Food & Drink

Make creamy custard pies with ingredients you likely already have on hand

Baked custard pies are sometimes known as chess pies. Most are flavored with vanilla, but cooks may add nutmeg, chocolat
Baked custard pies are sometimes known as chess pies. Most are flavored with vanilla, but cooks may add nutmeg, chocolate, lemon, coconut or chopped nuts to add variety. In this photo, a buttermilk pie is flavored with Earl Grey tea. It’s flanked by a smaller egg custard pie flavored with coconut and a chocolate chess pie. (Lisa Williams photos)
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On a recent cold and blustery morning, one of my sisters texted a recipe for egg custard pie.

She’d started Thanksgiving preparations nearly two weeks early, baking the cornbread and boiling chicken for the dressing. T and the egg custard pie was more of a dress rehearsal to set the mood.

Her recipe and photo began a thread of conversation between my two sisters and me about pie and the forecast for a cold and windy day in our respective homes. Seeing that I had the necessary ingredients on hand and could remain in my pajamas, I headed to the kitchen.

But first I did a little research because I wasn’t quite sure what the difference is between custard and chess pie. Baked custard pies are old heritage recipes, but the term chess pie may be heard more in the South. There are many theories but nothing definitive about how the term chess came to be associated with pie.

Egg custard pie, chess pie and buttermilk pie all are variations on the same basic recipe: Eggs, sugar and milk with a little bit of flour for thickening. If you think this sounds like the same ingredients for pudding, you’d be right. And if we poured the pudding into a crust, we’d call that a cream pie.

But if you’re baking the filling, it’s a custard pie. As it bakes, the filling rises to a beautiful dome, then sinks as it cools. Once placed in the refrigerator, the custard will set more firmly.

Actual proportions of ingredients vary among recipes, which is good, because that gives the cook some flexibility depending on how many eggs or how much milk and sugar what you have on hand. Baking can be very much an exact science, but sometimes it’s just nice to know you can add a little more here or take away there without harming the end result.

Another variable is milk. Depending on the recipe, whole milk, evaporated milk or heavy cream may be called for. You can also use buttermilk, but then your pie is called a buttermilk pie.

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Vanilla is the most common flavoring, however, chocolate, nutmeg, lemon, shredded coconut or chopped pecans may be added. Or you can infuse the milk with something wonderful like tea leaves. Or a cinnamon stick.

As you can see, c Custard pies are perfect for the baker who needs flexibility. And haven’t we needed a lot of flexibility of late?

The holidays will look and feel a bit different this year. A tone of sadness will prevail and for many there will be outright grief knowing some seats at the table will never be filled.Food is an important part of family traditions and I hope you and your loved ones are able to enjoy those traditions in whatever way you can. A text, a call, a pie left on the doorstep. Perhaps your family menus always include a custard pie, but if not, bake one and add a little sweetness to 2020.

Egg Custard Pie

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 stick butter, melted

1 cup whole milk

5 eggs, well beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

1 pie crust, partially baked for 15 minutes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine sugar, salt and flour in a mixing bowl. Add melted butter, milk, beaten eggs and vanilla. Mix well.

Cover the bottom of a pie crust with about one cup of coconut. Pour mixture over coconut. Bake pie for about one hour until firm and set.

Cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate or serve at room temperature.

Chocolate Chess Pie

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons flour

5 tablespoons cocoa

1/2 stick butter, melted

1/2 cup whole milk or evaporated milk

3 eggs, well beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 pie crust, partially baked for 15 minutes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine sugar, salt, flour and cocoa in a mixing bowl. Add melted butter, milk, beaten eggs and vanilla. Mix well.

Pour mixture in the pie crust. Bake pie for about one hour until firm and set.

Cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate or serve at room temperature.

Earl Grey Buttermilk Pie

When I found this recipe for Sweet Tea Buttermilk Pie in Garden & Gun magazine, my mind immediately went to my favorite tea, Earl Grey. The resulting pie evokes a beloved beverage, the London Fog. There’s nothing better on a cold day than a cup of Earl Grey with milk and a touch of vanilla. While custard pies usually are served chilled, this one is especially good slightly warm or at room temperature.

1 cup buttermilk

2 Earl Grey tea bags or 1 tablespoon loose tea leaves

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 large eggs

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

a good pinch of salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cool

1 pie crust, partially baked for 15 minutes

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Put buttermilk and tea bags in saucepan. Warm buttermilk over low heat until it begins to steam. Do not let it boil or buttermilk will curdle. Remove from heat and cover. Let sit for one hour. Squeeze tea bags (or strain leaves) and remove from buttermilk.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Combine sugar, flour, salt and lemon zest in a large bowl. In separate container, combine buttermilk and melted butter. Add eggs to the sugar mixture, beating well after each addition. Then add buttermilk and melted butter. Whisk until thoroughly combined.

Pour mixture into pie shell. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees. Bake until edges puff and the center is no longer liquid, about 30 minutes more. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate or serve at room temperature.

Source: Adapted from a recipe by Debbie Moose via Garden & Gun magazine

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