Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Choose your Case, Fill your Flan

Today will be concentrating on quiches and flans. These eat very well with salads, and the only difference between the two is that a 'quiche' filling is traditionally made using eggs, cream and cheese, and a 'flan' (although having a similar appearance) need not be made with any of these. Both are just a shallow round pastry (or other) that holds a hot or cold and set savoury filling. Sometimes a flan (usually dessert) is called a 'tart', and a 'tart' with a pastry lid is then called a 'pie'.

Starting with the case itself - normally the richer the filling, the plainer the pastry used, so generally shortcrust pastry is the cook's first choice, although flaky, ruff puff, and puff pastry (even filo pastry) can work well. Try being creative and use crushed water biscuits, cereals and crispbreads to hold the filling (similar to making the base for a cheesecake). One example of this will be given today.

Nutritionally, the best pastry to use for quiches and flans are those made using plain white or wholemeal flour. This brown flour does make a crumblier dough that can be somewhat tricky to work with but is nutritionally better for us. The easiest way to handle pastry made with wholewheat flour is to leave the prepared dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before using, and then roll the pastry between two sheets of kitchen foil or cling film. When ready to line the tin, peel off the top sheet, lift the bottom sheet and flip the pastry over into the tin, and gently press round to fit before peeling off the second sheet. Always roll the pastry out larger than you need as it will shrink slightly when cooking. Recently chefs prevent shrinking by easing the pastry into the tin and the excess overlapping the sides, then filled and baked before carefully shaving the extra bits off once fully cooked.

When using shortcrust pasty, it is always better to part-cook the pastry 'blind' before filling, this ensures a crisp dry base. If this is not done, the base can remain slightly undercooked - and seem 'soggy'. Even if a recipe does not suggest first 'blind' baking, it is worth partly cooking in this way for 10 minutes. Another way to help crisp up the bottom pastry is to heat up a baking sheet in the oven when heating the oven itself, so the flan tin can rest on this and the heat immediately starts crisping the pastry base. Personally I always cook a quiche or flan in a metal tin, as it makes for a crispier pastry, and have never had much success using a ceramic dish.

Although dairy products appear in some of today's recipes, there are substitutions that can be used, such as yogurt instead of cream, soya milk instead of cow's milk, and sunflower or olive oil instead of butter. Cheese too can be adjusted to suit your taste and pocket. 'Quark', curd or cottage cheese can replace cream cheese, Edam cheese is lower in fat than other hard cheeses, there are also vegetarian cheeses. Instead of egg yolks, egg whites can be whipped and folded into the filling - this way you still have protein but less calories, less cholesterol - although the filling will be 'fluffier' - more like a souffle.
Skimmed milk can be 'enriched' by stirring in one or two spoons of powdered milk. This makes it taste creamier and adds extra protein.

Although there are plenty of recipes around to make basic shortcrust pastry, here are two that can be eaten by vegans.
(V) - vegetarian; (Vg) -suitable for vegans
wheat and soya pastry: for a 9" (23cm) flan. (V/Vg)
6 0z (175g) plain wholemeal flour
2 oz (25g) soya flour
3 tblsp sunflower or other veg. oil
cold water
pinch of sea or rock salt
Sieve together the two flours, add the salt, then - using a fork - blend in the oil, adding enough water to make a pliable dough that is fairly firm. Wrap and chill in the fridge before rolling.

basic vegan pastry: for an 8" (20cm) flan (V/Vg)
8 oz (225g) plain wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 tblsp sunflower or other veg. oil
3 tblsp water
pinch of sea or rock salt
Sift together the flour and b.powder, then add the salt. Mix together the oil and water and stir this into the flour, mixing together as rapidly as possible. Wrap and chill as above.

This next 'case' is normally used for a fruit dessert, being first baked, then filled with cooked and cooled fruit. However, see no reason why it couldn't be used for a savoury flan, but if so probably - because of the longer cooking time - better baked after filling.
crunchy case for a flan: 8" (20cm) flan (V)
6 oz (175g) crunchy oat cereal
2 oz (50g) wholemeal flour
2 oz (50g) veg. margarine or oil
Crush the cereal if in large pieces, and mix with the flour. Melt the margarine and blend this into the oats. Press firmly and evenly into a greased flan dish, and cook 'blind' for about 15 - 20 minutes at 190C, 375F, gas 5, or until crisp. Leave to cool before filling with fruit.

This flan uses no eggs, but does contain milk and a 'meat substitute', so suitable for most vegetarians, but not vegans. Instead of using hydrated TVP 'ham', a Quorn or other vegetarian 'ham' could be used.
Broad Bean and 'Ham' flan: an 8" flan (V)
pastry to line an 8" (20cm) flan dish
6 oz (175g) fresh or frozen broad beans
3 oz (75g) soya (TVP) ham chunks, hydrated
1 oz (25g) polyunsaturated margarine or oil
1 oz (25g) wholemeal flour
1/3 pint (180ml) milk
pinch of dried mixed herbs
salt and pepper
Line the flan dish with the pastry and bake blind at 200C etc. for 35 - 30 minutes, or until cooked.
Meanwhile, cook the broad beans until just tender, drain well then (if you wish) remove the outer (papery) white skins.
Heat the margarine/oil in a pan and stir in the well drain ham chunks and fry gently for 5 minutes, stirring all the time, then sprinkle over the flour and cook for one minute. Stir in the milk and bring to the boil. When thickened, add the herbs and seasoning to taste. Finally, stir in the broad beans. When these are heated through, pour the mixture into the cooked case and level the top. Serve immediately.

