My mother did not consider flowers an appropriate gift. When I sent a bouquet on Mother’s Day, she called to complain. “Never do that again,” she cried. “They only die, and that’s so depressing.”
“Is there something that you’d rather have?” I asked.
Mom didn’t need to think twice. “Quiche,” she replied.
That was easy. At the time I was turning out 15 or 20 fragrant savory tarts every day while cooking at a restaurant. I should add that this was back in the seventies, a time when few American men or women had even heard of quiche, and certainly before Real Men decided they didn’t eat it. They’d come into the restaurant, stare at the menu and ask, “What’s a....” Then they’d stop, stumped, before eventually producing a range of sounds that varied from kwichay to kwatch to quick.
“Try it,” I’d reply, slicing off a golden triangle. I knew, with absolute certainty, that they’d be hooked at first bite. Great quiche is literally irresistible. The contrast between the soft rich custard, the tender crust that cradles it, and the crisp layer of melted cheese on top turns each bite into a celebration.
My Mom is long-gone, but every year on Mother’s Day I bake a quiche in her honor. Remembering her joy in it, I make it as carefully as I can. Then I sit down with a group of women friends and we pay tribute to the women who raised us.
Looking back, I think that Mom appreciated more than the sheer deliciousness of quiche. This, after all, was the woman who believed that leftovers last forever, the woman who invented Everything Stew. She knew that few recipes are as forgiving as quiche; you can add almost anything. Beneath the custard, leftover vegetables are reborn, caramelized onions are transcendent, and bacon does its usual dance. But I’ve also been known to spread a layer of spare Bolognese on the crust, and I love what it does to leftover eggplant dip. The custard is forgiving too: you can whip up just about any combination of milk, cream and eggs, throw in any kind of cheese, and come up with something that everyone will want to eat.
But this is Mother’s Day Quiche, which means we’re going for the best. So for today, these are the rules.
- You must blind-bake the crust. It is possible to avoid this step and make a decent quiche, but you won’t get that wonderful contrast between custard and crust.
- You must allow the crust to cool before filling it with custard. I don’t know the chemistry on this, but it makes a noticeable difference. I let mine cool for at least half an hour before pouring in the egg and cream mixture.
- Use cream. It just tastes better. Use cream from Jersey cows if you can get it. Count calories tomorrow.
- Use good Gruyere. It’s classic. And it tastes great.
Mother’s Day Quiche
For the crust
1¼ cups flour
½ cup cold sweet butter, cut into small cubes
4 tablespoons ice water, or as needed
For the custard
1½ cups cream
3 large eggs
pinch of salt
bit of pepper
grating of nutmeg
1 cup grated Gruyere
Make the crust: Combine the flour with the salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender, working quickly to keep the butter cold, until it is the size of small peas. Add the ice water, a tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork until you can gather it together in a ball. You might need more than 4 tablespoons of water, but use only just as much as you need to make the dough come together. Flatten it into a disk, wrap in wax paper, and allow to rest for an hour (or overnight) in the refrigerator .
Preheat the oven to 400⁰F.
Bake the crust: Roll out the dough on a floured surface and carefully fit it into a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Line the dough with foil and fill with dried beans, raw rice or pie weights. Bake for 12 to15 minutes. It should be ready now, but if you try to remove the foil and it sticks, leave it in the oven for a couple minutes more. Then carefully remove the weights, prick the crust gently with a fork (to avoid air bubbles), and bake for 5 minutes more, or until the crust is golden. Set it on a rack to rest for at least half an hour.
Turn the heat down to 375⁰F. If you’re using a filling that doesn’t go in the custard, add that to the crust now.
Make the custard: Whisk the eggs, cream and seasonings to combine, but don’t froth it. Pour the mixture into the cooled tart shell. Top with grated cheese and bake for about half an hour, until the top is golden and puffy. It should quiver gently, barely set.
Serve immediately, before the glorious puff of the custard gives a little sigh and begins to collapse.