Tuesday, January 12, 2010

That CoverGirl Quiche (or, I Should've Been an Alsatian Housewife)

For those of you keeping score, this is really just a footnote for my Tolstoyesque (my husband's choice of word) screed on whole wheat pastry flour.

Here's another reason you should buy Bob's Red Mill 100% Stoneground Whole Wheat Pastry Flour.  It makes unbelievable pastry.  Now, obviously the reason it makes such good pastry has to do with its low gluten content (duh, like EVERYONE knows that), but it also tastes fantastic:  the baking process brings out these luscious, toasty, nutty, earthy notes that you do not get with normal white flour.  This quiche crust has forever sold me, lock stock and barrel, on the notion of whole wheat pastry flour, and thus, whole wheat pastry generally.

I know my beloved friend Stephanie follows this blog and I think it would be fair to say that while she is an internationally celebrated expert in the field of obesity and the psychology of patients undergoing bariatric surgery (did I get that right?), she is ever so slightly less of a badass in the kitchen.  Not because she doesn't have the skills, mind you.  It's just that she's so busy making peoples' lives better, and jetting around the world for conferences and writing papers and publishing articles and generally being Super Woman.

Anyhow, I want to share with you (Steph and everyone, meaning all two of you followers!) this recipe for quiche and I want you to pledge to try it... someday.  You will be amazed at the results and you will stand on your respective fire escapes and sing "I Gotta Crow" when you taste it.  Swear to God.


I know it's incredibly five-minutes-ago of me, but this is the Julia Child pastry recipe.  Yes, from THAT BOOK.  You know, it's a drag when something so good becomes so trendy.  But before you know it, all the dabblers and johnny-come-latelys (johnnys-come-lately?) will have packed their hastily-acquired-then-never-used copies and sent them off to GoodWill, leaving the rest of us in peace.

Note: If you are a piecrust neophyte and do NOT own a food processor, I actually encourage you to NOT try this recipe blending by hand.  It's tiresome, effortful, and frustrating.  Borrow a food processor from your neighbor or invest in one... it makes you into a much snazzier cook than you thought you were.

Also, read the recipe all the way through before you start so you have all your ingredients and equipment handy before you start and know more or less what to expect.

Whole Wheat Pie Crust, with apologies to Julia Child

1 stick of FROZEN*** unsalted butter OR 6 tbsp frozen unsalted butter and 2 tbsp frozen Crisco (JC suggests this, but I am disinclined to use hydrogenated fats.)
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or regular unbleached white flour)
3 to 4 1/2 tbsp ICED*** water (make a glass of ice water and measure out of it)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Whack the stick of butter into several chunks.  Put the flour and salt into the food processor, put on the lid, and start it up.  One by one, drop the chunks of frozen butter into the whizzing flour.  It will make a noise like a chicken bone in the garbage disposal, but eventually all will be well.  If all your butter chunks gang up and stop the blade rotating, just shut it off, open it up and poke everything with a knife for awhile and you're back in business.  Once all the bumping around has ceased and the food processor is whirring steadily, your mixture should resemble very uniform, fine bread crumbs.

With the motor still on, start adding the ice water one tablespoon at a time via the chute.  By the time you have added 3 tablespoons of water and incorporated each thoroughly, it's time to assess.  Stop the processor and remove the lid, and pinch some of your crust between two fingers.  The ideal texture you're aiming for is like play-dough.  It should stick to itself, be somewhat firm, and not sticky to the touch.  If it's still a little powdery or flaky-looking, keep adding water with the motor running.  If it sticks together easily but is gooey, add more flour a tablespoon at a time until you get the right texture.  The recipe is quite flexible in this regard.  Sometimes when you really nail it, the dough clumps up and starts rolling around the bowl of the food processor, which is cool.  But if it doesn't, no biggie.

Once you're fairly certain you've got the right texture, take it out of the food processor and squish it quickly together into a flat-ish disc.  Take some extra flour and sprinkle it on your (spotless and dry) countertop.  Put the dough on the circle and roll it out.

[A word on rolling:  You know, everyone ought to have a rolling pin in the house, not only for its obvious purpose, but for tenderizing meat and for correcting errant lovers.  Rolling pins are cheap, too.  However, if you are disinclined to invest in an object you will only use once a year (if that frequently), feel free to use a full or empty smooth-sided wine bottle, or just pat out the dough with your hands.]

Pie and tart pans tend to come in two standard dimensions, 8" or 9".  This dough recipe is suitable for either, but will only make enough dough for ONE crust, i.e. the bottom crust of any kind of open-faced pie or quiche.  (Open faced meaning where you can see the contents of the finished pie, no dough "lid").