This next flan is a favourite as almost any salad ingredients can be used, and it also makes use of left-over cooked rice (brown or white, plain or lightly spiced). Within reason the cook can adapt this recipe according to the food she has available, and it doesn't really matter what nuts are used, as long as some are, as they add both crunch and protein to this dish. The flan case is baked ahead, left to get cold and the filling added when ready to eat.
Twice as Nice Rice Flan: 8" flan (V)
1 precooked 8" (20cm) flan case
3 oz (75g) cooked rice (white or brown)
3 spring onions, trimmed and sliced
4" (10cm) piece of cucumber, diced
8 radishes, trimmed and sliced or diced
small bunch of watercress, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
3 tomatoes, chopped
1 oz (25g) walnuts, chopped
2 oz (50g) cream, curd or cottage cheese
3 - 4 tblsp mayonnaise
salt and freshly ground black pepper
paprika pepper
Mix the rice with the prepared salad ingredients. In another bowl mix the cheese with just enough mayo to make it moist without being too wet, then stir this into the rice mixture. Add seasoning to taste, stir in the nuts and then spoon the mixture into the flan case. Level the top and sprinkle with paprika. Best served immediately or a.s.a.p.

This is a good one to make when we feel our stores are depleting faster than we can afford to replace. Hopefully most of us can still manage to find an onion, a few red lentils, some milk powder, and the last scrapings from a jar of Marmite somewhere in the kitchen.
Mother Hubbards Lentil Flan: 8" flan
pastry to line an 8" (20cm) flan dish
4 oz (100g) red lentils
1/3rd pint (200ml) water
2 tblsp dried milk powder
1 large onion
1 tbslp sunflower or other vegetable oil
1 tsp dried mixed herb OR..
...1 tblsp chopped fresh mixed herbs
1 tsp Marmite
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
Roll out the pastry and line an 8" (20cm) flan tin. Heat the oil in a pan and gently fry (saute) the onions until just becoming tender. Add the lentils and the water, stir in the milk powder then cook at medium heat for about 15 - 20 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Drain well to remove any liquid that has not been absorbed.
Mix the lentils with the herbs, Marmite and egg, adding seasoning to taste. Pour into the flan case and bake for about 45 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 or until the filling is quite firm. Can be served hot or cold.

Flans can be either savoury or sweet, so will conclude today's selection with a couple of yummy 'desserts'. As the first contains eggs, honey, wholemeal bread (crumbs), and dates this is both healthy and nourishing. Served cold, a wedge of this could be part of a packed lunch.
There is no reason (other than tradition) why a flan is cooked in the round. Often I make flans in square tins as they are easier to portion out. For that matter, same goes for pizzas but that is another story.
Date and Coconut Flan: 8" (20cm) size
an 8" flan dish lined with uncooked pastry
3 eggs, beaten
5 fl oz (150ml) single cream or evap. milk
4 tblsp runny honey
1 oz (25g) fine wholemeal breadcrumbs
1 - 2 tsp mixed spice
4 oz (100g) dates, chopped into small pieces
3 oz (75g) desiccated coconut
Stir the cream, honey and spice into the beaten eggs, making sure they are mixed well. Then add the chopped dates with the crumbs and most of the coconut. Spoon into the pastry case, level the surface and bake at 200C, 425F, gas 7 for 15 minutes, then sprinkle the remaining coconut over the top, reducing oven temperature to 170C, 325F, gas 3 and bake for 25 minutes more or until firm in the centre. Serve cold.

No pastry needed to make this final dessert, but still a 'flan' in appearance. The flavour of the 'custard' can be varied by using vanilla extract instead of almond essence, or make a 'chocolate' version by adding 1 tablespoon of carob powder to the 'custard'.
Yogurt Custard Tart: 8" (20cm) size approx
4 oz (100g) muesli
2 oz (50g) polyunsatureated margarine
2 eggs
1 oz (25g) light muscavado sugar
half pint (300ml) plain thick yogurt
1 tsp almond essence (or other flavouring - see above)
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
1 oz (25g) flaked almonds, toasted
Melt the margarine and mix this into the muesli, then press onto the base and sides of a lightly greased flan dish.
Beat the eggs an sugar together, then add the yogurt and chosen flavouring and continue mixing until smooth. Stir in the milk, then when well blended, pour into the prepared flan and sprinkle the top with the almonds. Place immediately into the oven and bake at 140C, 250F, gas 1 for about half an hour or until a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean.
Can be served hot or cold, on its own or with fresh summer berries, or stewed winter fruits (eg the semi-dried apricot, prunes, dates etc).