Old school: Mom’s pie crust set-up
I’ve never been one to start at the beginning. Stories require backing up and wait- wait- let me explain who that was. Dreams are recalled near the end, and only slowly do the initial details return. Directions often skip a step or come in fuddled order. I don’t know whether this is a consequence of a disorganized brain, or whether it’s a signal of confused genius (hah!). The Odyssey, with its in media res trope, was an enormity to my teenage brain when I first encountered it during high school. What a wonderful way to present information, and how validating and revelatory it was to find out that this was a classical method!
So it was no big surprise that, when facing the first week of my dough challenge, I couldn’t start at the beginning. Ruhlman arranges Ratio with doughs first, true, but he seems to traverse the category in a solids-to-liquids order. Bread comes first, pate-a-choux closes the chapter. To me, this was even more intimidating than the idea of tackling dough at all. Bread is something I want to build toward, not race into headfirst.
I flipped ahead in the book to take on my own personal Waterloo: pie crust. Supposedly “easy as.” But I’ve never found it that way. My crust is somehow tough AND crumbly. It collapses, it sticks, it refuses to roll in a smooth circle, it requires patching and crimping and pressing and it’s just easier to buy Pillsbury. But now I’m in it, and I’ve got to conquer this thing.
Despite this personal beginning, it wasn’t enough for me to just make a pie crust. You guys have probably all made pie crust. How boring would it be for me to just report on the quiche I made? At the end of the pie crust section, Ruhlman lists a number of alternatives and additions. Ground nuts, cracked peppercorns, a dusting of spices, parmesan cheese? I had never considered this. I had to try it out.
Our quiche would have a parsley crust. Coincidentally, this made my experimentation a perfect candidate for submission to Weekend Herb Blogging.
(I started with parsley, and then I started imagining adding lemon zest, and big particles of cracked black pepper, and then I realized that I just wanted some of the herbed buttermilk biscuits I so heralded when I made them for my Bittman project. Biscuits are in our future, friends.)
The ratio for pie dough – at least this one – is 3, 2, 1. Three parts flour, two parts fat, one part water. This is by weight. The problem here is, despite my desire to conquer this beast, and despite the impressive (read: verging on ridiculous) collection of kitchen tools I’ve amassed over the years (pot sticker press, anyone?), I don’t have a kitchen scale. That makes it hard to work in weights.
Fortunately, though he advocates it persistently, Ruhlman provides the general weight range for a cup of flour, so I worked with that.
Every pie crust recipe I’ve ever read, Ruhlman’s ratio included, calls for the water to be ice cold. I get this: you want the fat to remain cold during this construction phase so it can melt and leave flaky pockets as it bakes. Ice water keeps things frosty. I decided to skip the ice cube middle man and stuck my water in the freezer for a few minutes.
Usual procedure here: cut in the butter, add salt (and parsley, in this case), incorporate just enough water to bring things together, form into a disk and refrigerate to firm the fat back up. Then you can roll out, fill, and bake.
That all sounds pretty simple, but somewhere in there things tend to go wrong for me. This crust was (relatively) easy to work with. It didn’t disintegrate, it didn’t melt, it didn’t even crack in too many places. I think playing with biscuit and cracker doughs this past year accustomed me to the feeling and delicacy required to not destroy a circle of dough. It was barely moist and not exactly elastic, but it did have a bit of give. It baked to a lovely golden color, the flecks of green were intriguing and special, and the quiche that rested just wobbling between its sturdy walls was delicious.
But the crust was tough.
I can assume a few reasons for this.
1.) It’s possible my ratio was off. Because I didn’t weigh my flour, I may have had too much or too little in the mix.
2.) More likely, I overworked the dough. I pressed and kneaded and folded until the dry bits at the bottom of my mixing bowl were willing to play along, and perhaps I was too insistent about that demand for inclusion.
Like everything else, it seems pie crust needs a revisit to get it right. The feeling of the dough between my fingers is familiar, but I have to learn its textural intricacies. How much water is just enough? How crumbly can it be and still hold together? How much of the dryness do the fat and water absorb while the wrapped disk rests? Without another attempt or three, I won’t know.
