A few years ago I realised a long held dream of studying French cuisine at a top culinary school in London. What an incredible experience. Three months of knife skills, techniques and cooking against the clock. Difficult? Yes. A few setbacks and tears? Yes. But well worth it.

After returning home I had a great time recreating the dishes in my own kitchen – without an exacting French chef constantly hovering! It was also liberating having the freedom to make changes and put my own spin on the recipes.

Believe it or not one of my favourite classes was pastry. During the demonstration the chef rolled his pastry into the most perfect circle I’d ever seen. When it came time to cook my own quiche I realised what I’d been doing wrong for years. An epiphany!

So how do you make this divine quiche?

Firstly, let’s discuss the actual pastry. Of course you can make pastry in a food processor and probably most people do, but I still prefer to make it by hand. I enjoy getting my hands in to rub the butter into the flour and feel I have more control over the process. Although in truth it probably has more to do with the fact that I can’t be bothered to wash up the processor. But either way is fine – your pastry, your choice.

My first tip is in relation to the liquid. In many cases recipes provide an indication of the liquid to add once the flour and butter is incorporated, instructing you to add slowly. Below I’ve given an exact measure of 60ml. It’s not a misprint. Don’t panic. Just add the whole lot. If the pastry is too dry it becomes difficult to work with and ends up cracking, requiring endless patchwork. Voilà! The secret to my success.

My second tip is to bake your dough in a pastry ring, not a flan tin. I had never used one before I made quiche in class. It is rather French, I think. I was amazed at how lovely and crisp the base was. For years I had been making tarts with disappointingly flabby bases.

I asked around my friends and found that most of them, even the foodies of my acquaintance, had never heard of a pastry ring let alone ever used one. So for those of you also in the dark, it’s a metal ring that looks like a round baking tin but has no base and is placed directly on the oven tray (the tray must be lined with baking paper). The heat comes through the oven tray straight to the dough base and produces a lovely crisp finish. They’re not expensive and you should be able to find one at a good kitchenware shop. But if you have trouble finding one a custard ring works just as well.

I should mention at this stage that for those of you not interested in making your own pastry, the ring works equally as well crisping up the base of bought pastry.

At school we made Quiche Lorraine. I’ve tinkered with the recipe, which means technically I should no longer call it that. So here is my reworked creation – simple perhaps, but in my opinion one of the finest things to ever come out of an oven.

 

Bacon & Gruyere Quiche

Serves 4

 

Shortcrust pastry

200g plain flour, sifted

Pinch salt

100g unsalted butter, cold and cubed

60ml cold water

 

Filling

1 tbsp olive oil

2 shallots, finely chopped

125g bacon, diced

70g gruyere cheese

2 eggs

1 egg yolk

250ml cream

Salt and pepper, to taste

Grated nutmeg (optional – just a few gratings)

1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

 

1 x 18cm pastry ring, approx. 3.5cm deep

 

Pastry

Add salt to the flour and rub butter into the flour until you have a sand-like texture – all the butter needs to be incorporated, but be careful not to overwork it.

Add the water and using your hands, bring it all together. Knead a few times by pushing the dough away from you using the palm of your hand until it’s smooth. Wrap the dough in cling film and store it in the fridge for at least 20-30 minutes so it has time to rest.

Now roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a circle approximately 2-3mm thick. If you turn the dough by a quarter after every roll it will help to keep the round shape (although I can’t imagine ever getting as perfect a circle as our chef did).

Place your ring on a metal oven tray (ensure the oven tray is lined with baking paper).

Place the dough over the ring and carefully lift and drop to line the ring. Press it into the sides carefully but firmly (a good way to do this is to use a round piece of dough to prevent your fingers from stabbing through it). It’s quite nice to have the dough rising above the top of the ring so before you cut away the excess pastry, press down from the top to create a 5mm thickness. Once you’ve cut away the excess you can then press the thickness upwards so it rises above the top of the ring.

Prick the bottom of the pastry a few times with the tines of a fork. Line with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Rest in the fridge for another 15 minutes.

Set your oven to 180°C and cook the pastry for 20 minutes, or until lightly golden, but not browned. Remove the beans and return to the oven for another 5 minutes to cook the base.

 

Filling

Add the olive oil to a pan and sweat the shallots until they’re translucent. Add the bacon and cook until lightly coloured – you don’t want it too crispy.

Cut the gruyere into small cubes (or you could grate it) and stir it into the bacon and shallots, along with the parsley. Scatter this mixture over the base of the pastry.

Whisk the eggs, egg yolk and cream in a jug and add the seasoning and nutmeg.

Take the tray over to the oven and once you have it settled securely on the oven rack, slowly pour in the mixture (you don’t want to transfer a filled pastry case from one side of the kitchen to the other – if it spills it can make your pastry soggy). It’s a wonderful moment when you pour that rich eggy cream mixture into the pastry case.

Cook at 180°C for 30-40 minutes. It really does depend on the oven. You want it to be set and a knife to come out cleanly, but only just. Don’t overcook it. If it is just cooked, you will have the most divine texture. Slide the pastry ring onto your serving plate and then carefully remove the ring.

Quiche shouldn’t be eaten piping hot so rest for 10 minutes before you devour with a green salad and crusty bread. I’ve said it serves four and it would do quite nicely, but I made it when I had a friend over for lunch and the two of us happily polished off the whole thing.

Published by Tracey O'Brien