Cheese & onion quiche

This is a post for my sister, living out in [deepest, darkest] Peru and occasionally hankering after the kind of food she used to eat back home – quiche, snickerdoodles and mincemeat(!)  I’m not a fan of the last two items on her list, but I do attempt quiche every now and then.

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There used to be a place we went to which served amazing homemade quiche, but I think they changed the recipe (or just got a bit bored and half-arsed about making it) and it started to get very heavy.  The egg was too solid, the pastry too thick – soggy on the base and dry at the edges…  It’s strange the way you remain a loyal customer of places like this, on the basis that they once made fantastic quiche.  I guess I was just hoping the master-quiche-maker would return from holiday and all would be well again.

Anyway, from my attempts to make quiche at home, it seems like a lot of the difficulties come from the ratio of eggs to cream used.  When I got a job as a trainee chef, my first head chef reckoned that the correct quantities were 4 eggs to 1 pint of cream.  However, his idea of quiche (and he had worked in Michelin-star establishments, so I suppose he knew what he was talking about) was that it should be very soft – it was effectively, he said, a set custard, and it should be just barely set.  I found the reference to custard a little off-putting (when applied to quiche), and when I tried his formula at home, the filling of the quiche almost ran away when I cut into it.  Maybe I didn’t leave it to cool long enough: apparently the idea is to remove it from the oven whilst the centre is still wobbly, and it will continue cooking in the residual heat for a little while afterwards.  My second attempt was a little firmer, but I wasn’t a fan of the creme-brulee-like consistency.  For me, quiche needs a higher proportion of eggs to give it some texture.

On the other hand, I have some idea of the recipe for the quiche made at the place mentioned earlier – albeit, the solid version with the soggy bottom (the earlier, better recipe remains a closely guarded secret – and an unused one).  I believe they use about 8 eggs and just a very small splash of whole milk.  Not only does this make the filling very firm, but it also makes egg the predominant taste.

So, my preference would be somewhere in the middle and after many sad, failed quiches, I think I’ve finally settled on a recipe.  Be warned though, if you decide to change the flavourings, the proportions might need tweaking.

The recipe for the pastry itself is taken from Michel Roux’s book, Pastry: Savoury and Sweet.  

Cheese & Onion Quiche

For the pastry: 250g plain flour; 125g butter (softened and cut into small pieces); 1 egg; 1 tsp caster sugar; half a tsp of salt; 40ml cold water.

For the filling: 6 eggs (300ml); 200ml of double cream; 1 medium onion (chopped); 175g mature cheddar (grated); approx 1 heaped tbsp of chopped chives.

To make the pastry, put the butter and flour in a bowl and rub them together (as if you were making scones), until the butter is dispersed and the mixture has the texture of breadcrumbs.  Stir in the sugar and salt, and the egg, then add the water.  Bring together into a dough, then flatten slightly into a disc shape, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

While you’re waiting, preheat the oven to 170 degrees C (fan oven), and grease a 10″ diameter tart tin with a removable base.

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface, to the thickness of a pound coin.  The best way to handle the pastry is to roll it a few strokes, then flip it over – turning it 90 degrees at the same time – and roll again.  Keep doing this – making sure to brush a little flour underneath each time you lift it – and you’ll have much less trouble with it sticking.  I find it easier, when lifting the pastry, to slide my left forearm under it, rather than picking it up with my fingers and poking holes in it.  Only do this if you have clean forearms(!)

When you’re done, the pastry should be just a bit bigger than the tart case.  Roll it up around the rolling pin, lift over the tart case, and unroll it.  Alternatively you can do it with your forearm again, but I usually find that by this point it’s thin enough that it’s easier to use the rolling pin.  Lift the edges hanging outside of the tart tin and use the side of your finger to ease the pastry into the lower edge of the tin.  It’s really easy to poke holes in it so be careful.  Try taking a little ball of the excess pastry and using that to press the pastry down with.

If you get holes in the pastry case, you can attempt to patch them, although this never works very well for me (I find the patches just drop off later).  I would just remove the pastry, ball it up and roll it out again.

Use scissors to trim the pastry to about 1-1.5cm over the edge of the tart case.  It is a good idea to leave a slight overhang because the pastry will tend to shrink in the oven.  Your best bet for getting a neat edge is to trim it properly after blind baking.

Hold on to pastry remnants in case you need to do a patch job later.

Use a fork to stab the base of the pastry case all over.  Take a piece of baking paper, slightly larger than the diameter of the tart tin.  Screw it up into a ball, smooth it out again (to make it softer and easier to manipulate), and use it to line the inside of the pastry case.  Fill with baking beans or unused rice/lentils/dried beans/whatever.  Transfer the tart tin to a baking tray (convenient if you’re going to be dragging it in and out of the oven frequently, which you are), and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the paper and baking beans and bake for a further 15 minutes.  You want it to be a golden brown colour.  Note that if the pastry seems cooked but remains white, it will probably end up soggy when you add the eggs and cream.

Whilst the pastry case is baking, prepare the filling.  Sauté the chopped onion in a pan on the stove top – just until transparent, or it starts to brown slightly.  Break the eggs into a bowl, whisk lightly, then add the cream and whisk some more.  Season to taste.  Set aside, with the sautéed onion and grated cheese.

When the pastry shell is ready, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool for 5-10 minutes.  Then, using a serrated knife, trim the edges level with the top of the tin.  The easiest way to do this is by holding the blade of the knife practically flat against the top edge, with the blade angled down just slightly, and repeatedly shaving off layers of pastry – working diagonally from left to right, and from the inside of the tin to the outside.  Try not to actually hold on to the pastry shell itself: it will crack if you put too much pressure on it.

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Discard the excess pastry (or eat it).  If you have any holes or cracks in the pastry shell at this point, again, you are supposed to be able to patch them up with remnants of uncooked pastry.

Cover the base of the pastry shell with half of the sautéed onion and half the grated cheese; then pour in the eggs/cream mixture; then pile in the rest of the onion and cheese.  Layering the filling in this way helps ensure an even spread of ingredients in the finished quiche.  Try to make sure there is no onion showing above the cream (it burns quite easily), then sprinkle the top of the quiche with chopped chives.

Place it back in the oven and bake for around 35 minutes.  You may want to turn the quiche for the last 10 minutes to ensure it browns evenly.  Don’t worry if the top puffs up in the oven; it will flatten again as the quiche cools.

When it comes out, put it on a wire rack to cool, and give it 10 minutes to stand.  You can reheat it if you want to eat it piping hot, but it does need that extra 10 minutes to firm up.

And that’s it!  Remove from the tart case, then slice, eat, enjoy (or just eat the thing whole) – and let me know how it goes!

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