My first quiche was a voluptuous open-faced tart with smoky lardons, Gruyère and golden strands of sautéed onion baked in custard. It was called a Lorraine, and I was seduced. Later, I learned it was a misnomer according to the French society that defined quiches, saying that only bacon should be in the seasoned custard. With cheese added, it becomes a Vosgienne (referring to the Vosges region of France); sautéed onions in the mix make it Alsaçienne. But Lorraine became the familiar name for many of these savory tarts.
While long considered a classic French dish, according to historians, the term ‘quiche’ is at least a couple hundred years old and derives from küchen, German for cake. Even earlier, in the dialect of the medieval kingdom of Lothringen, the tart was called a küche. When the French captured the area in the mid-18th century, the realm and the tart were renamed Lorraine.
Quiches became popular in England at the beginning of the 20th century, but didn’t gain attention in the U.S. until the 1950s, when affordable, transatlantic flights brought American travelers to European capitals like Paris and London. They fell in love with local delicacies and wanted them at home. Soon, Lorraine and her relatives, filled with an array of vegetables and shellfish, were featured on brunch and lunch menus or in mini form, as hors d’oeuvres.
Then came “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche”, Bruce Feirstein’s 1982 satirical book that took aim at middle class men trying to be uber fashionable or acting like dilettantes. In an age of feminist awareness, the term ‘quiche-eater’ came to imply unmasculine traits. The book spent a year on the New York Times’ Best Seller List and sold 1.6 million copies.
In recent years, quiches have gained respect with vegetable lovers and as a comfort food staple for all ages around the clock. Today, most quiche Lorraines are made with cheese. So what remains of the early quiche basics? And, in the 21st century, how far can the definition be stretched? (Although I focus here on those made with cheese, vegans or anyone with dietary restrictions can find several recipes with alternative dairy products online.)
Two of the recipes below—Broccoli-Cheddar & Bacon and Smoked Trout with Smoked Gouda—rely fairly closely on traditional methods. The filling ingredients are mixed with custard and baked in a partially cooked crust. The Cherry-Mascarpone Quiche for dessert, however, pushes the limits.
Silky custard remains the hallmark of a good quiche. In earlier times, crème fraîche or heavy cream was commonly combined with the eggs. Today’s consumers, mindful of healthier eating, often use half-and-half or whole milk, especially with richer ingredients like bacon and smoked fish.
I think those modifications are fine so long as the final taste and texture aren’t compromised beyond recognition. Sadly, my trials with low fat and skim milk weren’t worth the effort or reduced calories. What’s the point of eating a faux quiche without a lovely custardy mouthfeel? The fats in dairy products contribute to making a quiche memorable and, because it’s not something we eat every day, I think it should be somewhat luxurious.
Eggs are what bind custard together and create a velvety texture. Too many eggs, however, can make it rubbery, but so can over baking. To help keep custard soft and smooth, set the temperature at no higher than 350 degrees F. When it’s removed from the oven, the mixture should be slightly wobbly in the center. It will firm up in about 10 minutes while sitting on the counter. Quiches can be served hot or at room temperature. To reheat them, use a toaster oven but never a microwave (unless you want a flabby crust).
A basic custard ratio is one part egg to two parts milk or cream. Before the 20th century, egg sizes weren’t standardized — large, extra large or jumbo labels didn’t exist — so ingredients were weighed for accuracy. In today’s markets, one large egg contains about 2 ounces of liquid; it is mixed with 4 ounces (½ cup) of cream or milk.
For an 8-inch shell, three eggs, 1½ cup dairy and a cup of cheese is a good starting point, but sometimes I use four. That formula can be multiplied or divided for larger or smaller quiches. Julia Child once wrote that when adapting a recipe that uses an 8-inch pan to a 10-inch pan, you should increase the ingredients by 50 percent. For random sized or shaped pans, you may have to do a little guesstimating.
For the filling, I think three or four additional ingredients added to the custard is plenty, but the amount of custard needed can also vary and, in some cases, you may cut back on the cream. More or denser ingredients — like broccoli and carrots — require less custard to fill in the space. They should be cut up and blanched or steamed first to set the color and partially soften them, so once the custard is set, they are also cooked through. Generally, in recipes that include onions, leeks or shallots, I sauté them until golden and rich tasting. Although they may soften during baking, they won’t impart a lot of taste or texture.
