Quiche has been condemned as kitsch by the gourmet community after the decade of clunky hors d’oeuvres, shag carpets and disco parties. These days, it remains largely shunned or it sneaks its way into print under an alias of “savory tarts”. In my opinion, there’s really no reason for these disguises. When made correctly, quiche is the most elegant and sophisticated of eggy dishes.
Quiche was born in Lothringen, a medieval Germany city later acquired and renamed Lorraine by the French. The word quiche derives from ‘kuchen’, the German word for cake. However, the original quiche Lorraine was in fact a pie containing egg and cream custard with smoked bacon. (Cheese was added a bit later.) The bottom crust was first made out of chewy bread dough but it has since evolved into a delicate shortbread crust–which we are experts on of course (see episode 7)–or a simple pie crust. Legend has it that in 1399, a saffron and honey quiche was served at King Henry IV’s coronation. King Henry IV is fascinating by the way – he deposed his childhood playmate King Richard II and let him starve to death in prison and then spent most of his reign quelling rebellions and assassination attempts. I love the Middle Ages. Anyways, the word word ‘quiche’ first appeared in print in a French cookbook in the early 19th century. Quiche reached America in the 1950s and gained widespread popularity in the 1970s due to its versatility and savory and sweet applications.
Eggs serve innumerable roles in baking. The water in eggs (88% of the egg white) moistens starches, and converts into steam and helps leaven baked goods. Egg whites can trap air bubbles, creating basis for soufflés (see episode 2!). Importantly for quiches, the egg protein albumin coagulates in heat, which causes amino acid chains to unwind and exposes hydrophobic molecules to water. These lil’ phobes quickly bond to other phobes outside their original amino acid chains to avoid water. This forms a solid, interconnected mass that traps milk and cream into a soft gel. Thus, a custard. Custard is simply any liquid that has been thickened by eggs. Careful though, if you heat albumin too fast, the hydrophobic molecules will clump together and separate themselves from the liquid, forming curdled lumps. You get scrambled eggs in your cream and it is heartbreaking, trust me. Thankfully quiches are pretty simple – just pour your eggs into a pie and stick it in the oven and it should turn out great.