The Keller Quiche

Thomas Keller’s Bouchon cookbook is a masterpiece in the bistro cooking genre. I’ve owned it since it came out in 2004, and have probably cooked over three quarters of the recipes. None has given me more trouble or more pleasure than the quiche.

If your experience with quiche is one of slightly rubbery egg-and-cheese-dominated custards with overdone broccoli florets in a shallow, undercooked pastry shell, you’re not alone. It’s hard to think of a dish in the French canon that’s been more abused on this side of the ocean. But done well, it can be amazing.

This recipe – known reverentially as The Keller Quiche around our table – is, when executed well, astounding. It’s a substantial, crunchy-flaky, fully realized buttery shell holding an ethereal, cream-forward custard that literally – literally! – melts in the mouth. It’s an imposing two inches deep, with plenty of room to hold the fillings of your choice without distracting from the savoury custard. Really, the custard is the thing here.

It’s also something of a high-wire act. The volume and weight of thin, liquid raw custard in the 9″ diameter x 2″ deep pastry shell is considerable, and it will find its way through any hole, crack, or weak spot in the pastry… while it’s in the oven. This has happened to me, and it’s a fantastic way to ruin your day (or evening, which is when I seem to end up baking this because I always forget what a process it is to assemble this beast).

Still: it can be done well, even by a beginner… it just takes attention. I’m going to take you through it step by step, offering a few tips over and above Keller’s instructions, to help reduce the risk and ensure that you make it to quiche paradise.

You will need:

  • Two days (one to make the quiche, and one to rest it in the fridge, reheat and eat.)
  • A well-calibrated oven. Ovens are routinely 25, 50, even 70 degrees off from their stated temperature. Get an oven thermometer and do a reality check against what your oven tells you its temperature is. This will reduce the uncertainty around whether the quiche is done.
  • A 9″ diameter, 2″ deep stainless steel ring mould. This can be a ring of those exact dimensions, or an adjustable model like I have (but damned if I can find a link for mine). It could also be a good springform pan without a bottom.

I also recommend:

  • Good, fresh eggs and whole milk. These will help the custard set reliably. Old eggs are watery, as is 2% (or, heaven forfend, skim) milk. Water, beyond a certain point, is not a friend to custard (a custard made with all cream, or cream and half-and-half, would be punitively rich).
  • European-style pastry butter with 84% butter fat. This will promote a flaky crust. A higher percentage of fat means less water, water promotes gluten formation, and gluten makes for tough pastry.
  • If you’re working directly from Keller’s book: I recommend reducing the salt in his quiche batter recipe by a teaspoon (so, 2 tsp rather than 1 Tbsp), particularly if you’re making a version with bacon or ham.

Let’s start with the crust. You’re going to end up with a pastry case that’s significantly thicker than you may be used to. This is necessary to prevent leakage, and to ensure that the custard doesn’t soak the crust during the lengthy cooking time.

You’ll need:

  • 12oz / 340g all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling
  • 8oz / 250g unsalted pastry butter
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 C ice water
  • Cooking spray or canola oil, for the pastry ring

You can make the pastry in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or in a large-capacity food processor. You might have trouble in a smaller food processor.

Begin by cutting your cold butter into 1/4″ cubes. Put those in the freezer while you set up your mixer with the paddle attachment.

Put a cup of flour and the salt in the mixer. With the mixer on low (or while pulsing your food processor) add the butter in small handfuls. Once it’s all added, increase the speed to medium or pulse until the butter is fully blended with the flour. Lower the speed, add the remaining flour, and mix to combine. Then add the water and mix on medium speed until you have a coherent dough that gathers around the paddle or blade.

It’s critical to ensure that there are no visible pieces of butter remaining: those are leaks waiting to happen. We’re working the dough more than usual, sacrificing some tenderness in favour of building a bombproof shelter for your custard. That said, don’t whip the hell out of your dough beyond the point where the butter is incorporated and the dough comes together… that will build gluten and raise the risk of cracking for another reason.

Now, pat the dough into a smooth 7″ disc with a minimum of visible seams and cracks, particularly around the outer edge. Wrap it in plastic, and let it rest in the fridge for at least an hour, and up to a day.

Next, remove the dough from the fridge for a couple of minutes. Spray or oil your pastry ring and put it atop parchment or a Silpat liner, on a half-sheet pan.

This is an adjustable diameter, 2″ tall pastry ring. They’re handy, but they can produce a slightly ovoid quiche due to the sheer weight of the ingredients pressing against the ring… if you plan to make this recipe regularly, I’d advise a dedicated, 9″ x 2″ pastry ring.

Flour your rolling surface and all sides of your dough. Working slowly and deliberately, approaching the dough from the centre and working out to alternating sides, roll it out to 3/16″. My biggest mistake as a pastry neophyte was taking fridge-cold dough and brutalizing it by rolling it out under heavy pressure. This is a great way to ensure that a small crack at the perimeter of your pastry will propagate into a canyon reaching deep toward the centre of the dough. You can’t reliably patch these cracks together. (If this happens, you’re better off re-shaping the dough into a disc, letting it rest in the fridge, and starting the rolling process again.) So: watch and feel the dough. If it’s rock hard and resists rolling, give it a minute. If your kitchen is warm and the dough seems soft and at risk of becoming greasy or hard to handle, put it in the fridge. Take your time regardless.

