I don’t really have that many stories from college; never was great at the whole social thing and getting into adventures (but I won’t bore you with details of my depressing alone-ness); but one of the few amusing moments I had in culinary classes involved the ‘baked Quiche.’ Can’t remember too many details nowadays, whether I or my partner had put the quiche together, popped it in the oven, or whether my frantic sprint to check on it was due to accidentally leaving it in for who knows how many hours, realizing it was in at a temperature WAY too high, or a combination of them both.
Nevertheless, the first thing I see after opening the gateway of hell is what looked to be a landscape of black, punctuated only by the yellow of the eggy center, which pushed itself about two inches upwards and above the crust. It’s reminiscence to a certain other dish was simply too amusing for me at the moment, as I called out to the rest of the class: “We’ve got a soufflé over here!!!”
Ohhhh, ‘dem schooling days, filled with us feisty rapscallions (please don’t comment on my sad college high notes, it’s all I have!!); thankfully it was one of the many lessons learned early, but my experience with the French custard afterwards was painfully minimal, besides some breakfasts at home using those extremely shallow pre-bought frozen pie crusts (actually inspired by watching an episode of Good Eats). Then I was able to delight in one of the dish’s best qualities: flexibility. For, as I’ve come to learn, one could say that there really are two kinds of quiche. First, there is the delicately measured, finely seasoned and tender custard that’s filled carefully with select ingredients and featured in history and restaurants, something one can properly term “Quiche.” And then there’s “Refrigerator Pie,” as I (and I think Alton too) like to call it; that’s basically when one just puts in whatever they have on hand, mix the eggs with enough of whichever dairy they prefer to what looks good, and pops in the oven. It’s always how I’ve enjoyed practicing at home or in the kitchen, but today’s foray into this egg-centric recipe is truly that of the former as we study proper Quiche Lorraine.
Quiche itself really did originate in Lorraine… only at the time it was called Lothringen, when it was under Medieval German rule, who also provided the origins of its current name, “Kuchen/Kueche,” meaning ‘cake.’ Which certainly isn’t too accurate even by their standards, as the base used to be made from bread dough, then baked with the savory egg and cream filling.
As the bread evolved to a flaky, tender short pastry crust, so has those ingredients that we put in it. Quiches elsewhere have of course changed and fluctuated the traditional veggie, meat, and cheese additions throughout the centuries (there are some interesting classic recipes, like one using rillettes and another based on pumpkin), but the base of Lorraine has and always will be Bacon. Only this was sometimes just lain in long strips on the bottom before custardizing; even my Larousse Gastronomique features this old habit. Cheese wasn’t added until much later, perhaps when they started to actually chop the meat, officially turning it into quiche vosgienne if using gruyere (cooks have often also used Swiss or Emmental). When onions become involved, fulfilling the classic trio with cream and cured pork, it then becomes the quiche alsacienne version of Lorraine, which I really believe to be most indicative of how we view and treat it today. Many may debate its trueness to lie back in the extreme simplicity it was before, while others then take this and add more things such as herbs, but a dish’s evolution and changes through time help culminate its identity to what we know today. As such, the Alsatian version, bereft of any other additions, will be what I base my meal on today.
A Word On…
Crust: Tart dough experimentations continue, though there do seem to be a few styles particularly intuitive with quiche. In fact, I ended up following a specific recipe that came along with the Larousse Gastronomique’s section on Quiche Lorraine, which is basically what I based most of my prep and recipe specifications around (it seemed very classic, old-school, and proper). This iteration’s baking formulation is that of a classic French Shortcrust, in particular one very much like Pate Sable but without sugar, in which one folds in SOFT butter instead of cold (oh the horror, how does such a tart dough exist!?), along with egg.
It was also one of my first attempts in a long while in mixing all the ingredients together on the counter instead of a bowl! Attempts at pasta making sorta ruined the practice for me, but I think I’ve found some fun and purpose in it again.
Also important to note that all quiche crust should be pre-baked before adding the fillings; if one tries baking both together, the bottom simply won’t cook (learned that watching Cutthroat Kitchen!). Oh, and I might suggest really curling the dough around the edge of your desired baking pan (again, springform is best and practically required) to prevent it from shrinking a large amount; either that or have a LOT of baking beans to fill the ENTIRE pan. Pricking the dough will only do so much.
Bacon: I’ll admit, I didn’t go the full mile in finding super-quality bacon, I was a bit more concerned with crust and custard on this experiment. Not to mention I was trying a new technique, also mentioned in Larousse, where one blanches their bacon in boiling water before frying in butter. Offers a great way to crisp and golden it up quickly without shriveling, losing too much fat, and keeping that nice meaty texture. I will say I think it worked out quite well, so feel free to get yourself a big chunk of uncut cured pork belly, make some thick slices, and then dice up some sizeable cubes after blanching for that REAL Bacon Experience.
Onion: Generally speaking, recipes call for using Raw onions; sliced or diced simply dependant on preference. Though I do want to stay true, at the same time I just never like using so much raw onion in something; it’s not gonna cook and get soft inside, you know that. But a little bit of raw crunch and delicate flavor is nice when handled delicately; thus, I sautéed half of my available onion (in the leftover bacon fat of course) and left the other half raw for the best combo of flavor with just enough texture.
