OK, let me break this to you gently. You may want to sit down. This is not actually a TART. It’s a QUICHE. You remember what a quiche is, right?
Quiche is one of those unfortunate classic dishes that while enjoying its heyday in the 1970’s, riding the French culinary wave that swept America, finally flagged under the weight of overexposure bordering on hysteria, to become the antithesis of the nouvelle cuisine that hit the country near the end of that same decade.
Almost overnight, quiche disappeared from every restaurant menu across the country, and even faithful home cooks abandoned it. The popular refrain, “Real men don’t eat quiche,” gave it the taint of sissy food, whatever that is.
Not that it doesn’t exist as a concept anymore; it’s just that for a while there, serious foodies no longer uttered the word “quiche” among their peers for fear of social disapproval. Ah, what a sad plight it was. Something like discarding your favorite, much-loved, much-worn tweed jacket, because it is no longer “tres chic.”
There is more than a small measure of hypocrisy to this snobbery; I’ve noted with surreptitious glee over the years that food writers, cookbook authors, and the like have taken their ordinary quiche recipes and retitled them as tarts, flans, savory custards, or just plain, old-fashioned pies. To think, respectability can be conferred by a mere name. This is the first time I’ve done this, however, and it’s just to make a point.
So let me stake my ground here. To my palate, there is never going to be anything less than outrageously delicious about a savory custard encased in a light, buttery pastry. Call it what you will. I cannot abandon this gorgeous, soul warming dish.
Nevertheless, I’m not suggesting that you serve QUICHE at an important brunch or luncheon affairs–unless you are a total free spirit and don’t give a fig about what others think and if so, bravo! There are, unfortunately, those haughty people who may fault you for it. Instead, savor this quiche privately with your family and close friends, with whom such considerations are irrelevant.
Or call it a TART, and be prepared for applause.
Technique Note: I did a lot of research on the techniques underlying perfect pastry and perfect custard after being served one too many poor examples of both in restaurants and cooking schools. Tough pastry and watery, separated or grainy custard are NOT what quiche is supposed to be about.
The pastry lesson requires a post of its own, but I will tell you here the critical thing I learned about making perfect custard. DO NOT heat the eggs past the point that they are no longer capable of holding the liquid in suspension. Temperature and timing are critical to the success of the custard. If the custard is over baked, it will turn granular and separate, leaving pools of liquid that ooze out when you cut it.
To prevent this, remove the quiche from the oven when the center indentation is 3-5 inches in diameter. You will have to experiment with your particular quiche pan to see exactly how large this indentation should be. (I used to think that the surface of a custard must be fully “puffed” or convex in appearance before it could be pronounced done. This is a mistake that a great many cooks make. Watch for the diminishing center indentation, stop at 3-5 inches (which you determined to be perfect on the last bake), and you’ll be fine. The custard continues to cook and set even after it is removed from the oven.
Note from the pictures above, that my indentation was a bit too large for this size quiche pan. I couldn’t recall the exact dimension I used to use, so I guessed. My quiche should have been left in the oven for 5-8 minutes longer (thus making the indentation smaller). I made a note to this effect on the bottom of the quiche pan insert, so next time, I’ll get it perfect. In any case, it’s better to under bake slightly than to over bake. Eggs in a custard base are safe to eat at 160°. A cooked custard should test no higher than 180°, at which point it will curdle.
Equipment Note: Metal tart pans with removable bottoms are standard baking containers for quiche. They come in several types and a large variety of sizes. There is one that is very shallow, less than 1-inch deep, and another that is almost 2-inches deep. The deeper one allows for more filling goodies in the custard base, and is the one I most frequently use.
After the quiche is baked, you simply rest it on a stable object of smaller diameter than the quiche pan bottom and let the outside rim fall off. (A bit of careful prying will be necessary if the custard has leaked.) The quiche is then placed on an appropriate serving platter, free-standing.
Or you may prefer to use a white ceramic quiche plate, in which case, the tart stays in the dish, rather than being unmolded. A flexible spatula will be of assistance in removing the first slice. Regular pie pans may also be used for making quiche, although, unless you have something very special, they are the least attractive choice. The pan size indicated here typically measures 10-inches at the top and 9-inches at the bottom.
To accommodate smaller or shallower quiche pans, diminish the ingredient proportions accordingly; don’t worry about being exact, anything in the general range of 1 egg to ½ cup cream will work.
Baby Leek, Cheddar & Rosemary Tart
This quiche is pure heaven! The fresh herbs are magical with the baby leeks.
9- to 10-inch, deep-dish, partially prebaked LunaCafe’s Flakey Short-Crust Pastry or your favorite pastry (4-6 cup capacity) (I will post this later)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium-large leeks, trimmed and sliced crosswise (white and light green portions only) (4 cups sliced)
2 teaspoons, peeled, minced garlic
3 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh sage
4 large eggs
2 cups cream (or half and half)
3 ounces grated, aged cheddar (about 2 loosely packed cups)
1 ounce finely grated Parmesan (about 1/3 cup)
sea salt, to taste
freshly ground white pepper, to taste
- Allow the pastry (in the pan) to cool on a wire rack.
- In a large sauté pan, melt the butter and slowly cook the leek and garlic until translucent and tender, without browning.
- Add the chives, rosemary, and sage, and remove from the heat.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs just enough to smooth them. Whisk in the cream, and season well with salt and pepper. Taste to make sure the seasoning is adequate.
- Combine the cheeses, and then sprinkle a little of the mixture over the bottom of the pastry shell (melting it quickly under a broiler if you like, to help ensure a crisp bottom crust), and then evenly distribute the leek mixture over the top.
- Pour the custard over the leek mixture, taking care not to overfill it. Leave ¼- to ½-inch top edge clearance. (If there is custard remaining, fill a ramekin or two and bake in a bain-marie at a later time.)
- Sprinkle the top of the quiche with the remaining cheese mixture, and bake at 350° for about 40 minutes.
- Cool the quiche slightly on a wire rack, allowing at least 10 minutes of set-up time before cutting. (Actually, quiche tastes best when cooled just a bit.)
- Remove the rim of the quiche pan and cut into eight wedges to serve. (Because of the delicacy of the pastry, I find it better to cut through the top edge with a serrated bread knife, changing to a flat-bladed knife to finish the bottom of each slice. This way the pastry does not break or shatter.