What is a Quiche Without a Crust?

Walking HenA quiche is a savory custard — but it’s not the only one. There are flans, sformato, and gnaffron (and maybe a few I am forgetting about).

The differences between savory flan, savory custard, Italian sformato, and French gnafron are minimal, if they exist at all which is why they are usually grouped together and simply called savory flan in American cookbooks. (If they are included at all. Cookbooks mostly just toss in a few quiche recipes which have crusts).

The whole subject is a mess of different names and minor differences but the same ingredients. There are often differences in the size of the dish it is baked in, and what kind of dish — ramekin, custard cup, casserole.

And, then there is the subject of “texture”.

Most of the various savory custard dishes are cooked in a water bath (bain-marie). That’s when you cook the custard containing ceramic or glass dish (custard cup, ramekin, etc.) in a bigger dish/pan filled with water, and the whole lot is baked in the oven.  A bain-marie evens out the temperature, for a smoother, creamier mouth-texture. (The longer and slower an egg cooks, the more delicate the final product).

I always put the larger dish/pan into the oven, add the small cups, and then pour already warmed water into the larger dish.  Some cooks recommend cold water, some boiling.  I met it in the middle — warm.  (Although, after lots of trials, I never found any real difference between the starting water temperature and the final texture.)

The cooking science with a bain-marie,

The proteins in eggs just begin to coagulate at about 150 degrees Fahrenheit, egg whites at about 140 degrees.  If you surround your custard with a pan of water the water will insulate it from direct heat, and provide a constant temperature that will cook the egg proteins slower than if they were just in the oven at 325 degrees.

Think of it this way — if the oven is set to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, the water filled pan will never go higher than 212 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Crusted quiches never use a bain-marie because the crust would not properly crisp, and the crust itself has some insulating qualities for the egg. Plus, the texture desired with a quiche is more desirable as a slightly rougher, tougher egg dish.  So, when recipes dub something a “crustless quiche” they’re lying to you. it’s a custard, or a custard by another name.

Walnut Flan

1½ pounds walnuts

2 cups minced onions

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup dry white wine

¾ cup heavy cream

6 eggs, whisked

pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ teaspoon sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook walnuts in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Set aside, and let cool. Chop into ¼-inch pieces. Sauté onions in butter, and add chopped walnuts. Cook several minutes until onions are lightly browned. Pour in wine, and cook to burn off alcohol (several minutes). Add cream, and cover and cook 10 minutes on very low heat, occasionally removing cover to stir. Remove from heat, and let cool.

Grease six to eight ramekins or custard cups. Fold eggs into cooled walnut mixture. Mix well. Pour into custard cups until three-quarters full. Place cups in deep baking dish, and pour in water to about halfway up sides of cups. Place in oven, and bake 35 to 40 minutes or until knife inserted comes out clean.


Need to Use UP 16 eggs?

Eggs Dijon

16 eggs

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 cups sour cream

¼ cup dry white wine

pepper, to taste

½ cup grated sharp cheese

plain bread crumbs

8 English muffins, slightly toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix sour cream, mustard, salt, pepper, and wine with a wire whisk until well blended. Break eggs, leaving them whole, and put into greased 9 x 9–inch baking dish. Cover with grated cheese. Add sour cream mixture, and top with bread crumbs. Bake 15 to 20 minutes until egg whites are done and egg yolks are opaque. Serve over toasted English muffins.

Hangtown Fry


Blue Bell Coffee Shop Placerville CA

Placerville is the county seat of El Dorado County in California, founded in the gold rush days (Sutter’s Mill in nearby Coloma sparked the goldrush in 1849.  Placerville is often referred to as Hangtown by the locals.

The place had has a lot of names. It’s original name was Dry Diggin’s , because miners would haul dirt to the stream that runs through town, to separate the gold from the soil.

(Gold is heavier than dirt… I know this because my brother had a gold mine on the middle fork of the Feather River when I was a kid, and I’d spend hours “panin’ for gold” and getting quite a sunburn in the process. I never found much, but flakes.)

