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.

IMG_3177

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.

IMG_3171

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!

IMG_3189

 

Steak & kidney puddings

IMG_2754

Steak & kidney puddings have caused us (or me) a bit of bother since they appeared on the menu at the pub. Sometimes they seem a little too dry; sometimes they contain too much sauce and leak everywhere. Sometimes, during the steaming process, the pastry will rise above the top of the bowl, creating an inconvenient domed shape to what, when you turn them out onto a plate, is actually the base. Also, on several occasions when I’ve made them, the suet pastry had turned out quite tough.

The toughness, as I was reading last night, is probably due to the pastry being overworked. Usually I would roll the pastry out, cut as many circles as possible for lining the pudding basins, then gather the scraps, reroll, and go again. A better idea, providing you know how many puddings you can make out of one batch of pastry, would be to make the dough and divide it into pieces first, then roll these out into rough circles and discard any scraps. And be generous with the pastry; allow an overhang over the edge of the bowl, or you may end up trying to stretch it to fit and overworking it that way.

What about the domed shape and the problem of too much/too little sauce? I think that these issues are related although, reading online, I can’t find anyone else who makes the link. On my first attempt to make puddings at the pub, I was given the meat already braised in a thick, soupy sauce and I just ladled the whole lot into the pastry-lined basins. The puddings domed in the oven, and when somebody tried one (no one important – just the owner of the pub) it was half empty. It was like the liquid had evaporated, the steam pushing up the pastry at the top, and leaving just a little pile of meat at the bottom.

IMG_2711

When I started draining off the sauce, my puddings no longer domed, but then of course you have dry puddings. It’s the goldilocks thing again – not too much sauce, not too little, but just enough. It’s probably worth noting though, a number of recipes suggest that, before serving, you should make a hole in the pastry and pour in some extra gravy. Constance Spry recommends taking a jug of hot water to the table and adding a little to the pudding after the first slice is cut. So problems with the sauce are obviously not uncommon.

One more thing about the sauce. When I was stripping the sauce off the meat before making the puddings, I got a perfect pale crust.

IMG_2732

It was beautiful (to me anyway!) but when I tried adding gravy to my puddings, the crust was darker where the sauce had soaked through, and it looked more authentic. It was slightly patchy though, where I had tried to be sparing with the gravy.  Presumably you’re more likely to get an even soaking if you actually do the braising and steaming in one – i.e. put the meat into the puddings raw, and fill them up with water, then steam for 4-6 hours (see Delia Smith’s recipe). At any rate, if you’re serving them in a restaurant, you can pour over the gravy once the puddings are plated. I imagine it makes little difference to the experience of eating them whether they’re soaked from the inside or the outside.

Another issue at the pub is the manner in which we steam them. I make them in the way I was shown at college – I cover each pudding with pleated foil and paper, tie it round with string, then put it in the oven in a roasting tray, half full of water, and cover the entire tray with a foil ‘tent’. Some of the other chefs use cloths in place of foil though; some omit the foil tent.

I can’t find anything which suggests that it makes a difference whether you use foil, or whether you use cloth – and I can’t see much difference in the results we get at the pub – so I’m not going to worry to much about this factor. I assume its analogous to using disposable or reusable nappies(!) The only point where it would make a difference (with regard to the puddings) I think, is if you got the cloths wet. As this article points out, the idea of covering the pudding basin is to protect it from the steam; if the cloth gets wet, the pudding will be soggy too.

I am rather confused about the whole bain marie/foil tent business. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is some fudging of the language in this area. Constance Spry boils her beefsteak & kidney puddings – in an uncovered saucepan – but she says you can steam them also. In doing this, she recommends something like a modern steamer, where the puddings are put in a covered pan with a perforated base, above a pan of water – so they don’t actually touch the water at all. By contrast, most modern recipes suggest putting the puddings in a large pan, on a trivet of some kind, pouring in water to come halfway up the sides of the bowl, then clapping on a tight-fitting lid. This is effectively what we do at the pub, but it isn’t steaming in the same sense as referred to by Spry – it’s more like a combination method, wherein half the pudding is cooked in a bain marie, and the other half by steaming. Maybe it doesn’t make any difference – after all, both are supposed to be particularly gentle cooking methods where the heat is only applied indirectly.

At any rate, if the foil tent is left off, I would have assumed that you don’t have that collection of steam around the top of the bowls, so they are baked rather than steamed, but I tested this at home and actually, while the puddings came out a different colour (the one cooked under a foil tent was browner), there didn’t seem to be much difference between them – certainly they were both good to eat.

IMG_2854

I suppose if you have a pan of water and the oven is hot enough, there will be some steam – it just won’t be as intense as it would be under a foil tent.

What I don’t understand is why, in the test above, the pudding steamed under a foil tent had browner pastry. It suggests that the steam becomes hotter when contained with some sort of lid(?) I thought initially that browning was undesirable in a steamed pudding – but there are references online to a browned crust being sought after.

Nonetheless, there have been occasions at the pub where the pastry has definitely seemed over-brown. In the article linked to above, there is a short paragraph at the end about ‘oven steaming’, where it recommends heating the oven to 140C. That’s the temperature I use at the pub, but I’d usually reduce the heat a bit when following published recipes, to account for the more powerful oven, so maybe that’s the answer. Maybe I need to reduce the oven temperature a little.  I will report back!