Once you’ve produced a roughly 14″ circle with a thickness of 3/16″, transfer the dough to the pan. Lift the bottom edge of your dough and work the rolling pin under it. Lift it up, rolling the dough around the pin as you go. Centre the dough above the mould and work it into the bottom, ensuring clean right angles in the corner of the pan. Work the dough up the sides and over. You want it to overlap and come down the outer side of the mould.

Take a moment to inspect for cracks and holes. Use some of the excess overlap to fill these. Really work the patch into the surrounding dough: it’s not enough to lay it on top of the gap. Finally, cut off any dough that overlaps by more than an inch. Roll this up in some plastic wrap and put it in the fridge along with your prepared crust for at least 20 minutes. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 375’F, middle shelf.

Line the crust with parchment paper and fill it with pie weights or dried beans, really working them into the corner of the crust and filling it to the top. Bake the crust for 40 minutes. Remove it from the oven and unload your weights/beans and parchment. Carefully inspect the crust for cracks or holes, and use bits of leftover raw dough as putty to fill them. Return it to the oven for 15 minutes or until the bottom is a rich, golden brown. Remove it from the oven. Again, patch holes as necessary, but this time, don’t return the crust to the oven.

No clear cracks or holes in this iteration of the crust (woot!), but I used leftover dough to bolster some thin spots around the top perimeter.

Let the crust cool to room temperature, and cool your oven to 325’F.

Now you can make the filling. Today, we’re making a quiche Florentine – with cheese and spinach – with some cubed ham as well. You’ll need:

  • 3/4lb of fresh or frozen chopped spinach
  • 1/4 C minced shallots
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  • 3/4 C grated mixed Gruyere (or Comté) and Emmentaler (or Swiss/Jarlsberg) cheeses
  • 1/2 C good quality cooked smoked ham, in 1/4″ cubes

In a medium pan over medium heat, melt the butter and sweat the shallots for about 3 minutes, until they’re translucent. Add a third of your spinach, and a little salt and pepper. Repeat that layering twice more with the rest of your spinach. Stir and toss it around, cover it for a minute, and repeat until the spinach is tender. Let it cool a bit, then squeeze out as much liquid as you can. I use my potato ricer to squeeze a quarter cup of the spinach mixture at a time.

For the quiche batter (custard), you’ll need:

  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 C heavy cream (35%)
  • 2 C whole milk
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper, freshly ground
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 6 gratings fresh nutmeg

Mix the cream and milk together and scald it (i.e., bring it to around 180’F, where a skin forms on top) over medium heat. Scalding helps to loosen the bonds of some of the milk protein, which increases its ability to cross-link with the egg protein, thus binding the custard.

Skin!

Let the scalded milk/cream rest for 15 minutes so you don’t get scrambled eggs. But don’t let it rest longer, because the custard needs to be warm when it goes into the oven… or else it won’t cook through in the allotted time, and you risk a soggy and/or overly browned crust.

Time to make the batter. If you have a large-capacity blender (64oz) you can mix it all at once. If you have a smaller one, divide all the ingredients into two batches and do one at a time. Put your ingredients in the blender jar, and blend on high speed for 30 seconds. You really want to aerate the batter.

Believe it or not, it’s time to fill and bake your quiche! Scatter a third of the grated cheese, spinach, and ham across the bottom. Give the batter a final spin in the blender, and pour about half of the total amount atop the fillings.

Foamy batter is a good thing.

Scatter the rest of the fillings atop the first layer of batter, give the remaining batter another few seconds of blending, and pour it on top. If you have steady hands, you can fill it outside the oven. If not, you may want to top it off while it’s on the oven rack. Note that you may have a significant amount of batter left over at this point.

Bake the quiche at 325’F for 20 minutes. The batter in the quiche may have settled by then. If so, give the leftover batter a final whizz in the blender, and top the quiche off with as much as will fit.

Continue baking for another 70 minutes. Check the quiche for doneness by jiggling it lightly. It should have a definite but slight jiggle that’s more or less uniform across the top surface. If it seems very liquid, and more so in the centre, continue to bake it for up to another 30 minutes.

Remove the quiche from the oven and let it rest for a couple of hours on a rack. Then refrigerate it overnight.

The next day, use a serrated knife to scrape off the excess crust, using the top edge of the ring mould as a guide. Remove the ring mould and behold your creation. Assuming you’d like to eat some of it, preheat your oven to 375’F.

There is a final bit of craft involved in cutting the quiche. Using a sharp, serrated knife, saw through the outer edge of the crust and through the bottom corner, supporting the sides of the crust with your fingers. Then, switch to a thin, warm slicing knife to make the cut through the custard and the bottom crust. Reheat slices of the quiche for 15 minutes at 375’F.

The verdict on this version? Very good! The custard was perfect, and the fillings very tasty. The crust was crisp and tasty and the thickness was about right, but I think I overworked the crust and it was a touch tougher than it should’ve been. David had suggested that I use the food processor method on the dough, but I went with the stand mixer this time. There’s always a lesson for next time… and with quiche this good, there’s always a next time! Please try it yourself, and let us know how it turns out.

One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply