All in the Crust
I have a deep fondness for pastries, especially those with an extra buttery crust. My weaknesses are tarts and quiches. It's a real pleasure sinking my teeth into a deep-crust pie with all of the flakes and crumbs. I find that savoury pastries such as quiches can make a great midweek meal once you have some prepared dough ready at hand, fresh eggs, milk or cream, cheese and whatever meat or vegetable combination you desire to eat. A lovely salad on the side and you are quickly sorted out for a meal both adults and children enjoy.
In fact, I think making pastry dough is one of the elementary skills you can teach a child. Since May is Child Month and many people want to teach their kids how to cook, this is one of the best techniques for children to learn. It can be a fun exercise for adults too: knowing the basics is essential. When I am stressed or tense, rolling dough helps the knots in my neck and shoulders go away. The repetitive motion of my hands on the rolling pin sinking into the ball of dough and getting it flat and in shape to whatever millimeter thickness I am aiming for allows my mind to wander onto pleasant thoughts or to brainstorm new ideas.
There are many types of pastry which can be used for both sweet and savoury fillings. Each uses a different method. The most common is the short crust method. You also have puff pastry, choux pastry, flaky pastry, filo pastry and sweet pastry, to name a few. Each has a different texture based on the fat to flour ratio, how much handling is used - that is, whether you need to use loads of elbow grease or a light touch, resting periods etc. For me, quality butter is key and a good grade of flour. Superior products yield superior results.
Practice also makes perfect. During my student days at Le Cordon Bleu, our instructors stressed the importance of repeating and practising what we learned at home to make sure it was perfect. We also did not rely on machines, but utilised our hands. So trust me, living in Jamaica with regular power cuts does not ruffle my feathers because I rely on my hands more than equipment.
I may no longer work in a professional kitchen, but I will always remain a real chef in my heart and those skills will be with me until I die. It is also my pleasure to share them with you, because food is love and you don't need to go to culinary school to be a fantastic cook. I can't stress enough to go back to the basics in the kitchen and learn classic dishes, as they are the stepping stone to more elaborate ones. Once you master them you'll enjoy experimenting and creating your own recipes for those you love.
Basic Quiche Crust
I much prefer making my own dough than the prepackaged kind. This recipe uses the short crust method and yields two balls of dough, enough for two eight-inch tart moulds. You can make this the lazy way in the food processor by throwing in all the ingredients or do it the good old-fashioned way with your hands.
250g/2 cups all purpose flour
125g/1/2 cup butter, cut into cubes
1 tsp sour cream
1/2 tsp salt
In a large bowl, sift the flour.
Add the pieces of cold butter and use your fingertips to incorporate the butter into the flour until it is grainy and coarse, and make a hole in the centre of the mixture.
Break the egg and beat it a little in a separate bowl and then pour the mixture into the centre of the large bowl, add sour cream and use a wooden spoon and mix the flour mixture slowly into the egg and cream until fully incorporated.
Next use your hands and knead the mixture until the dough is smooth.
Divide into two balls and cover in cling film, place in the fridge and allow the dough to chill and rest for at least 30 minutes until you are ready to roll it out.
You can safely freeze whatever dough you do not use.
This is a classic quiche featuring bacon, onion and cheese. Gruyère is the most common type of cheese used in it, but Cheddar will suffice and is equally delicious.
1 pie crust (see recipe above or you can use store-bought)
1 small onion, finely chopped
8 rashers of bacon
200ml/ 1 cup milk
100ml/ 1/2 cup heavy cream
200g/1 cup Gruyère or Cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F
When oven comes to temperature, blind-bake dough in a tart dish, covered with foil for about 20 minutes until it is light golden brown and set.
While dough is baking, fry the bacon until nicely browned and crispy, drain and cool on paper towels, then break into pieces.
In the same fat the bacon rendered, pour off excess and sauté onions until soft.
In a bowl, beat eggs together, then add milk and cream and continue whisking until incorporated, season with salt and pepper
Mix in cheese and half the bacon.
Remove the baked tart shell from oven and line with onions and remaining bacon.
Pour custard into the case and place back into the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until custard is set.
Allow to cool down and serve warm or at room temperature.
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