Roll or pat the dough into a large, uniformly-thick circle that is about 2" larger in diameter than your pie pan (you can eyeball it).  As you roll, it's important to flip the dough from one side to the other so it doesn't stick to the counter.  Feel free to sprinkle more flour  as needed on top of the dough or on the counter to keep it from sticking.  In addition to flipping it, rotate it from time to time as you roll/pat.  This is to keep the dough spreading evenly in all directions.

***A VERY IMPORTANT thing to do when making pie crust or any pastry crust is to handle it lightly/as quickly as possible so as to keep it as COLD AS POSSIBLE.  Basically, when it stays cold, the fat (i.e. butter) doesn't melt, and thus when the dough bakes that cold butter melts and the moisture in it expands and makes lovely little flat pockets of air... this makes that luscious flaky quality that is the hallmark of good pie crust.  However, if you fiddle around with your dough a good amount an it gets warm-ish and soft, throw it in the fridge for 10 minutes or so and you'll be back on track.  And if you don't care and just leave it be, that's alright, too.

When it's all rolled out, lift it carefully (you can roll it onto your rolling pin or wine bottle and drape it that way, or fold it in half and pick it up, or use a spatula, or roll it out on waxed paper to begin with and just slide it off onto the pan... you get the picture).  Center it inside your pie pan.  Now comes the only tricky part, which is getting it to conform to the inside of the pan without tearing, and you have to just press/tug/pull it until it does what you want.  When you're done, you should have a good inch of overlap hanging over the outside edge of the pie pan.  Incidentally, if you should happen to tear the dough or poke a hole in it, just mash it back together again.  Trim the edge  so it is smooth and uniform.

Now put it in the freezer for about 10 minutes to firm it up.  You're done.

Now for the quiche part.

In case you weren't sure, a quiche is just a savory egg custard tart with vegetables or cheese or meat (or all three) in the filling..  The egg custard part is composed of various ratios of egg to milk or cream, and grated cheese if you want (more on that to follow).  You add to this custard mixture any combination of meats, cheeses ,and vegetables, whatever suits your taste.  

You know, there's a good reason quiche became so popular in the 1970's.  It is incredibly easy and forgiving.  You can put literally anything in it (even black Necco Wafers, Steph) and it's going to come out fabulously.  You can eat it hot or cold and it's equally tasty.  It's practically as easy to make 5 at a time as it is to make 1.  It's portable.  Depending on your ingredients it can be very healthy or utterly decadent.  It is quite possible the perfect food to serve company at any time of the day or night.  And if you have no company, you can make one, eat it hot for dinner the first night, have a slice for breakfast, take a slice to work for lunch, and so on.  

So the quiche I created last night contained tomatoes, broccoli, bacon and Swiss cheese.  But you can add what you want.  Here are some additional suggestions.  As you can see, anything that goes in an omelet also works well in a quiche:
  • Small cubes of ham
  • Sliced or chopped onions
  • Chopped or dried herbs (but no dill or rosemary, too strong)
  • Savory spices (such as paprika, pepper, etc., but no sweet ones like cinnamon)
  • Diced chicken
  • Lardons (small cubes of cooked slab bacon, which you can buy raw at the deli)
  • Mushrooms of any sort, either raw or cooked
  • Diced peppers of any color
  • Any sort of cheese, cut or grated or crumbled into meltable bits
  • Chopped cooked spinach (buy a frozen box, follow the directions, drain & squeeze dry)
  • Chopped artichoke hearts
  • Chopped olives
  • Chopped roasted red peppers
  • Chopped sundried tomatoes
  • Chopped anchovies
  • Chopped smoked salmon
  • Capers
Here are few suggestions of things that DON'T really work in quiches:
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Tofu
  • Fruit (fresh or dried)
  • Uncooked greens
  • Large chunks of anything--small is the key.
  • American cheese or Velveeta (the less said of this the better)
  • Raw meats- you want to cook everything ahead.  Bacon should be crip & crumbled
  • Deli meats like roast beef or mortadella

For a 8" or 9" quiche, you want a TOTAL of about 2 cups of add-in ingredients.  You can get these ready while the pie crust is chilling or while it is blind baking (more on that in a moment).  For example, I used about 3/4 cup of very small broccoli florets, 1/4 cup diced crisp bacon, 1/2 cup grated Swiss, and 1/2 cup halved grape tomatoes. 

Now, what in the sam hill is blind baking, you ask?  It is actually a very easy, sexy trick that will make your quiche well-nigh perfect.  It simply means you bake the bottom crust of (what will be) a fairly liquid-y pie (like quiche, or custard) so the crust maintains some crispness once the whole thing is done.  If you DON'T blind bake, the bottom crust can come out doughy and leaden, which isn't very nice.  If you elect not to blind bake it will not be the end of the world as we know it, but the blind baking step is a very nice little addition that makes for a very toothsome result.

