, let’s move on.

The pastry dough will puff up when baked, removing some of your surface area for fillings. So we have to keep it pressed down. Lay a large sheet of parchment paper on top of the dough (NOT wax paper or foil, ONLY parchment) and put dried rice or dried beans or anything else you’ve got on hand that you don’t care too much about in the shell on top of the parchment like so. Put this in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the shell loses its shiny color and becomes golden brown.

Remove it from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before gently lifting off the parchment and discarding your rice or beans (I keep them in a jar and use them over and over for this express purpose). When it’s cool, brush it with an egg wash: 1 beaten egg with about ¼ tsp salt.

Old pal James again says to bake it for another 20 minutes (this time with no beans or rice). I did this the first time and thought the tart dried out, so now just stick it back in the oven long enough for the egg wash to seal: about 8 minutes. Take it out and cool completely. You can do everything up to this step a whole 24 hours before filling it. Just put your baked crust into a sealed Tupperware and keep it in the fridge. Let it come to room temperature before you fill it with custard.

This is where it gets fun! As long as you use an egg and cream base, you can be really creative. Swiss cheese and bacon or lardoons or prosciutto would make it “quiche Lorraine”. Mushrooms are divine in this. So is smoked salmon, scallion and cream cheese. Try asparagus and goat cheese! Or ricotta and layered sliced heirloom tomatoes. Use arugula or chard or dollops of pesto! I can go on and on. This one happens to be feta, spinach, scallion and parmesan.

Basic egg custard:

James uses more cream than eggs. I like more eggs than cream. For a 10” pan, I generally use:

6 whole eggs
3 whites
½ cup of heavy cream
½ tsp salt and a few cranks of fresh pepper

Quiche usually doesn’t call for whites, but I appreciate the lighter custard and I think your heart will appreciate it too. However, if it’s a special day and you are psyched for a rich entrĂ©e, use 9 whole eggs. It won’t kill you and tastes amazing.

The quiche in the photo was made like this: wash, de-stem and roughly chop a big bag of spinach. With the water clinging to the leaves, put it in a big pan or wok and add about ½ cup of water. Cover and steam for just about 3 minutes. Dunk the steamed spinach in ice water for a moment to stop the cooking and let it drain in a colander set over a bowl. When you think its done draining, squeeze any excess the moisture out. If its winter and fresh spinach is hard to come by, use one box frozen spinach. You can skip the cooking but make sure it’s well-drained.

Finely slice the green and white parts of 2 scallions. Flash-fry in about ½ tsp of hot butter for about 2 minutes over high heat. Dump the hot scallions right into the tart crust.

Beat your 9 eggs or 6 eggs plus whites with the ½ cup cream, salt, pepper and about 1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan. Dump in the spinach and mix it all up. Pour your custard into the tart crust. It will only puff up a little, so if your pan looks really empty, add another beaten egg. I scattered about 1/3 cup of feta on top and pushed a few larger pieces down into the custard before baking.

This one took about 40 minutes in a 350 degree oven to completely set. I honestly don't know if your use of more egg whites as opposed to whole eggs will have an effect on cooking time. Can a food scientest please answer me this? Either way: it will take at least 30 minutes. Keep your eye on it from then on until its set in the middle and a little browned. Gorgeous!

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