Custard: I’ve seen, and applied, many quiche recipes that use milk and half-n-half mixed in with their eggs. If I was discussing any general quiche home cooking, actually, ANY source of dairy would do; I’ve seen mini-quiches made with just the eggs and blue cheese. Hell, I’ve made salmon quiches while mostly using sour cream. However, as we’re considering a very traditional, very French Lorraine where the goal is to get that perfectly set custard, there’s really only one option: Cream (some hardcore French fanatics go a step further and use stiff crème fraiche). And lots of it, with a relatively high ratio of the fatty dairy to the eggs (see following recipe).
½ lb Bacon, in strips
½ of an Onion, minced
2-3 oz Gruyere
1 ¼ cup Cream
1 tsp or so each Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg
Pre-baked Tart Shell (recipe follows)
- Preheat oven to 400F
- Blanch Bacon in simmering water for about 5 minutes, remove and let cool.
- Chop into large, square pieces.
- Heat pan to medium-high heat and toss in Butter and Bacon, cooking until lightly and evenly browned.
- Remove, placing directly into the empty Tart Shell, and re-fill pan with half of the Minced Onion.
- Sweat in the butter-fat mixture until soft and transfer into tart shell with bacon and Raw Onion.
- When onion and bacon are cooled enough, grate the Gruyere on top until the tart is almost fully filled with ingredients, mixing them together to evenly distribute.
- In separate bowl, whisk Eggs, Cream, Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg until fully combined.
- Slowly pour into shell until mixture just reaches under the top of the crust (make sure to give it time to let settle into air spaces before adding more).
- Move into oven, on a baking sheet, and cook for at least 30 minutes, until the middle is set but still shakes and jiggles when moved.
- Remove, transfer to cutting board (or cooling rack), leaving a minute or so until cool enough to handle.
- Carefully undo springform pan sides (if using), and/or start slicing servings.
- Serve with side of light salad and enjoy.
Savory Pate Sable
125g Butter, softened
3 Tb Ice-Cold Water
- Sift Flour and Salt onto clean counter
- Quickly and gently, mix the Butter into flour until mixture is almost sandy, well combined.
- Pile this into a mound and make a deep well in the center, to which it will be filled with the Egg and Water.
- Carefully swirl liquids, mixing into the flour until fully incorporated, kneading briefly with fingers and palms until a smooth dough forms (may need more flour on the board)
- Flatten to a disk, wrap in plastic and let chill in the fridge for about an hour.
- Preheat oven to 400F and flour your countertop in preparation.
- Once chilled enough, roll out dough to 1/8” thickness, ish, and as large and round of a shape as you can get.
- Fold in quarters and move into a Springform or other Tart/baking pan, buttering and flouring the surface if non-stick.
- Unfold, lift-and-tucking the corners, press into the sides, and cut off dough at the top or whichever height is desired, noting it will shrink after cooking.
- Prick bottoms and sides with fork and cover with parchment paper laden from beans or other pie dough weights.
- Move to oven and cook 20 minutes, checking often near the end, or until dough is lightly browned and cooked on bottom.
- Remove and reserve until needed.
Truth be told I was much worried about the crust; having made it ahead of time, leaving it sit for a day, and also worried there was too much water as well as some kneading, it felt potentially bready and chewy. Once finished with the filling, though, I found it indeed had a nice crunch and thick flakiness to it; to my surprise, it actually reminded me of the crusts used in those frozen mini-quiches, in a good way!
And the filling… I’ve come to accept that I have a deep addiction to custards, especially those of the cheese variety. This really was just the perfect example; smooth, tender, creamy, that richness from the egg carrying through without that eggy, thick flavor and texture that just makes you think of fritattas. Almost felt like it was one step away from flan consistency, and I loved it. Then we add in bacon, onion, and that cooked tart dough and we see why quiche Lorraine has become the staple example of its group.
So, to explain why I didn’t focus my primary down to a single selection, I actually wanted to pair this particular meal with a Gewurztraminer I had picked up. Then I went looking on the morning of and, egads, couldn’t find the thing! At one point I decided that, in fact, I never bought the bottle in question and just thought I had, so my plans had to quickly change to a bottle I had planned for something else (and of course, one day later, I spot the bottle located on a shelf across the room from the others, in an area it WAN’T SUPPOSED TO BE IN. Thanks for moving yet another thing without telling me person-who-knows-who-they-are). It would have been so nice, having that interplay of the thickly oiled texture of the famed Alsatian wine with the mouth-filling fattiness of the custard, the spicy grape adding another dimension of flavor to quiche’s blank canvas while also complimenting the meat and onions.
But, Chablis and other Chardonnays (that are GOOD and FRESH and not overoaked or super-cheap-crap… seriously) work too. The nice acid structure holds up through the richness, flavors are often gentle and should mingle with the subtle depth which egg and dairy can so create. And it is close by, many a simpler/non-pungent Alsatian dish can be paired with Chablis, that chardonnay-centric region in the north of Burgundy that creates such minerally, refreshing versions of the grape. One doesn’t have to get the really expense bottles from the Petites and Grand Crus, there are some well-priced options that work just fine when eating with classic fare, when one just needs those certain additions of flavors and taste bud-interactions to complete a dinner.
Point in question, Fevre made a really decent, balanced product that provided a well-structured compliment to the simple meal for a great price compared to others. If you’re one of those who enjoys a decent non-oaky or buttery chardonnay, without exploring too high in the price listings, the style is a good option to try when you have the chance.
Secondary Pairing – Cider
I use it as a pairing for a lot of Northern French dishes, but it works; not too heavy, freshness and acidity cuts through, with light flavors to let the not-so-strong flavors in Quiche and other dishes shine through. If one wants a little changeup, they could always try a nice, pub-reminiscent English Cider; notably fuller and more fulfilling to match the custard.