The Crust and Pan:
While quiches can be made without pastry, I love a good crust. Here, you can let your creativity loose in the choice of flours, seasonings and even fats. The pastry for the broccoli quiche includes rendered fat from cooked bacon, which makes it flaky. The pastry reminds me of Austro-Hungarian and Southern bakers who often use lard in crusts. I also added cheese to mirror the Cheddar in the filling, plus a pinch of smoked paprika. It is decadently delicious.
Although many store-bought crusts used to taste like cardboard, I was pleasantly surprised by one I purchased from an upscale market for the trout quiche. It was tender and tasty, and saved me a lot of time. To make it look homemade, I partially defrosted it and crimped the edges. Brushing the edges with beaten egg yolk while baking added a beautiful golden color, as well.
I could have made pâte sucrée, the short pastry often used for tarts or quiches, for the cherry-mascarpone quiche. Instead, a chocolate wafer crust recipe from my sister seemed more attractive and complimented the cherries and custard. I baked the crust in a quiche pan with a removable bottom and added the already cooked and cooled filling. Years ago, quiche pans with straight fluted sides were very popular. There were decorative porcelain and pottery versions as well as those of metal. These days, I use glass pie plates most of the time.
Things New and Borrowed
After enjoying many savory quiches, I wondered why there weren’t any with fresh fruit. The simple answer is they give off so much juice that you’ll have to figure out how to compensate for. My two versions with fresh cherries in a custard-ricotta mixture ended up with the fruit bleeding unattractively into the filling and making the crust soggy. Oven dried frozen cherries were somewhat better, but I still was unhappy with the results.
Determined, I deconstructed the whole quiche paradigm. For the custard, I borrowed the idea of an Italian zabaglione, whisking egg yolks, sugar and Grand Marnier (rather than Marsala) together over simmering water on top of the stove until they had thickened, tripled in volume and were smooth. When cool, I folded the mixture together with beaten mascarpone, softened dried cherries, and spooned it into the chocolate wafer shell.
While not classic, this dessert “quiche” was quite seductive.
Smoked Trout & Smoked Gouda Quiche
The marriage of smoked trout and smoked Gouda in this quiche make for a wonderful brunch or lunch dish. If time is short, use a store-bought deep-dish pie shell. To make the crust look homemade, defrost the pastry until malleable and crimp the edges.
1 (9-in) uncooked deep-dish piecrust, purchased or homemade
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
¾ cup thinly sliced white and light green parts of leeks
4 large eggs
1½ cups half-and-half
6 oz skinned smoked trout, flaked
1 cup (3 oz) shredded smoked Gouda cheese, divided
½ cup scrubbed and small diced baking potato
2 tsp small capers, chopped
2 tsp chopped fresh dill
2 tsp thyme leaves
1 tsp lemon zest
½ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate with pie dough. Crimp the edges. Prick all over with a fork. Add a piece of foil, shiny side down, add pie weights and bake until lightly set, 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and lift out the foil and weights. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F.
In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes, stirring once or twice. Reserve.
Blanch the diced potato in a small saucepan of boiling water until almost tender, 3−4 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs and remove 2 tablespoons of them to a small bowl. Combine the remaining eggs with the half-and-half. Stir in the trout, ¾ cup of the Gouda, the leeks, potato cubes, capers, dill, thyme, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Ladle into the piecrust.
Stir a teaspoon of milk or half-and-half into the reserved egg and brush on the edges of the quiche. Sprinkle on the remaining Gouda and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out almost clean, about 35 minutes. Remove, let stand for 10 minutes, slice and serve. Or serve at room temperature. It may be reheated.
Bacon and Cheddar lovers, this is the quiche for you. They’re used in both the crust and filling. (Reserved bacon fat in the pastry makes it very flaky.) Combined with bright green broccoli florets, sautéed shallots and a nice hint of Dijon mustard, it’s a tempting breakfast, lunch or light supper dish.
