Yesterday night, I ditched my Criminal Law reading in favor of baking quiche alsacienne. I was aided and abetted in this display of poor scholarship by my friend Matt. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he enabled it, because I used his kitchen.
Quiche lorraine and its variants are very difficult to screw up once you have the basics down. Good quiche is easily attainable. Great quiche, on the other hand, is considerably more elusive. Quiche is seasonal: a great warm-weather quiche is not the same as a great cold-weather quiche. Warm-weather quiche, which is often eaten cold, demands a firm filling. It should be frittata-like, slicing neatly into solid wedges. Cold-weather quiche should be messier.
A great cold-weather quiche is a study in textures: tender, creamy egg, punctuated by soft onion and faintly crisp bacon, encased in flaky, buttery pastry. A great cold-weather quiche is also a trick of timing: it should be served hot enough to be painful, but not hot enough to burn. If it's a truly great quiche, you'll breathe through your mouth when you take the first bite, but won't wait for it to cool before you take the second.
I didn't achieve great quiche last night. The filling wasn't quite tender enough, and I should have used less water when making the pastry. I'm pleased with the way it turned out, but not entirely satisfied. That's okay. I have the whole winter to keep trying.
Note: I am embarrassingly inept with a digital camera. I swear the quiche was more appetizing than the above photo would suggest. Now that I've made my token effort at food photography, can I please keep this blog text-only?
(Serves three with hearty appetites, or one for three days straight.)
Begin with your favorite butter pastry recipe. I use one that Matt's mother gave me - I haven't asked her if I can share it, so I can't post it (yet.) Make enough pastry for a 9-inch pie dish, plus a little extra, so that you'll have an excuse to bake a fruit tart later.
Preheat the oven to 350F. While the pastry rests, get your bacon (you can use lardons if you insist on authenticity, but I find that it's not worth the trouble of hunting them down.) Cut it into small strips or dice, depending on the thickness. Fry the bacon in a heavy-bottomed pan on medium heat until it goes lightly brown on the edges. It should not be crisp. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Make a token effort to refrain from snacking. Do not dispose of the bacon fat.
Get a medium-sized onion and dice it very finely. Sweat the onions in the bacon fat over low heat until they caramelize. Transfer to another plate lined with paper towels. (If there's still bacon fat in the pan, and you really don't give a damn about your arteries, now would be the time to sauté that fresh spinach.)
Roll out your pastry and line the pie dish. Rest it further if your recipe calls for it. Prick it and bake it blind for ten or fifteen minutes - you don't want soggy, undercooked pastry on the underside of the quiche.
In the meantime, grab a large bowl, a whisk, five or six eggs and a small carton of heavy cream. Beat the eggs. Whisk in a little cream at a time, until the egg mixture is pale yellow and has lost most of its viscosity. Add a pinch of salt, and a dusting of black pepper, if you like.
To assemble, get the pie dish, and pile in the bacon and onions. Make sure they're evenly distributed. Pour the egg mixture over and let it settle before putting it in the oven. Set a timer for thirty-five minutes, and keep checking back every five minutes after that. The quiche is done when it's set but not solid. For those appetizing golden brown spots, put it under the broiler for a minute or two. (Keep a very, very close eye on it if you do.)
Let it cool just a little. Serve when it's hot enough to be painful, but not hot enough to burn.