But it tasted good. It crunched against the quiche and while it didn’t shatter at the slightest fork pressure, it did have that dryness against the teeth you expect from crust. The parsley contributed a grassy freshness and made the flavor more complex, especially the following day. I could see this working similarly well with dill, or thyme, or maybe even marjoram, all of which pair nicely with broccoli and mushrooms.
Broccoli mushroom quiche with parsley pie crust
(The quiche recipe is my mom’s. I’m sure she got it from somewhere, but I don’t know that she even knows where anymore. I’ve changed very little here, though her version usually contains bacon instead of mushrooms)
1 heaping, lightly fluffed cup of flour (or 6 oz., if you’re doing this properly)
1 stick (8 TB, 4 oz., etc) butter, cut into 16 or so pieces
2-4 oz. very cold water
2 TB chopped parsley (or dill, or oregano, or marjoram, or thyme… whatever you like best, I expect)
1 cup small broccoli florets
6-8 crimini mushrooms, sliced thinly
¼ cup green onions, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup milk
1 ½ cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup grated swiss cheese
First, make the pie crust. Measure out your water and put it into the freezer while you assemble your other ingredients.
In a bowl, combine the flour and butter pieces. With your hands or a pastry blender (I always use the pastry blender – I hate the too-dry feeling of slowly crusting flour on my hands), cut the butter into the flour until it is pea-sized chunks and smaller. Add the salt and herbs and combine gently.
Dribble in some water – 2 oz. to start with – and combine. If the dough really isn’t coming together, add more water. When you can press a few teaspoons of the dough between your fingertips and it stays together, turn the whole mass out onto a floured board and work lightly to bring it together into a disk.
Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and stow it in the fridge for half an hour or so.
When the dough disk is cold and firm, bring it back to your floured board and remove the plastic wrap. Roll it out, moving a rolling pin (or wine bottle) in a few strokes straight away from you and back toward you only. Avoid diagonal movements. The dough will become a long oval. Then, flip the dough over and turn it 90 degrees so you are facing a fat, flour-drenched oval instead. Roll again, still moving the rolling pin straight away from and back toward you. Repeat this process until you have a rough circle an inch or two larger than the diameter of your pie plate.
Lightly roll half of the dough around your rolling pin and drape it loosely into the pie plate, unrolling as you go, letting the crust settle into the dish. Trim, crimp, or fold over any dangling edges as aesthetically as you are able.
Set aside (or perhaps return to the refrigerator?) while you make the filling.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Heat some olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When it is shimmering, add the mushrooms and give them a good stir, taking care that as many as possible have contact with the bottom of the pan (that is, don’t leave them piled atop one another if you can help it). Then leave them alone for a good five minutes, or until they begin to develop a golden crust.
While the mushrooms are getting golden, steam or microwave the broccoli florets until they are just crisp-tender and still very bright green. Set them aside.
Turn your mushrooms and let them sizzle for another five minutes or so. When they are golden on both sides, turn the heat down to medium and add the onions. Cook until soft and translucent. Toss the broccoli in the pan, then add salt and pepper to taste. Mom often adds tarragon or marjoram at this point as well – start with ½ tsp and see what you like. Remove from heat and set aside to cool for a few minutes.
While the vegetables cool, beat the eggs and milk together. Add a dash of grated nutmeg, if you like, or some cracked black pepper. As the quiche bakes, this will become a lovely firm custard.
To assemble, fill the pie crust with the vegetables, spreading them in an even layer. Gently pour the custard over the vegetables. Toss the shreds of cheese together and spread them evenly across the top of the filling.
Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the cheese is golden and the quiche has puffed in the middle. If it’s not puffed yet, it’s not done. The ingredients will be cooked through, but when you cut into it you will find a disappointing watery layer at the bottom. Give it another few minutes.
With the center puffed and the cheese sizzling, remove the quiche from the oven and let it sit for 5-10 minutes so the cheese can solidify a bit and doesn’t string all over when you try to cut through it.