Why It Works
- Blind baking the crust before filling it guarantees it's crisp and flaky.
- Freezing the pie shell, docking it, and using pie weights minimize shrinkage during blind baking, so that the shell will be deep enough to fill.
It's one of the stranger facts of my eating life that, despite my profound love of cheese, I have the habit of almost never finishing any of it. The dairy shelf on my fridge door is always littered with little packages of leftover cheese nubbins that I somehow manage to let languish until they're no longer fit to be eaten. I suspect that I'm not the only person guilty of this habit.
For those of us who are, the question is, what to do with all those leftover bits of cheese?
One of my favorite tricks is one I learned from my good friend Raffaella, on whose farm in Piedmont, Italy, I worked several years ago. Raffa always served cheese at the end of dinner, usually a plate with gorgonzola dolce, fontina, and assorted local cheeses, and inevitably after several days there'd be a nice little collection of leftover bits that needed to be dealt with so that new cheeses could take their place. Raffa's solution: Make a cheese pie.
She'd trim off the rinds and cut the cheeses into chunks, fill a pie shell with them, pouring a mixture of eggs and milk on top, and bake it until golden. We'd always eat it warm, so that the pockets of cheese were still melted. I have to say, as much as I loved the nightly cheese plate, I looked forward to that leftover-cheese pie* even more.
*It's funny, I have a years-long habit of calling this a pie, but I should point out that, in essence, it's really an assorted-cheese quiche; to avoid confusion, that's what I'm titling the recipe.
I love the cheese pie, first, because it's so damned good, but also because it's such a great example of resourceful and frugal cooking. Instead of letting those hunks of cheese grow old and stale (or moldy) until the only option left is to throw them out, this transforms them into something arguably even better than they were before (assuming you, like me, feel that melting cheese is nearly always an improvement).
I mean, just look at my dairy bin before and after I cooked up my own pie recently.
In this recipe, I use Kenji's basic pie dough, though you can also use a pre-made pie shell to speed things up. I put mine in a fluted tart pan (a deeper one, not the really shallow ones often used for fruit tarts), but a regular pie plate will work too—you'll just have to serve it from the dish, since it won't be possible to remove the pie from the pie plate.
Then I blind-bake the crust to help ensure it stays flaky and crisp once the wet custard filling is added. You may get some shrinkage of the crust after blind-baking, though I've added steps, including freezing the crust before baking, docking it and using pie weights, to minimize the effect. Even with a little shrinkage, the recipe still works.
As for the cheeses themselves, just about any soft or semi-soft cheese will work—Cheddar, Gruyere, Fontina, fresh goat cheese, Gorgonzola, Stilton, etc. I'd avoid cheeses that are likely to dump water, like fresh mozzarella, and hard cheeses that won't melt well, like Parmigiano-Reggiano (though you could finely grate some Parm into the custard base for extra flavor without any trouble). Just trim off the rinds and cut them into cubes, or break softer cheeses into small chunks.
And while this is brilliant for its use of leftover cheeses, you can, of course, just buy the cheese expressly for the pie, especially if you're not the type to let any cheese linger in your fridge. My only advice is to try to use a blend of different cheeses. Part of the fun is taking a bite and not knowing which blob of cheese is going to flood your mouth.
1/2 recipe easy pie dough, rolled out to a 12-inch circle (see notes)
1 cup heavy cream (see notes)
1 cup whole milk (see notes)
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces mixed rindless soft and semi-soft cheeses (such as Gruyere, Fontina, Cheddar, Gorgonzola, Stilton, Jack, etc.), cubed or broken into small clumps
Minced chives, for garnish (optional)
Lay pie dough into an 8-inch tart pan or pie dish (at least 1 1/2 inches deep), and trim excess dough around the edge. Press dough gently into edges, then, with a docker or the tines of a fork, poke holes in even rows across the base and around the wall of dough. Freeze for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.
Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C) and set rack to center position. Line dough with parchment paper, allowing it to overhang the sides, and fill the pan with pie weights, dried beans, or dry rice. Bake the crust for 10 minutes. Remove weights and parchment paper, wrap edges of the pie dough with tin foil, and return to the oven. Bake until lightly golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove and lower oven temperature to 350°F (175°C).
In a large bowl, whisk cream and milk with eggs until thoroughly incorporated. Whisk salt and pepper into custard base.
Scatter cheese all over bottom of pie and set on a rimmed baking sheet. Transfer to the oven, then carefully pour custard base into pie (you can slide the oven rack out slightly to help with this, but be sure to push it back gently to avoid spilling the pie filling). Bake until center is just barely set but still jiggles when touched, about 35 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm, sprinkling minced chives on top, if desired.
8-inch tart pan or pie plate (at least 1 1/2 inches deep)
For ease, you can also use a pre-made pie crust, blind-baking according to manufacturer instructions and following recipe from step 3.
This recipe calls for one cup each heavy cream and whole milk, but you can also substitute two cups of half-and-half.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 6 to 8|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 35g||45%|
|Saturated Fat 18g||90%|
|Total Carbohydrate 28g||10%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||4%|
|Total Sugars 3g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||1%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|