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Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Quiche Lorraine

My previous attempt at making a quiche, and specifically the pâte brisée (shortcrust pastry) had been a disaster! The pastry was dry, sandy and generally horrible. I couldn't understand what went wrong as I had followed the recipe religiously, and the poor results discouraged me from giving it another try any time soon. Until I moved to Belgium, and signed up for a cookery course run by Catherine, a wonderful French lady who taught me how to make proper pâte brisée at my first lesson. It's surprisingly easy, provided that you follow the few necessary steps carefully and do not try and take shortcuts. Now, making shortcrust pastry does not scare me any more, on the contrary I can't wait to experiment the endless sweet and savoury combinations it lends itself so well to. If you too want to find out the secret to great shortcrust pastry, keep on reading...


Pâte brisée (shortcrust pastry):

  • 250 gr plain flour
  • 125 gr butter (it has to be stone cold, just out of the fridge)
  • A pinch of salt
  • About 100 ml of ice-cold water

For the filling
  • 200 gr of smoked bacon (streaky bacon is more authentic but you can use back bacon if you want a less fatty version)
  • 200 ml of semi-skimmed milk
  • 200 ml of double cream
  • A pinch of salt
  • Freshly grated black pepper
  • A little grated nutmeg
  • A handful of grated Parmesan cheese*
* Disclaimer: the addition of Parmesan is not part of the authentic quiche lorraine recipe, I admit it;  but frankly, it works so well that I just had to include it! I apologise to any French person out there that I may have appalled with my tweaking of their grandma's recipe ;-)

First, make your pâte brisée. Add the flour, salt and butter cut in small cubes to a large bowl. Trick number one: make sure the butter is very cold, never use soft butter for this recipe or it won't work. Using your fingertips, work the butter into the flour and quickly rub the two between the palms of your hands, to obtain a mixture of sandy consistency. Trick number two: do this quickly to prevent the butter from melting, and ensure your hands are as cold as possible (if necessary, cool them under a running tap of cold water). Finally, gently stir the water in with your hands to bring the ingredients together into a dough, without ever kneading it; then shape the dough like a ball. Trick number three: ensure the water is very cold and make sure you don't knead the dough. Trick number four: your dough should be smooth and supple to the touch. If is too dry and floury, add a little more water. If it is too sticky, add a tiny bit more flour.  Wrap your dough ball in cling film (flatten it a bit first to make it more pliable when it will be time to roll it out) and leave it to chill in the fridge for at least one hour, best if overnight. 

When the dough has chilled, place it between two sheets of baking parchment and roll it out to a disc (it should be about one cm. thick). Butter and flour a baking tin of about 26/28 cm diameter.

Drape your rolled out pastry over the baking tin; roll your pin over the top of the baking tray to quickly trim off the excess pastry (you can use any leftovers to make a couple of smaller quiches in individual tins, like I did - see the picture below). If there are any cracks, do not panic but simply use the excess pastry to fill them in. Pierce the bottom of the pastry with your fork, then return it to the fridge while you move on to preparing your filling. 

Cut your bacon in bite-sized strips and fry it gently in a pan with a little olive oil, until golden. Place it over a piece of kitchen paper to absorb any excess fat, then scatter it evenly at the bottom of your quiche's shortcrust case. Beat the eggs together, then pour in the milk, cream, season it with salt, pepper and nutmeg and finally mix in the grated Parmesan cheese. Pour the filling in the tin.

Carefully transfer the quiche into a pre-heated oven at 200° C and bake it for 25/30 minutes, or until the egg filling has puffed up and has turned golden (the smaller individual quiches will only take 10/15 minutes). Leave your cooked quiche to rest for about ten minutes before cutting it; serve it warm or cold, with a crunchy green salad or some grilled asparagus. Bon appétit!

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