Once you've chilled the rolled-out crust, pop it in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes, and keep an eye on it.  Often, big pizza-like bubbles will form while you're baking, and if you're nimble you can deftly reach into the oven and prick the bubbles with a skewer/knife point/toothpick before they've permanently baked into shape.  The reason you have left a big overlap of pie dough around the edges is because pie pastry often shrinks during the blind baking. Hence, your dough might just pull itself in. Take out the crust when it's beginning to look and feel firm, but is NEITHER browned NOR squishy to the touch. Leave the oven on.

You've chosen and prepared your fillings by now, so all that's left to do is scramble some eggs.  Happily, the proportions for quiche filling are surprisingly flexible.  The basic formula is 2 eggs and 1/2 cup cream beaten together.  You can substitute whole milk or half and half, but fat-free milk is just gross and watery (heck, you're about to eat a buttery pie crust, a mess of melted cheese, and a bunch of eggs... just use the #$%@ cream).  Whatever you do, just be sure use both eggs and some sort of milk (using ONLY eggs doesn't work... the filling is supposed to be soft and custard-like, not hard and frittata-like).  If you only have a couple of tablespoons of cream left, make up the rest with milk.  You can even substitute equal parts sourcream and water for the cream... very tasty!  You can use 2 or 3 eggs, doesn't really matter.  

Once you beat the custard mix thoroughly, add a pinch of salt and lots of pepper.

Arrange the add-in ingredients for the filling inside the pre-baked crust.  The goal isn't to make a pattern...sometimes things float!  Just array them so they will be spread more or less evenly throughout the crust.  Think of how one arranges pizza toppings and you're on the right track.  Once that's in place, gently pour the custard mixture over the add-ins. Fill the crust to within 1/4 of the top edge.  When it's full, you can pitch anything left over.  To safeguard against any overflow, put the filled pan on a baking sheet that has been lined with foil (or just throw a sheet of foil on the oven rack and put the pan on top of it. 

[A word on the cheese (if you're using it, and I hope to God you are):  you can either chop chunks of cheese and arrange them with the rest of the add-ins inside the pre-baked crust, or you can grate your cheese and scramble it with the eggs.  The former technique will result in little pools of melted cheese in the final product (think what a warm chocolate chip cookie is like), whereas the latter will give a slightly firmer and more amalgamated texture to the entire quiche, and imbue the whole thing uniformly with cheese flavor.  Whichever method you use, I highly recommend sprinkling some additional grated cheese on the very top of the assembled quiche before you put it in the oven.  It tastes great and makes a lovely brown color.]

Bake for 20 minutes at 375, then check.  By that point it should've begun to firm up but not brown, but everyone's oven varies slightly... your quiche may be done at this point.  Continue baking if necessary, checking every 5 minutes, until the filling looks puffy, a little browned/toasty, and the crust looks golden brown.  Take it out and let it rest for a few minutes (it will de-puff slightly).

Serve this dazzling creation alongside torn Boston lettuce, dressed with a little homemade vinaigrette or just splashed with oil and vinegar, salt and pepper.  I love a Riesling or a Sancerre with this, but really, any wine you like would work just fine.  Refrigerate leftovers covered with foil.  You can nuke leftovers, or just eat cold.


  1. As the only blog follower who actually ate the damn thing, I must insist that you all make one yourself. Accept early on that it will not be as good as my wife's, and then seek to achieve your personal best.

    The crust was a revelation, the filling was orgasmic, and the tangy cooked cabbage was a surprise.

    Did she tell you about the cabbage?

  2. ". . .for correcting errant lovers. . " ah, the uses I never knew for my rolling pin! I KNEW there was a reason I was reading this blog! Husband, beware! I have TWO.
    I'm feeling quite inspired on two counts: the Bob's Mill flour, (I've been looking for a while for a substitute) and I've never actually made an excellent quiche, my last came out terrible.
    Of course, I'm going to have to wait until I have a day off :)

  3. PS JB would love to hear about the cabbage. . I have not one but two heads languishing in the refrigerator. . .

  4. Janna, thanks for describing the process so thoroughly. I will have to give this a try! I've only used store-bought crusts in the past. However, my previous experience is that the custard cooking time will be closer to an hour (!) since we live at high altitude (~5500 feet).

    And do tell about the cabbage.

  5. Thanks for your wonderful post, Janna. Can't wait to try this - we're in London right now but should be home tomorrow. It happens that I downloaded Julia's autobio. "My Life in France" to my Kindle just before leaving the US. (She was a colleague of my former employer Thalassa Cruso, so I've always had a bit of a fondness for her.) I think you might find the book very interesting and charming - it's mostly about food!!
    from Nat's mom, Joan

  6. Tehemina's got two husbands?! I'm telling.

  7. Ever seen Big Love? That's Tehemina's life story.