When it comes to making things from scratch, I’m not a purist: there are many, many things that are simply much better in shop-bought form, and a whole host of other things that buying ready-made is so infinitely easier than making yourself and produces pretty much the same results.
In the first camp: ketchup and salad cream, fish fingers and filo pastry; in the latter, pasta, digestive biscuits and puff pastry. There are, however, a handful of things where the shop-bought alternative just can’t match up to the homemade versions: pesto, mayonnaise, proper American-style cookies, Yorkshire puddings and gravy, macaroni cheese and lasagne – and quiche. In this category, the ends justify the means. Of course, making them from scratch takes more effort, but in these cases it is justified.
I’m not entirely sure what’s going wrong with shop-bought quiche. I don’t pretend to have conducted comprehensive research on the matter beyond a lifetime of optimism trumping experience, but it seems a lost cause. The pastry is wan and flopsy, the fillings that promise so much, insipid; and they always have that strange wrinkle on the top of the cheese custard. A constant disappointment. Homemade quiche on the other hand is a joy: the pastry buttery, short and golden; the filling rich and cheesy, taut and burnished.
This is one of my favourite quiches to make: deep-filled with caramelised onions and a nutty, savoury gruyere. I cut the gruyere into small pieces rather than grating so that, when it melts on cooking, it will be slightly stringy when you cut into it. You can make ahead to the end of step three a couple of days in advance and refrigerate before baking on the day you wish to eat it.
Cheese and onion quiche
Makes: 1 large quiche (comfortably serves 4 hungry people)
Takes: 1 hour 20 mins, including chilling
Bakes: 40 minutes
For the pastry
170g plain flour
Pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
For the filling
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
50g cheddar, grated
3 large eggs, beaten
100ml whole milk
1. First, make the pastry. You can do this in a food processor, if you have one: just pulse the butter, flour and a pinch of salt together a couple of times, until it resembles bread crumbs. Add the egg yolk and a tablespoon of very cold water, and mix just until the dough comes together in a ball. You can do exactly the same with your hands and a mixing bowl. Either way, mix as little as possible. Wrap in clingfilm and pop in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.
2. While the pastry is chilling, you can prep your onions. Top and tail the onions, and cut into slim slices. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan and add the onions, a teaspoon of sugar and half a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Cook over a low heat, stirring regularly, until the onions are soft and have taken on a golden colour: this can take 20-25 minutes.
3. As you take the pastry out of the fridge, preheat the oven to 180°C. On a floured surface, roll the pastry into a circle about the thickness of a pound coin. It should be about two inches bigger than the circumference of your tin. Drape the pastry over the tin and, taking a little ball of the excess pastry, gently ease it into every nook and cranny until it lies flush against the tin. Chill for another 10 minutes.
4. Gently roll the rolling pin over the top of the tin so that the excess pastry falls away. Prick all over the pastry with a fork. Spread a sheet of baking paper over the pastry and weigh it down with baking beans or dried rice. Bake for 15 minutes then remove from the oven, remove the baking beans and paper and return to the oven. Bake it for 5-10 minutes until it is lightly golden.
5. Beat the eggs for the filling into the milk until incorporated and then stir in the grated cheddar. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Place the pastry in its tin onto a baking sheet. Spoon the caramelised onions into the tart case, spreading them to the edges. Cut the gruyere into small pieces and scatter over the top of the onions. Carefully pour the liquid over the mixture leaving about half a centimetre of pastry at the top.
7. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the tart is golden and taut. Allow to cool slightly before cutting and serving.