Compared to its more famous custard cousins, like pumpkin or banana cream pie, it’s easy to overlook the satisfying simplicity of a basic egg custard pie. The old-fashioned dessert, though little more than a sweetened blend of eggs and milk encased in a flaky pastry, delivers a balance of creamy smoothness and comforting heft that’s satisfying in both summer and winter.
Making the Custard
For egg custard pie, you’ll need roughly 3 parts whole milk to 2 parts beaten whole eggs — or a combination of whole eggs with additional egg yolks — and 1 part sugar. Some recipes call for evaporated milk. The only additional flavoring elements are traditionally a pinch of salt and a drizzle of vanilla extract. After you’ve poured the custard into the pie shell, dust the surface with ground or freshly grated nutmeg, if you wish.
Avoiding Soggy Pastry
Unless you take steps to avoid it, custard pies are prone to emerge from the oven with soggy crusts. That’s because the custard, which can’t be cooked at a high temperature, can potentially soak into the raw or lukewarm crust before it sets. To avoid this problem, “The Joy of Cooking” advises using a hot pie shell and hot custard. To do this, fill a partially baked pie shell with a custard blend that’s been briefly whisked together in a saucepan over medium heat, before putting the pie in the oven.
Treat It Gently
Custard pies are among the diciest to move and bake before the filling sets. To prevent the crust from heaving its liquid mixture onto the oven floor during cooking — especially if you start with a raw crust — poke the bottom of the crust with a fork over its entire surface while it’s still raw. This prevents the air buildup that causes crust movement. To add another layer of protection, set the pie plate on a cookie sheet before you fill it, and open the oven door before you take the pie off the counter, so once you’ve poured in the custard, you can smoothly move the pie into the oven.
Bake the Pie
Egg custard pie bakes in a preheated 325-degree Fahrenheit oven in about 25 minutes. To test whether it’s ready, gently shake the tray holding the pie plate. If the filling ripples or bubbles when you do so, it still needs more cooking. If it gently shimmies, it’s ready to remove from the oven. The pie isn’t ready to eat at this point. Once it has cooled, move the pie to the refrigerator and leave it there overnight. Remove it one hour before serving time. If you prefer it warm, briefly warm individual slices in the microwave after cutting the pie.
References and ResourcesJoy of Cooking: All About Pies & Tarts; Irma von Starkloff Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, et al.
The Oxford Companion to Food; Alan Davidson
Deep South Dish: All About Pies