Sunday, January 2, 2011

Getting crusty

This is  my Mushroom, Leek and Pesto Quiche. Yes, pesto in a quiche is besto! (The coriander pesto is the layer of green just above the crust). 

I made this quiche to accompany my entry in Monday's  installment of Don't Call Me Chef. We (Marty, Hungy C and I) each had to write about our favourite kitchen gadget/utensil and I chose my greandmother's mortar and pestle which I use for everything. The pesto for this quiche? Yup, hand pounded. Made by hand. In a mortar and pestle. Sooo good. You can read the Don't Call Me Chef  article  tomorrow for more on that. 

So, while the quiche tasted great, the real jewel of this quiche is its wholemeal crust: basic shortcrust pastry but with more wholemeal flour than plain flour. The wholemeal flour adds texture and flavour to the pastry. Plus its healthier.  

Shortcrust pastry has got to be one of the easiest pastries to make. There are, however, several things to  remember in order to make a flaky but not brittle pastry.

First is, you have to keep all ingredients as cold as possible. Cold butter and chilled water, primarily. Some chefs recommend that you place your measured flour in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes before starting. I didn't but you may want to try it.

Next, you have to work fast and try not to handle the flour/dough too much.

Ready? Ok, lets go..

First things first: the flour. A basic shortcrust recipe would have you using plain flour, the kind you use for cakes and pastries and not the strong, high protein flour that's used for breads. Use fresh flour, not old or stale flour: you know, your pastry is only as good as the flour you put into it! Sift the flour a couple of times so it becomes airy, which is key to a lovely pastry. Add the salt and whisk together to mix.

Now comes the butter, unsalted please. The flour to butter ratio is usually about 2:1. So if you are using 300g flour, you'd need about 150g butter. Cold butter, remember? Cut into cubes and add to the flour.

Using a knife, cut the butter into the flour until all the butter (now in tiny pieces) has been coated with the flour. Now use your hands and quickly and lightly rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Left the mixture as high as possible as you rub and let it fall back into the bowl -- no, this is not a game -- to incorporate more air. 

If the butter starts to get greasy, put the bowl in the fridge a bit and resume.

You will have some small pieces of butter and that is good because once you roll the pastry and bake it, the little pieces will melt and make the pastry... 

Now comes water. You need cold water. Not a lot, just 2-3 tbsp to bind the flour together. Sprinkle one or two tablespoons of water first and gauge f you need more. If you add too much water, your dough will be sticky and sloshy and just impossible to roll out. 

But, if you don't add enough water, the baked pastry will crumble and fall to pieces. 

No win, right? 

Once the water has been added, you have to, once again, work fast. Use your fingers or a knife (some insist the flour should be handled as little as possible) and get the dough to come together. Add more water if necessary until the dough completely comes off the bowl and you get a nice and smooth ball of dough.

Wrap the ball in plastic and shill for 30 mins. At least.

Place the chilled ball of dough on a floured surface. Usually, you are now required to rollthe pastry out till its about 2cm thick and then transfer it, carefully, onto your pie dish. 

I decided to do away with the rolling. Instead, I flattened the dough with the heel of my hand on the floured surface and moved it onto the pie dish. I then continued to gently flatten the dough and line the dish.. Done? Now cover the dish with foil and place in the fridge (again) for another 30 mins or so.

Onto the pre-baking of the crust for about 15 mins. Why? Well, for one thing, if you don't prebake the crust, it may not hold the wet custard filling so well. Also, once the fillinf is added, the pastry won't cook so well and you may end up with a gorgesou custard but raw pastry. What? No! 

But first, we have to prick and wrap it. Oh before that, place your pie plate on a baking tray. Why? The crust is so delicate and might break when you put it in or take it out of the oven.  

Prick the base of the crust with a fork. Not for aesthetics but so the pastry can breath and when in the oven, it doesn't start to bubble and get uneven. 

Use foil to cover the edges which tend to brown faster than the base. Remove the foil later, when you are about to add the custard.

Bake in a preheated oven (180C) for about 15 mins. 

NEXT INSTALLMENT: Making the quiche.

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