Ah, the American quiche. There are many variations on this savory custard and crust, and they were on display last month during the California Opera Association's Big Quiche Bakeoff.
The contest brought forth nine quiches. Many resembled pies, while some were tucked into deeper quiche pans. And the fillings supported the notion that you could create a quiche with just about anything: broccoli, tomato and even canned tuna were used as ingredients.
The judges -- Will Portis, a local artist; Dee Stonebraker, a founding member of the California Opera Association; and myself -- tried quiche after quiche. Three emerged as winners: Brenda Joseph's tuna quiche and Jeanne Durnell's pancetta quiche were runner-ups, and Cora Grant's asparagus-bacon quiche took the top prize.
Joseph and Durnell rattled off their recipes easily, and they are faithfully reprinted here. But Grant, an improvisational cook (who says she's a touch forgetful nowadays), offered ingredients without the measurements.
No problem. Re-creating her cheddar, asparagus and bacon quiche turned into a fun weekend project.
Doing so, however, requires a confession. I'm a traditionalist, so none of the quiches at the bakeoff met my ideal: a sturdy crust topped with a tall, quivering custard. It's the style espoused by renowned chef Thomas Keller in "Bouchon" (Artisan, $50) and by Michael Ruhlman in "Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking" (Scribner, $27).
Keller and Ruhlman (who also worked on "Bouchon") insist on using a 2-by-9-inch ring mold instead of a pie plate for several reasons. A tall custard cooks slowly and evenly, allowing "the flavors of the ingredients to develop and distribute themselves throughout the custard," Keller writes in Bouchon.
They also insist on baking the crust before filling it, a technique called blind baking. This prevents the crust from turning soggy.
Ruhlman's recipes in "Ratio" served as inspiration because they are particularly adaptable -- although they do require the use of a kitchen scale. A ratio of 2 parts liquid to 1 part egg yields a custard with the proper texture. And a ratio of 3 parts flour to 2 parts fat to 1 part water makes pie dough. (Shortening, lard or butter will work.)
The only thing left to do was experiment with amounts of Grant's ingredients: bacon, cheddar cheese, asparagus, Lawry's seasoned salt and pepper. And while Grant laid her asparagus spears across the custard, I cut them into pieces so they would be easier to eat.
Buying the ring mold, available at kitchenware stores such as Sur La Table, is easy. But rolling the dough and fitting it to the mold requires some thought.
"Ratio" advises rolling it to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. "Bouchon" says 3/1 6 of an inch is best. I used a thinness closer to 1/8 of an inch, but I didn't go crazy with the ruler for exact measurements.
You shouldn't either. Just roll your dough into a large circle. It should hang a little more than an inch over the edge of the mold after you've pressed it against the bottom and sides.
Here's one more tip: Trim that overhanging dough to the length of an inch, and keep the extra dough handy. You'll need it to fill any cracks in the blind-baked crust.
> Pancetta-and-Onion Quiche
2 store-bought (unroll-and-fill) pie crusts
2 medium onions, chopped
1 cup chopped pancetta
4 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, grated
2 cups half and half
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 ounce Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Using your fingers, press the crust into a 9-inch or 10-inch quiche pan. (You may need to use two crusts to cover the bottom and sides of the pan.) Trim off and reserve any extra dough.
Prick the crust all over with a fork, then bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.
In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, cook the onions and pancetta until the onions are soft and translucent but not browned. Sprinkle the mixture on the bottom of the crust.
Sprinkle the cheddar and mozzarella cheeses on top of the onions and meat. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine eggs, half and half, and Worcestershire sauce. Beat well. Pour over the crust and sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top.
Bake until set and browned a little on top, about 50 minutes.
-- Jeanne Durnell
> Tuna Quiche
4 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced
A little olive oil
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup milk
7 ounces canned albacore tuna, flaked
4 ounces Swiss cheese, grated
4 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 package Lipton Recipe Secrets Onion Soup Mix
1 9-inch pie shell
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, saute mushrooms in olive oil until browned. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix eggs, mayonnaise, flour and milk until well blended. Stir in mushrooms, tuna, Swiss cheese, cheddar cheese and soup mix.
Pour into a 9-inch pie shell. Bake until set, about 40-45 minutes.
-- Original recipe from Maureen Williams. Adapted by Brenda Joseph.
> Bacon-Asparagus Quiche
For the crust:
12 ounces flour
8 ounces butter, cut into small pieces, cold or even frozen
2 to 3 ounces ice water
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
1 pound slab bacon cut into 1/4 -inch lardons (see note)
1/2 pound asparagus, cut into 1/4 -inch pieces
3 cups half and half
6 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons Lawry's seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Lawry's seasoned pepper
2/3 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
To make the pie crust: Combine flour and butter in a mixing bowl and rub the butter between your fingers until you have small beads of fat and plenty of pea-sized chunks. Add the ice water gradually and salt, and mix gently, just until combined. (If you work the dough too hard, it will become tough.) Shape the dough into two equal discs and refrigerate for 15 minutes or until ready to roll.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the dough into a circle about 1/8 inch. Place a 2-by-9-inch ring mold or a 2-by-9-inch round cake pan on a baking sheet. (Line baking sheet with parchment if you're using a ring mold; if you're using a cake pan, line its bottom with parchment).
Lightly oil the inside of your ring mold or pan. Lay the dough into the mold, pressing it gently against the bottom and sides. You want to have plenty of dough overhanging the edges; this will help the crust maintain its shape.
Reserve a small piece of dough to fill any cracks that might open in the dough as it bakes. Line the dough with parchment or foil and fill it with dried beans or pie weights so that the crust bakes flat. After a half hour, remove the weights and parchment or foil. Gently patch any cracks that may have formed with the reserved dough, and continue baking until the bottom of the crust is golden and cooked, about 15 more minutes.
Remove it from the oven and patch any cracks that may have opened; this is especially important if you're using a ring mold, or the batter will leak out. Set aside to cool.
Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.
To make the filling: Saute the bacon over medium heat until crispy. Drain the bacon on paper towels and set aside.
Add the sliced asparagus to the hot bacon fat and cook for a few minutes until bright green. Drain on paper towels and mix with the bacon.
In a large bowl, combine the half-and-half, eggs, seasoned salt and seasoned pepper. Whisk until frothy. You also can use a hand blender or standing blender (though depending on the size of your blender, you may need to divide the quantities in half).
Layer half of the asparagus-bacon mixture into the shell. Pour half of the frothy custard over the mixture. Sprinkle with half the cheese. Layer with the remaining asparagus-bacon mixture. Re-froth the batter and pour the rest into the shell. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. (You may want to put the tray with the quiche shell into the oven and pour the remaining batter into it there so that you can get every bit of batter into the shell. You can even let it overflow to make sure it's up to the very top.)
Bake for about an hour and a half, or until the center is just set. (It may take as long as two hours, but don't overcook it. There should still be some jiggle in the center).
Allow the quiche to cool, then refrigerate it until it's completely chilled, eight hours or up to three days.
Using a sharp knife, cut the top of the crust off along the rim. Slide the knife along the edge of the ring mold or cake pan to remove the quiche.
Slice and serve cold, or, to serve hot, slice and reheat for ten minutes in a 375-degree oven on lightly oiled parchment or foil.
Note: Lardons are batons of bacon and can be as thick as 1/2 -inch square. Smaller lardons are best here, but a pound of thick-cut bacon sliced into strips is also acceptable.
-- Original recipe from "Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking," by Michael Ruhlman (Scribner, $27). Modified by Joan Obra.