Dry Diggin’s was later called Hangtown by the locals. Some say it was a nickname, others claim it was the name.  It was certainly cited by that name by various writers of the era.  Hangtown because of the numerous hanging that happened there.  As a kid I’d hear these stories, but that’s part of the mystique.Fountain & Tallman Museum, a local historical society located in a beautiful rock rubble building, known as the “Biggest Little Museum in the West” promotes a much calmer version of why hangtown was called hangtown. They attribute it to just three hangings, of three bandits on horseback that came to town, guns blazing.  Nothing about stories I heard of the demise of Bloody Dick, or the other accounts of miscreants abrupt ends

Either way, Dry Diggin’s became Hangtown, until  the local temperance league (a women’s society, who’s main goal was to limit or outlaw the consumption and production of alcohol) pushed to change the name to something more proper.

The town was was a mining hub with lodging, banking, a gold assay office (place that will verify your mineral is gold, and certify its content, so you can get a dollar value on it), a place to buy supplies, groceries, or get a drink at the local saloons.

It was named Placer -ville. Placer is what a person placing a mining claim is called.  (A  place to place a placer?).

In 1854, the town was incorporated as Placerville, and a US Post Office was established there. (There was already a Southern Pacific Railroad spur through the town.)  Nevermind that, most people still called it Hangtown.

Although, the Blue Bell Coffee Shop is credited with creating HangTown Fry, the origination story is even more goofy. The story is that a miner, recently striking it rich, came into the El Dorado Hotel Saloon demanding the “most expensive meal in town”.  (The El Dorado Hotel was the nicest hotel in town.)

Never mind that the Taddich Grill in San Francisco — the oldest operating restaurant on the West Coast, opened in 1849, has promoted this the origin of Hangtown Fry as the omelet was created during the Gold Rush, when a condemned man ordered the two most expensive items he could for his last meal: oysters and eggs.

Either way, oysters had to be expensive in the 1850’s. The oysters  came a long arduous trip for any mollusk, from the ocean. Placerville is nearly 200 miles from the nearest oyster beds. Horses go about 4 miles an hour, so would be a 4-5 day trip.  Trains could do about 78 mph, but with stops, that would be a full day away. Ice wasn’t easy to come by, so these were some rugged oysters.

Chicken eggs and bacon would have had quite the trip, as well and were high priced because demand with all the influx of miners looking to strike-it-rich flooded into the are, before any farming infrastructure set up for the Gold Rush.

AS the “TAMER” story goes, the goldminer was hungry, so he ordered the El Dorado barkeep to instruct the cook to fry up “a mess of eggs, bacon, and some oysters”.

Condemned man, nouveau riche, whatever.  There are French and Italian recipes that pre-date this which combine eggs and oysters. It’s a thoughtful combination.

The Blue Bell Coffee Shop  promoted it, and had it on the menu. It was “the thing to order” when passing through the area.  My parents always stopped there when was open (from 1930 to about 1970,). They always had Hangtown Fry.

But, my no means was it the only restaurant serving in in Northern California, although many amended the dish to add onions, bell peppers, cheese,  spices.  One recipe I found called for a Hollandaise sauce dollop on top.   <ewww>

The dish is best plain — with three ingredients: eggs, bacon and oysters.

The Blue Bell Cafe recipe (serves one)

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon milk

mix of cracker crumbs and bread crumbs

oil (optional)

3 oysters

2 slices of bacon

2 eggs, beaten lightly

Mix milk with eggs, and then put oysters into the mix.  Pull out oysters, and roll them in bread crumbs.   Set aside.  In skillet fry bacon until lightly browned (and just before its crisp). Add oil to bacon grease, if needed. Line up the bacon so that it is parallel (like two railroad tracks) and pour some of the beaten eggs over the top of the bacon, and then add oysters to bacon, and add the remaining egg. let it cook, until the bottom can be lifted and fold over, as an omelette. And cook until the center is set.  Dish up so that the bacon and is on top.

In 1975, Gourmet Magazine omitted the bacon, but left in the bacon fat. It’s tasty. (I’ve found more variations on this recipe than the original.)

1975 Gourmet Magazine Hangtown Fry

4 oysters

2 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons heavy cream

2 tablespoons bacon fat

salt and pepper to taste.

In a skillet, saute oysters in bacon fat. Mix eggs and cream, and pour over oysters. Cook until the eggs are set.

I know it sounds weird to have oysters with eggs, but its actually really tasty..  pairs well with some breakfast Champagne… (Mimosa or Kir). In the Goldrush days it became the mark of prosperity to order it. It was THE status symbol of the day, and considered good luck. Who doesn’t need some tasty good luck?