Tuesday, August 14, 2007
It was my turn to host book club, and, since we were reading a book where the action takes place in France, I decided to bake a few quiches. I read Rose's The Pie and Pastry Bible on quiches, and, since Rose recommends a lard crust for a quiche, that's what it had to be.
When I was growing up, I heard about lard pie crusts. My reaction to putting lard in anything was "Eeewwww--lard. How gross!" I was thankful that I was in a modern household and that my mother used Crisco instead of disgustingly old-fashioned lard. Lard--the look and sound of the word itself was repellent. Then, when I started baking myself, I gradually changed from Crisco to butter (on the rare occasions I tried to make pastry). I was very pleased with myself that I now used butter instead of disgusting lardy-looking Crisco. But, as you know, lard is becoming fashionable again, but I didn't want just any old lard. I wanted fine lard--lard de cuisine. I went to Clancy's Meat Market, which not only has fine lard, it has locally produced lard from happy pigs.
I was so thrilled that I went around all last week telling people about my upcoming lard crusts. Oddly, many people, especially those picky vegetarians, did not share my enthusiasm.
I made the tart crust last night (not just pie crust, you may note, but tart crust) when Sarah came over to watch Big Love with me. She watched me put it together, but was not impressed with my technique, which did leave something to be desired, I'll admit, or with the bacony smell of the lard. "Don't get me wrong, Mom, I love bacon--I'm just not so sure I love it in my pie crust."
Heat and humidity are enemies of good pie crust--that's what Rose told me when I emailed her to ask if there were any special tips. "Work quickly and freeze your flour." I did freeze the flour, but nothing was going to make me work quickly. I am a novice, after all. I did come up with two very soft discs of pie dough, which I refrigerated overnight, hoping that they would firm up a bit overnight.
Today I came home early from work to make the quiches. Rose also recommended a rolling pin sleeve, so I went to Kitchen Window to make that purchase. Unlike most special purchases, the rolling pin sleeve was dirt cheap--about $2.00. In order to make the trip worth my while, I also bought another tart pan, some ceramic pie weights, and a pastry cloth. (I told the clerk at Kitchen Window that these purchases were meant for making lard pie crusts. She was unimpressed).
The rolling pin sleeve was well worth the money, but the pastry cloth was a loser; instead of sticking to the counter, the crust stuck to the cloth. I had to scrape it off, shape it into another disc, and put it back in the refrigerator. At this point, it was starting to look like only disaster was in the cards, and I thought about making a quick run to the grocery store to pick up some Betty Crocker pie crust, but I thought I might as well make sure that nothing could be salvaged before I took such a drastic step.
And a good thing I kept at it. Not only did the quiches turn out to be delicious, but they also didn't look too bad. I made one caramelized onion quiche and one spicy spinach quiche, both from TP&PB.
The crusts were decent, but it was the fillings that were fabulous. Both are easy to make, although it takes more than an hour to properly caramelize the onions. And making two things at a time is always confusing to me because I tend to get the two recipes mixed up. Again, though, nothing bad happened. My book club was properly in awe of the two beautiful quiches. I did not announce that the pie crusts were made of lard because I have finally come to understand that hardly anyone thinks this is a good thing.
Here are some conclusions I have drawn after my two-day quiche-making adventure: pastry is much more difficult than bread. Bread pretty much does what you want it to do, and if it doesn't, you can just tell yourself that it looks rustic. You have to be much more skilled, practiced, and artistic than I am to make pastry look good. Also, it is very easy to justify baking at least one loaf of bread every week. Bread is the staff of life. No one has ever called banana cream pie the staff of life. And if I tried to bake every pie in The Pie and Pastry Bible in one year, I'd probably get better at baking pies, but I'd also get considerably fatter. (After all, the pejorative term is "lardbutt," not "breadbutt.) I don't know how Rose manages to keep so slim.