A couple of years ago, I had this nutty idea that I could master French cookery within a few short months. Or, at least enough to pass an exam called the CAP de Cuisine. Students who pursue a career in the culinary arts in lieu of the traditional route culminating in a high school diploma followed by college must pass the CAP before embarking on their careers in the kitchen. In preparation for the CAP de Cuisine exam, students enroll in a 2-year program that equips them with food industry skills, such as French culinary techniques, the science of ingredients, kitchen and restaurant management, and food safety.
The CAP de Cuisine exam is also open to independent candidates who did not go to culinary school, such as those who would like to change careers. Though I had no intention of pursuing a career in the kitchen, I thought it would be a worthwhile challenge to learn how to cook like the French do and to sharpen my culinary chops. So, I signed up to take the exam. Part of my exam preparation consisted of learning basic cooking techniques and mastering the classic French dishes from Cuisine de Référence, which is the quintessential teaching/reference book for French cuisine.
As eager as I was to master all of the French classics, I simply didn’t have enough time to consecrate to this rather ambitious goal. The exam actually consists of multiple components that test more than just a candidate’s culinary expertise. Candidates must demonstrate their culinary prowess on a written test and prepare several dishes during a live practicum. Additionally, they must also have a certain level of proficiency in standard academic subjects, such as math, history, geography, etc.
Although I’ve indefinitely tabled my pursuit of a French culinary diploma, I did pick up a few essential kitchen skills as I cooked my way through the culinary reference book. I had started the exam prep by learning how to make the different types of French pastry dough, such as pâte brisée, pâte sablée and pâte feuilletée. Pâte brisée (shortcrust pastry dough) is often used to make quiches, while pâte sablée contains much more sugar and serves as the base of fruity tarts. Pâte feuilletée, which is a puff pastry used to make things like croissants, requires a bit more effort because the dough must be rolled and folded multiple times. The technique yields a puff pastry with many paper-thin layers characteristic of a well-made artisan croissant.
Unlike the pâte feuilletée, making a pâte brisée is a breeze. The dough itself actually only takes about 5 minutes to make, but it must rest in the fridge for at least an hour. This resting period is important because it prevents the dough from shrinking when baked. Once I saw how easy it is to whip up a pâte brisée, I’ve never gone back to using store-bought ones. When I make my own dough, my quiches always have a more pronounced butter flavor and a superior crunchy texture.
The ease and versatility of quiches make for a delicious Sunday afternoon lunch or a light weeknight meal. You can add virtually any combination of ingredients you like to them. For this quiche, I roasted bell peppers and combined them with feta cheese and sautéed leeks. I had never roasted bell peppers before and I feel as though I’ve totally been missing out! You just toss them into the oven until the skin chars, and once cooled, the skin peels off with little effort. Roasting the peppers brings out their sweetness, which complements the savoriness of the feta and sautéed leeks. Paired with a simple green salad, this roasted pepper and leek quiche will certainly satisfy just about any appetite!
Roasted Pepper and Leek Quiche
Makes 5-6 servings
250 g flour
5 g salt
50 ml water
125 g butter
1 egg yolk
2 bell peppers
33 cl whipping cream
15 cl milk
150 g feta cheese
salt (to taste)
ground black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp dried thyme
Sift the flour with salt onto a clean surface. Divide the butter into small cubes and add them to the flour. Using your hands, gently work the butter into the flour until each piece of butter is coated with flour. Quickly smush the butter into the flour and then rub the mixture between the palm of your hands until it has a fine, sandy texture.
Form a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the egg yolk and water to the center. Mix the wet ingredients by grabbing onto them with your hands and squeezing. The ingredients will seep through between your fingers. Continue to mix the ingredients like this without kneading nor overworking the dough. To ensure that the ingredients are homogeneously combined, knead the dough with the palm of your hand, working from the center of the dough and pushing down and outwards. Continue working the dough until it no longer sticks to the work surface.
Shape the dough into the form of a ball and lightly flour its surface. Cover it with saran wrap and allow to rest in the fridge for at least an hour. You can prepare the dough beforehand and refrigerate it overnight or even freeze it.
Remove the dough from the fridge and let it warm up for about 15-20 minutes on the counter. Once the dough has softened up a bit, place it on a surface generously dusted with flour. Flatten the dough so that it forms a disk, and with a rolling pin, roll from the center away from you towards the edge. Lift the dough up and turn it about 45 degrees. As with the first roll, roll from the center towards the edge away from you. Continue turning the dough and rolling it until you have a circle about 40 cm in diameter.
Carefully roll the dough onto a floured rolling pin. Then, unroll it over a 28 cm quiche pan, preferably one with a removable bottom. Press the pastry dough into the pan, trim off the excess, and prick the bottom with a fork. Cover the surface with dried beans and bake until it begins to color, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and clear out the beans.
Roast the bell peppers on a sheet pan in an oven heated to 260°C until the skin is charred on all sides (about 30 minutes). Turn the peppers at least twice so that all sides are evenly charred. Then, wrap the peppers in foil or an airtight container. Once the peppers are cooled, peel away the charred skin and discard. Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds and stem, and slice the peppers into ¾ cm strips.
Thoroughly rinse the leek to remove any dirt. Cut off the root end and remove the dark green leaves (save these leaves for soup making). Thinly slice the remaining white and light green part of the leek. Heat up about half of a tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the leeks until softened (about 5-6 minutes). Season with a pinch of salt and ground black pepper.
In a bowl, mix the cream and milk with the eggs, salt, ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, and thyme. Evenly distribute the roasted bell peppers and feta cheese on the surface of the partially baked pastry shell. Then layer the sautéed leeks over them. Pour the cream and egg mixture over the peppers, feta and leeks. Bake in oven pre-heated to 180°C for 25-30 minutes. Once done, the surface of the quiche should be golden brown and its volume increased from puffing up. Verify doneness by inserting a knife into the center. If it comes out clean, remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Best enjoyed with a green salad.
*Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking has a fantastic illustrated section demonstrating how to properly roll pastry dough and now to press it into a quiche pan.
Bonne dégustation & thanks for reading!