Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Grate'r Butter for Greater Pastry, or, Cute Quiche

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I'm all about puns this evening. But, aren't they cute?

I mean, seriously, aren't they cute?

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Itty Bitty Fluted Removable Bottom 4" Tartlet Pans!!

I'm sure this is my extra X chromosome talking, here but there is something undeniably adorable, smile-inducing, shoulder-shrugging "awww..." about miniature proportions...

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<Ahem>. Moving on... The little quiche tartlets I picked up at the store are cute, and quiche itself is yummy. And easy. And perfect for using odds and ends of vegetables. The basic recipe is pretty straightforward: eggs, cream or milk, cheese and filling of choice. There are a few tricks:

The balance of ingredients in the custard is flexible within reason. You could substitute milk for cream, but I wouldn't reduce the number of eggs and the fat content at the same time (the milk might curdle).

A variety of cheeses work just fine. Fontina and Gryuere are best for creamy flavor and meltability. Chedder and Swiss provide stronger flavor but can get a little oily if you add too much.

Goat cheese provides tangy contrast when it is dollop'ed throughout. All other cheeses should be shredded or cubed into very small pieces.

If you want to lower the fat content of this dish, it's pretty simple: add more vegetables. You could also make the quiche crustless.

Vegan Quiche is easy - puree silken tofu in place of the dairy (shockingly delicious, although I know you wouldn't believe me unless I handed you a piece of normal looking quiche, which you proceeded to marvel about and then I revealed that ta-da you just ate something vegan)

The choice of filling is entirely up to you. I happen to love broccoli quiche, but there are endless possibilities here: leek, onion, chard, garlic, olives, pepper, mushroom, or asparagus (off the top of my head). Make sure that whatever you choose as a filling is thoroughly pre-cooked and squeezed dry, so that no excess water seeps into the custard (which would make for an unpleasant texture).

I think good quiche requires a decent crust, and I must admit that I find most frozen crusts are pasty and bland. I just don't bother making things with pastry, since the storebought variety irritates me a little and the homemade variety irritates me even more. Good homemade crust relies on keeping the butter super, extra cold. The flour is cut around the cold butter until little globules of cold, firm butter are uniformly coated with flour. Water is dribbled in to bring the pastry dough together, and then it is slid along a flat surface to smear the butter into flat sheets. When the cold dough hits the hot oven, the butter melts quickly, creating flat pockets of steam and a flaky, tender crust. The worst thing you can do to pastry is to let it get warm or add too much water.

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I really hate making pastry, but I've learned two tricks that make it easier from my friend Jessica, who is pictured above with her son Jonah. I know, "new" tricks for perfect pastry? It doesn't happen, right? Using vodka or the Cuisinart, I've heard it all, but I swear these two suggestions are unique and actually work. First, put the butter in the freezer and then grate it onto the flour. This trick speeds the cutting step and thus reduces the amount of time that the butter has to get warm. Second, use whole wheat pastry flour, which is more tender than all-purpose flour.

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Here's what "pea sized pieces" of butter and flour look like for me, with a tablespoon for reference

Broccoli and Lamb Sausage Quiche

Makes a 8-9" quiche, or six 4" mini-quiche!

I have never bothered to hunt down the "perfect quiche" recipe, since I would wager that if it were as good as it could get, then the fat content would be obscene. I'd rather not find out if I'm missing anything. This recipe is loosely based off of several epicurious suggestion and loosely off of a spinach tart recipe that I love. It works just fine as a starting point. I suggested a broccoli, sausage and swiss cheese filling here. You could just as easily substitute any ingredients you like. Keep a generally similar volume of custard to vegetables to cheese and it'll work

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Chop into bite sized pieces:

3-4 crowns of rinsed broccoli

You can include the stem if you wish (just chop it a little smaller than the rest). Add the broccoli to a small pot or sauce pan, along with

3/4 cup water

A glug of olive oil

Cover, turn the heat to medium, and steam until the broccoli is quite soft (~20-30 minutes). Add more water if the pot starts getting dry. When done, drain thoroughly and set aside.

Place an 8" fry pan on a burner set to medium, add:

2 humanely-raised lamb sausages, casings removed (or several ounces of crumbled pork, boar, nitrate-free bacon or turkey)

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Brown the sausage (~10 minutes). Drain off the extra oil (save the drippings if you wish - they would be delicious with sauteed greens) and chop the sausage into bite sized pieces. Set aside with the broccoli. You should have about 2 cups of vegetables and about half a cup of sausage.

Whisk together:

2 large, free-range eggs

1/2 cup heavy cream (can substitute half and half or milk)

~1 cup grated Swiss cheese (can substitute all or some with a different cheese type)

1/2 tsp freshly grated black pepper

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp ground sage

Stir the cooled broccoli and sausage into the custard mixture. Pour into a pre-baked crust, and bake the quiche for ~30-40 minutes, or until the center is set and firm.

A better quiche crust recipe

Makes enough dough for one 8 or 9" pie or tart pan

Ingredients:

6 tbsp butter

1 cup flour, plus extra for rolling the dough

1/2 tsp salt

4-6 tbsp ice water

Put a stick of butter in the freezer. Measure 1 cup of flour and 1/2 tsp salt into a bowl with a box grater and pastry cutter and place all of that in the freezer too. Wait at least 30 minutes.

Take out the pastry ingredients. Grate 6 tbsp of the butter onto the flour with the medium side of the box grater. Toss the butter around with the flour with your fingers; using a pastry cutter or two forks, cut the butter into the flour until everything is in small pea sized pieces. If the butter starts feeling soft, put it all back in the freezer for a few minutes.

Prepare a large glass of ice water. Drizzle water onto the dough, one tablespoon at a time, stirring after each addition (it will take ~5-6 tbsp of water). When the dough begins to gather into a cohesive (not sticky) ball, turn it onto a lightly floured countertop and knead (smearing the dough across the counter) just once or twice with your palm.

Form the dough into a disk shape, dust thoroughly with flour and wrap in plastic wrap. Freeze for just a few more minutes while you clean up, or let rest in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.

Roll the dough to fit desired pie or tart pan. Pre-bake the crust at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes and cool slightly before adding the filling.

7 comments:

anna said...

Great technique and great explanation for the perfect crust. I will be trying that soon!

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