To the untrained eye, the quiche is a seemingly simple dish that requires very little skill and few ingredients. It consists, after all, of only two elements: crust and filling. But think again.
This French-inspired staple of American cuisine is subtle and sophisticated, varied and complex. If you ask Lynette Meynig, she’ll tell you that the secret to a great quiche is the crust.
“It’s like working with clay,” she said, and just like clay, knowing how to handle it is a major advantage.
Meynig knows a thing or two about crusts, pies, and quiches. The owner of Family Ties & Pies, she bakes dozens of sweet and savory pies to sell at the City Market every Saturday. During times of high demand, the number increases to hundreds. She can make a perfectly buttery crust in her sleep.
When I met her in the kitchen of her family home for a quiche-making lesson, I could tell she was in her element. Without taking her eyes off the bowl of unbleached flour that sat on the counter, she grabbed and added an incredible amount of cold butter to the mix. The butter is cut into small pieces for easier amalgamation.
“The crust is the most fattening part, but I use only quality butter,” she said. I suspect she’s caught sight of my deer-in-the-headlights look. As someone who never cooks with butter, seeing two whole sticks disappear in a cloud of flour was a new experience for me. But I should have known. Quiche is a classic French dish and, contrary to my olive oil-loving native cuisine, butter is amply used —and certainly preferred. (Legendary Mastering the Art of French Cooking author and chef Julia Child reportedly used 753 pounds of it while filming her TV series, “Baking With Julia.”)
“I have five or six pie crust recipes. It depends on the pie,” Meynig said. For a quiche, the crust needs to be dense to hold the savory custard-based filling. Meynig only uses flour, salt, butter, and ice water, a trick she learned that makes the crust crispier and overall tastier.
“You add water until it feels right,” she said, looking into the bowl of the food processor where the ingredients have been tossed and turned for a couple of minutes. “My hands are my best friend and measuring tool.”
After the dough is formed, Meynig works it with her hands until it is more uniform (but not too uniform, for fear of ending up with a heavy and chewy crust) and ready for the shaping machine—a contraption that takes a ball of dough and squeezes it into a perfectly formed terrine in one movement. It’s quite a sight.
Once the dough is in place in the tin-foiled cake dish, it goes directly into the refrigerator to rest for at least one hour. Meynig admits that making the crust is the most tedious and involved process. In fact, during market season—April to November —Wednesday has been officially renamed “crust day” in the her household.
Next up is the filling. The beauty of a quiche is that you can actually fill it with anything you want. The original Quiche Lorraine, made famous by Child, was a meat lovers’ favorite: bacon or lardons intertwined in a thick custard.
Today, however, veggie quiches are just as popular. The trick is to sauté the vegetables until they are melted together, or in the case of bell peppers, until the crunch is gone. For our class, Meynig cut up and cooked bell peppers and onions. She later added fresh spinach and sun dried tomatoes.
And now, the fun part—the construction. Take the crust dough out of the fridge, prickle it with a fork so it doesn’t bubble, and add a layer of cheese. Meynig uses Gruyere because of its subdued and unique flavor, but Swiss, American, and provolone are also commonly used. The cheese helps unify the ingredients and acts as a sort of fortifier for the custard.
There are a few methods and philosophies when it comes to custard, but Meynig has a simple and delicious option: eggs and half and half. Well blended, the mixture is added to the pan, covering the veggies until it almost spills out.
A popular alternative is sour cream, and the result, in flavor and texture, is much different.
In a commercial convection oven like Meynig’s, the quiche is ready in 25 minutes. Somehow, that still seems like a long wait.