Quiche: It’s What’s For Dinner

By on Thursday, December 9th, 2021 at 6:45 pm

Quiche is for dinner

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of quiche is Julia Child.

I watched a lot of The French Chef on PBS as a child, and her quiche lorraine was one of the first recipes I made from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. WGBH has a copy of the recipe online.

Although I couldn’t find a free clip of Julia Child making a quiche, there are plenty of people producing Julia Child quiche videos as they embark on their epic journey through her cookbook. The master of cooking every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking is Julie Powell, who way back in 2002 turned her project into a blog, a book, and a movie.

I read Julie Powell’s memoir, Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, back when it first came out. Like so many readers, I wanted to immediately start cooking through every recipe in the collection. And like so many of those people who attempted, I quit the project before finishing. I’ll admit I was probably not ever going to take a deep dive into the world of aspic. However, I did learn how to chop onions by following her instructions, and highly recommend taking her knife advice.

Now that brings us back to quiche. Julia Child’s quiche lorraine was one of the first recipes I cooked from the book in part because it was an easy, standalone meal. I also like quiche because when you’re hosting a party, it can be made in advance and is at least as good cold as it is hot – maybe even better. (I’m also a big fan of making bit-sized quiche, but that’s a whole other post.)

Quiche is a French egg tart, and like most great French foods, its origins are actually in Italy. The early 15th century cookbook Libro de arte coquinaria includes an egg tart that is more or less a modern quiche, and the classic cookery book was written by Martino da Como featuring medieval and renaissance cooking. The term quiche, however, is more likely related to the German word kuchen, meaning cake. The German connection makes a lot more sense when you consider the famous quiche’s namesake, Alsace-Lorraine, has changed hands between France and Germany countless times.

The thing with quiche, though, is Americans treat it like a morning food – breakfast, brunch, and on rare occasions, lunch menus. Trying to find a dinner quiche in America is like trying to find tap water in Europe: everyone will look at you funny and then pretend they don’t speak the same language.

In Europe, quiche is a decidedly an afternoon meal. Bistros and cafes and even restaurants with white linen tablecloths will serve quiche for dinner, either as a starter or a main. You’ll see it on a lunch menu too, but since breakfast is something for American tourists, it isn’t that common.

So why do Americans think quiche is a breakfast food?

Although quiche as we think of it today is about two centuries old in France, it was mainly Americanized in the post-war period. There are plenty of combinations of fillings for quiche, but by far the most popular in America was quiche lorraine. Julia Child introduced quiche lorraine in 1963, during the first season of The French Chef. The dish actually is introduced to Americans before that, with Julia Child perhaps the best known example. In Cosmopolitan, April 1952, Quiche Lorraine is featured in a large article about cheesy recipes, and is described as a “cheese custard pie,” and other instances of quiche Lorraine appear in magazines like Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home Journal through the 1950s.

Quiche lorraine, filled with bacon and cheese, is an ideal American breakfast. Americans love mixing bacon and eggs for breakfast. This is also the mythology behind Spaghetti Carbonara, where the debunked legend cites American soldiers’ desire for an American-style breakfast as the inspiration for creating the pasta dish made from egg and bacon. So it isn’t all that surprising that Americans think of quiche as breakfast. It is afterall, a breakfast sandwich in a crusty pie – bacon, eggs, and cheese is how I order a bagel in the morning. Pass the ketchup, please.

Quiche ingredients: bacon and cheese and onion

Here’s the thing: quiche is easy and fast to assemble but requires a solid forty to fifty minutes of baking after having prepared the crust. I don’t have time for that in the morning, and although I agree baking a quiche the night before is perfectly acceptable, that requires way too much forethought. But for dinner, the food prep is actually quite fast relative to other meals, and the baking time can easily translate to free time.

There are some shortcuts that can be taken, too. I would never do it today, but in my wayward youth, I would buy frozen pie crusts. There are actually some advantages beyond time savings. Store bought crusts don’t require a pie pan because they come packaged in a disposable one. We can also debate how industrial pastry is probably at least as flaky as anything I can make on my own, but I realize there are more accomplished bakers out there who will strongly disagree.

I’ve since (nearly) memorized Alton Brown’s pie crust recipe. This is my go-to pie crust. It’s also basically the only thing I ever bake. It’s robust enough to withstand my lax measuring standards.

I make basic pie crusts following Alton Brown’s recipe from Good Eats. I usually substitute 2 tablespoons of butter for lard because lard isn’t something I usually have laying around, but butter is something I almost always have a lot of. Last month we happened to have lard, so for the first time ever, the crust was baked with it. Wow. It definitely changes things a bit. On one hand, it turned out much flakier. On the other hand, I might like the all-butter crust better.

Despite Alton Brown’s warnings against single-use kitchen items, we have a set of pie weights in the house. I think they are worth having as long as you remember to lay down parchment before placing the pie in the oven. One time I overlooked this critical step and had a crust with pie weights embedded in it. Not so delicious.

With the crust baking (and the pie weights safely secured on top of parchment paper), it was time to turn the custard. Here’s where I was playing fast and loose. I mixed in three eggs instead of two, and equal parts of cream and milk, but all this was by eye. Plus I had chopped up some onion.

Onion isn’t usually included in quiche. Neither is garlic powder, but I usually have it too. Bacon and onion are two flavors that go together exceedingly well. One great example of this is flammkuchen, a thin-crust German-style pizza. If you were really looking to bend some food words, you might say I had made a Quiche flammkucken. Maybe that’s a stretch too far.

Since the crust was par-baked, I layered the fillings in first. The fat from the cheese and bacon help keep moisture away from the crust, and hopefully help avoid a soggy bottom. Cook everyday like Paul Hollywood might be tasting your bake. The disadvantage to layering the filling is it is less likely to be mix throughout the custard. For me, this isn’t a problem. I actually like the clear layers of filling, but not everyone does.

I baked it for forty-five minutes or so before even thinking about taking it out. I wanted that rich brown color on top of the eggs. How long it really takes to cook depends on how deep the quiche pan is. I was also watching the pie crust start to brown. Since it was parbaked, it already had some color. I have, in some instances, wrapped the quiche crust with tin foil to keep the crust from getting too dark. I’ve come around to say it is probably less necessary to do this and better to have a slightly darker crust edge.

One of the biggest mistakes is taking the quiche out of the oven too early, leaving you with an uncooked custard, or worse, runny scrambled eggs. It is of course totally possible to leave the quiche in too long, overcooking everything, but I actually think it is better to caution on the side of overbaked.

We had about half the quiche for dinner along with a light green salad. The next morning I had a slice of quiche for breakfast. It was great. Why didn’t I always have a quiche for breakfast?

quiche cross section


* indicates required