Quiche was the first French food I remember my mother making, even though the way she made it wasn’t exactly français. Not even close. It was the late 1970s in rural Wisconsin, so the pastry was actually pie dough, and the cheese was dyed yellow. The lack of authenticity didn’t matter to me—I was young and naïve. All I knew was that nothing tasted better than eggs, cheese, and bacon baked in a crust.
Quiche was all the rage back then. My mom was a home economics teacher, and this was one of those recipes she practiced at home before teaching to her students. There were quiches from scratch, and quiches from store-bought crusts. Although much of my lingering in the kitchen had to do with eating raw cookie dough, I liked measuring ingredients, and it seemed only natural that I would learn to cook quiche from her.
But it was never to be. I grew into a teenage boy at the outset of the 1980s. By then, quiche had become a symbol of the gender wars—a sacrificial offering at the hand of a certain satirical, best-selling book taken too literally. Quiche was the yellow canary in the decade’s cultural coal mine. Real men could not eat quiche, and boys coming of age did not spend time in the kitchen at their mother’s side.
It wasn’t until the kinder, gentler ‘90s when I was living on my own that I, like many men, revisited an early interest in cooking, a curiosity that was strong enough to survive a decade of dormancy. Yet by then, quiche was a historical footnote in the broader culture, consigned mostly to the freezer section of the supermarket. It was, conveniently enough, premade, and ready for your oven. Or, if you were adventurous, there was always the pre-baked shell and carton of frozen filling dubbed Pour-a-Quiche. The lexicon of French cooking had translated poorly into the harried American home.
Still, quiche remains a classic Mother’s Day brunch item. I long ago taught myself how to make it, although I doubt many other men make quiche for their wives or mothers, despite the fact that we live in more enlightened times. Our current president, who was raised by a single mother, may not eat quiche, but surely he appreciates on some level a dish with such a sturdy infrastructure and a filling of opportunity. I know I do.
I still love eggs, cheese, and bacon baked in a crust. My current version is dedicated to my mother out of gratitude for inspiring me to cook, despite my early absence from her kitchen. The filling is overflowing with morels, reminiscent of the ones that grew in the woods on my grandmother’s farm. Mom would hunt them when we visited every spring, then fry them in butter. Repulsed by the spongy caps as a child, I refused to taste them. I eventually tried the scarce delicacy as an adult, but only because of her passion for them.
It pays to trust your mother.
I use an American pie tin in a nod to the quiche of my childhood, although my crust is a French pâte brisée, in part because I prefer its authenticity, but also because I never cook easy. America being America, it’s possible to find recipes for crustless quiche in even the best of cookbooks, but without crust, there is no quiche. That would be a frittata, which is fine for another time, but not for this occasion. On Mother’s Day, real men make crust.
Morel and Bacon Quiche | Steve Subera | Serves 6 to 8
Note: While seductive, morel mushrooms can be scarce, not to mention prohibitively expensive. Even though Mom’s worth it, she’ll understand if you substitute another favorite mushroom—preferably wild mushrooms, although even the standard button will do quite nicely. The filling requires only a single skillet, making for easy cleanup. Keep in mind that no matter how few dishes are dirtied, someone other than Mom ought to do them.
For the crust (makes enough for 2 quiches)
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
13 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cold water
For the filling
4 large eggs
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg (3 to 4 gratings)
2 strips bacon, preferably only lightly smoked
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 to 16 ounces morel mushrooms or a mix of wild and button mushrooms, cleaned and thickly sliced lengthwise
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup Gruyère cheese, grated
Special equipment: pie weights or dried beans
Make the crust
1. Place 1 cup of the flour, half of the butter, and the salt in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low until the butter and flour are completely blended. With the mixer running, add the remaining butter, followed by the remaining flour, and continue to mix on low just until blended. Add the water and mix on low until the dough has come together, is ever so slightly crumbly but mostly smooth, and has no visible streaks or chunks of butter. Do not overmix. Press the dough into an 8-inch disk. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) degrees. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position.
3. Unwrap the dough and place it between 2 large sheets of parchment paper. Working quickly on a cool surface, roll the dough into a circle, rotating it 90 degrees every once in a while until it is 1/8” thick.
4. Remove the top piece of parchment and carefully flip the dough over onto a pie plate using the bottom piece of parchment. Gently press the dough against the side and bottom of a regular 9-inch pie plate, being careful not to stretch the dough. Allow about 1/8 inch to hang over the sides of the plate, as the dough will shrink when bake. Cover and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes.
5. Gently line the dough with a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper. Place pie weights or dried beans over the entire bottom of the pan. Bake on the middle rack for 20 minutes. Remove the foil or parchment and the weights and continue baking until the crust is a light brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.
Make the filling
1. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (175°C).
2. Beat the eggs, cream, salt, pepper, and nutmeg until thoroughly combined. Be vigorous about it. Let the mixture stand at room temperature while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
3. In a medium skillet over medium-low heat, cook the bacon just until it has rendered its fat and is barely crisped at the edges. Transfer the bacon to a plate, blot with paper towels, and rip it into small pieces.
4. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of those luscious bacon drippings from the skillet. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the butter and increase the heat to medium. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.
5. Spoon the mushrooms evenly over the partially baked crust and sprinkle with the bacon, thyme, and Gruyere. Stir the custard to ensure the ingredients haven’t settled, then pour the custard over the filling until it reaches about 1/4 inch from the top of the crust. You may have a little leftover custard, which you can bake in a muffin tin or cook in a small skillet as you would an omelet.
6. Bake the custard for about 35 minutes, give or take a few minutes, until the custard has just set. It should be a lovely shade of gold on the surface. Let the quiche cool slightly on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Recipe © 2010 Steve Subera. Photo © 2009 Valentin Likyov. All rights reserved.