SaveSave

Shortbread biscuits

One of the first things I was asked to cook at the pub was shortbread biscuits.  It’s a very basic recipe – there are only three ingredients, so it should be simple enough to make.  Apparently it has hidden depths though.  Or maybe I’m just good at complicating things.  Even after making it countless times, I still feel there are problems to be solved.

IMG_2803

My first attempt was a failure.  I was given a handwritten recipe and just told to ‘ignore the cornflour’.  I failed to substitute anything for the cornflour and the results were crap.  At this point, someone did give me what they said was a better recipe, and looking at it now, it’s very similar to the formula I’ve ended up with.  I wasn’t happy with it at the time though.  Partly what bothered me was that the quantities seemed a bit random (it started with 540g flour).  I also couldn’t tell why it was better – and the person who gave it to me couldn’t tell me either.  Finally, when I actually tried it, the biscuits were softer than I’d have liked them to be.

So I spent a while fiddling with the proportions at home.  The first thing I tried was increasing the sugar.  A higher sugar content seemed to provide better crunch, but in the end they just got too sweet – the better texture wasn’t worth the trade-off in taste.

I tried lowering the oven temperature to 140C, thinking that maybe the higher temperature was causing them to brown on the outside before they were cooked properly in the middle.  Then I noticed a problem with spreading.  I was cutting little star shapes, and the sharp edges were sagging.  Initially I thought this was because the dough was too moist, so I reduced the amount of butter, but then I began having difficulty bringing the dough together when mixing the ingredients.  I started adding a splash of water.  Looking back now, I can see where I was creating problems for myself.

The biscuits were still spreading in the oven, in spite of the reduced butter content.  I read something that suggested that if the temperature was too low, the biscuits wouldn’t firm up on the outside before the butter started melting and causing them to spread.  This makes sense.  (I remember reading something similar when I was making croissants.)  I whacked the heat up to 180C but they came up with twice the degree of spread as before(!)  I’m not entirely sure what happened there.

I reduced the heat to 160C and came up with the most perfect, sharp-edged stars.  Unfortunately I didn’t actually eat one until a couple of days later, when I realised they were horribly tough and dry – virtually inedible in fact.

I could only think this was down to the water I’d added.  I’m not sure why – it had always seemed like a rogue ingredient.  I’ve never seen any other shortbread recipes which use water.  So I stopped using the water and instead tried creaming the softened butter and sugar together with an electric mixer, before adding the flour by hand.  This produced a much more moist dough and successful biscuits.

The major remaining problem, to my mind, is how to get pristine biscuits when handling such soft dough.  Rolling it out evenly is difficult, and transferring the cut shapes to the baking tray is also a bit of a trial, no matter how many appropriately-shaped spatulas I employ.  Last time I made them, I tried using an extra thick layer of flour beneath the dough, but then of course when the scraps are gathered up and re-rolled, a lot of extra flour is incorporated.  I might try rolling it out on greaseproof paper.  I wonder if it would work to oil the work surface, like you do when making bread.

With regard to getting an even thickness, some people suggest rolling out the dough between two strips of wood, or dowelling.

Anyway, the recipe!  Before I start, I should say that I’ve found it helpful to think in terms of bakers’ percentages (as set out in the book How Baking Works by Paula Figoni), where each ingredient is expressed as a percentage of the amount of flour.  So, for example, my recipe uses 40% sugar.  If the amount of flour used was 500g (which is what I use at the pub – it makes three large trays of biscuits), you would use 200g of sugar.

Shortbread biscuits

Plain flour (100%), 70% butter (softened), and 40% sugar.

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C (fan oven).  Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer, then rub in the flour by hand, and bring it together into a soft dough.  Roll it out on a floured surface to a thickness of approximately 6-7mm and cut out the biscuits with a metal cutter, placing them on lined baking tray.  Gather up the remaining dough and re-roll.  Prong the biscuits with a fork (not sure how important this step is!) and sprinkle with a little sugar if desired.  Refrigerate for 20 minutes, then bake for 15-20 minutes.  They’re done when they start turning ‘golden brown’ at the edges.  Leave them to cool and firm up properly before eating.

_____________________________

Edited to add…  That thing about rolling the dough out between two strips of wood or dowel, to get biscuits of even thickness?  It works really well, and anything will do really, providing its the right thickness (and you have two of them).  I used two plastic lids from the storage tubs at work.

IMG_2870

Introducing myself

Wow, first posts are a little awkward!  I took the plunge and created a blog, and now I can’t think of a blasted thing to write.  Ah well, I’ll keep this short.  I’m an ex ‘sewist’ (or an ex-sexist, according to spellcheck) who recently embarked on a career change.  I went back to college and, after working as a pot-washer for a year, managed to land a job as a chef in a local pub.  The word ‘chef’ is qualified of course – I’m effectively a trainee – but I’m not going to let that stop me adopting the title!

I love food and I love working in a professional kitchen – the organisation, the preparation, the creativity, the attention to detail, the potential to learn and develop skills, (the illustrious history,) the buzz of service, the physicality, (the knives,) the calm, efficient usefulness of chefs.

There’s plenty not to love too of course, but nothing’s ever perfect.

I’m hoping to use this blog to discuss the food I cook.  I suspect it won’t always make for interesting reading because it’s written at least partly for myself (and because I have a tendency to get hung up on the really pedantic details).  However, maybe odd parts of it will occasionally be useful to someone somewhere.

If you’re at all interested in sewing, you can find my last blog here.  I’m not certain how long a period of time it spans, but the things I was writing about there represent over 10 years of my life!  Note that the last few posts are not reflective of the blog as a whole…