There’s a lot of mystery surrounding pastry and as someone who’s never been much of a baker I have admit I find the topic a bit intimidating. A big problem for me has been consistency: while the basic ratio for shortcrust pastry is a 2:1 mix of flour to fat I always found myself having to add more liquid than the recipe I was using specified. I also found that I’d have to knead the dough for longer to make it come together which only encourages excessive gluten formation: the main thing you want to avoid.
However, an excellent post on Serious Eats I found recently has helped me produce the best pastry I’ve managed to date. It’s a fantastic a fantastic piece of food writing, the sort I really love where a bit of scientific rigour can show how formerly unquestioned assumptions about cooking can often be quite wrong and how small, but informed, alterations to a common process can result in a superior product.
The most counterintuitive part of the recipe is the first stage where you over-process half the flour and all the fat to make a paste that conventional baking says cannot produce a good pastry. By adding the rest of the flour to this paste you can closely control the amount of liquid required to bring the dough together. If you want to know why, you’ll have to read the article because it deserves to be read in its entirety; either way, eliminating this guesswork is a major step to gaining more consistent outcomes.
The other unusual element here is the use of half water and half vodka, as the alcohol does not promote the formation of gluten and makes for a more flaky crust. And there’s no need to worry about any harsh residual taste because the vodka evaporates during the blind baking stage due to its low boiling point.
For the filling I dug out my trusty copy of Harold McGee’s On Food And Cooking and found some good tips such as ensuring that any vegetable ingredients being added to a custard should be precooked: this lowers the chances of leaking juices causing curdling or uneven setting. You can also reduce the amount of egg required by replacing milk with double cream as it contains less water to dilute the egg proteins.
The ratio given by McGee for a quiche filling firm enough to cut is uncharacteristically imprecise by calling for two eggs per 250ml of liquid without mentioning the size of the eggs or referencing whether that liquid is milk or cream. I then found another recipe which gave a 2:1 ratio of dairy to eggs so I just decided to weigh two yolks and one white on my scales and add twice the amount of double cream. The reason for the extra yolk is it gives a creamier custard.
Finally, if you have meat thermometer it makes determining when the filling has set far easier: once the centre hits 75°C take it out of the oven and allow to cool a bit. Again, eliminating guesswork will nearly always produce a more consistent result.
For the pastry
100g white flour
For the filling
50g nettles (leaves only)
25g wild garlic
Grated nutmeg, pinch of
1 egg whites
2 egg yolks
Double cream (double the weight of the egg liquid)
- For the pastry, add half the flour and the salt to a food processor and pulse a few times to mix.
- Add the butter and lard to the bowl and pulse as many times as necessary until no dry flour is left. The amount of pulses will depend on the power of the processor but the end product should look very clumpy and not sand-like.
- Redistribute the dough around the processor blades and sprinkle over the rest of the flour.
- Pulse again a few times to incorporate the flour.
- Tip the contents of the processor into a large bowl.
- Sprinkle the water and vodka over the dough and using a spatula press the dough into a ball.
- Flatten the ball into a disc shape and wrap in Clingfilm.
- Leave to rest in the fridge for a few hours or even overnight.
- Lightly flour the work surface and rolling pin and roll out the pastry to 1cm thickness.
- Line the inside of a 20cm quiche tin with the pastry, flute the edges and put back into the fridge to rest for around half an hour.
- For the filling, over a medium heat melt the butter until starts foaming.
- Add the nettles, garlic and nutmeg and sauté until wilted.
- Remove from the leaves from the pan and roughly chop.
- In a bowl, whisk the eggs and cream together with a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Take the quiche tin out of the fridge and prick the base a few times using a fork.
- Line with baking parchment and add some baking beans to the tin (with more pressing against the side than in the middle).
- Bake for around 15-20 minutes until the sides have crisped up.
- Remove the beans and bake for another 5 minutes until light golden.
- Take the pastry out of the oven and lower the heat 130°C.
- Scatter the chopped leaves evenly around the base of the quiche.
- Pour the egg mixture into the quiche base and place in the oven.
- Bake for around 10-15 minutes or until the custard is 75°C when measured in the centre.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
- Cut in half and serve with some dressed watercress.