6 strips thick-cut bacon, cut into ½-in cubes
1¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus additional flour to dust pastry
¾ cup (3 oz) shredded sharp Cheddar, plus 1 cup (4 oz) for filling
¼ tsp salt, plus additional salt to season filling
1/8 tsp baking powder
Pinch smoked paprika
4 Tbsp (2 oz) cold bacon fat
4 Tbsp (2 oz) unsalted butter, cut in cubes, plus 1 Tbsp for the shallots
1 large egg white, yolk reserved to brush on crust
3 cups trimmed broccoli florets
1½ cups thinly sliced shallots
4 large eggs
¾ cup half-and-half
1 cup (4 oz) shredded sharp Cheddar, plus ¼ cup (1 oz) for topping
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until the pieces are lightly browned and almost crisp. Remove the pieces with a slotted spoon, blot on paper towels and set aside. Strain and chill the bacon fat. If you do not have 4 Tbsp, add more butter.
In a food processor, combine the flour, cheese, salt, baking powder and smoked paprika; pulse to blend. Add the bacon fat and 4 Tbsp of butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the egg white and process just until the mixture pulls into a ball. Remove, sprinkle with a little flour, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Remove pastry and roll into a circle measuring about 12-inches in diameter. Transfer to a 9-inch deep pie dish and trim the crust even with edge of pan. Turn the edges under and crimp. Prick the bottom generously with a fork.
Smooth a piece of aluminum foil, shiny side down, over the pastry bottom and against the edges. Fill with baking weights, dried beans or rice, and bake on a cookie sheet until the sides of the shell look set, about 10 minutes. Remove the beans and foil, return the shell to oven and continue baking until the crust is firm and lightly colored, about 6 minutes. Remove and cool on a rack. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees F.
Meanwhile, steam or microwave the broccoli florets until crisp-tender.
In a small skillet, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and sauté until golden, about 6 minutes, stirring often. Scrape into a large bowl. Stir in the eggs, half-and-half, mustard and remaining cup of Cheddar to blend. Season with 1 tsp of salt, or to taste, and pepper. Bake on the cookie sheet in the middle of the oven until puffed in the center, or a knife inserted in the center comes out almost clean, about 45 minutes. Remove, let stand for about 10 minutes, then cut into slices and serve. Or let cool and serve at room temperature.
Cherry-Mascarpone-Zabaglione Quiche in Chocolate Crust
For this dessert, I deconstructed the basics of a quiche. The custard-like filling is made with egg yolks, sugar and orange liqueur beaten on top of the stove, rather than baked, before being mixed with mascarpone and cherries. The crust is reminiscent of one my sister made years ago for a chocolate mousse pie.
½ cup dried tart cherries
15 chocolate cookie wafers (about 3 oz) like Nabisco Famous Wafers, broken into pieces
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
½ cup Mascarpone (4 oz), at room temperature
2 Tbsp sweet orange marmalade
4 large egg yolks, at room temperature
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
½ tsp vanilla extract
Whipped cream to garnish
Mint leaves to garnish
In a small bowl, add the cherries and enough boiling water to cover; set aside to plump until soft, about 20 minutes. Drain and blot dry with paper towels.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Position the rack in the middle of the oven.
In a food processor, process the cookies into the size of small peas. Add the butter and salt and pulse into fine crumbs, scraping the mixture down once or twice to be sure the butter is incorporated. Transfer to a 7 ½-inch quiche pan or pie dish and press evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake on a sheet pan until fragrant, 12−15 minutes; remove and cool completely before filling.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, stir the Mascarpone until completely smooth. Stir in the cherries and marmalade.
Fill a large bowl half full of ice water. In a medium saucepan, bring 1−2 inches of water to a simmer.
In a deep stainless steel bowl, using a wire whisk, beat the egg yolks and sugar together to blend, about 1 minute. Continue beating until the yolks are pale yellow, about 3 minutes.
Set the bowl over the simmering water, taking care the bowl does not touch the water. Whisk in the Grand Marnier and vanilla, and continue beating until the mixture feels hot and has doubled in volume, about 15 minutes. Remove, set over the ice water, and stir for a few minutes until cool.
Gently fold the Mascarpone mixture into the thickened eggs. Spoon into the shell, smooth with an offset spatula and refrigerate for several hours. If desired, garnish with whipped cream rosettes and mint leaves before serving.