For more than a year now, I’ve been on a very quiet #piequest — on the search of the best pies in Hawaii.
But I’ve been sidetracked — and not by donuts.
The custard pie.
It’s the pie people here talk about the most. It’s the one I get the most questions about. And it turns out, it’s the one that’s the most difficult to perfect.
People have their favorites. Some rave about the flan-like custard pie from Kaneohe Bakery. Others swear by the custard creations from its neighbor, Deluxe Bakery. And still others say Lee’s Bakery in Chinatown, with its slightly eggy custard, is the best, hands down.
Then I got a message from a foodie friend who found out that Nanding’s Bakery in Kalihi — known for its buttery Spanish rolls — serves the original custard pie made by Paul’s Bakery, which people claim was the best before it closed. So of course, I made a point to drive all the way down there just to buy one — OK, two — of its custard pies.
See how crazy we get?
It made me think: what is it about custard pie that gets us talking — and often arguing? I can’t even count the number of conversations I’ve had with the Old Guys I surf with about specifically the custard pie. Who’s got the best? The cheapest? Do you like it eggy or more custard-y? Cold or warm? The list goes on and on.
Custard pies aren’t just popular in Hawaii. You find them in different cultures — like Chinese (dan tat) and even Portuguese (pasteis de nata). A custard pie is really a mixture of milk, eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla extract. They can come in flavors, too, like pumpkin, lemon and coconut. (I prefer my custard pies plain.) Some recipes call for a few eggs, some a mix of eggs and egg yolks.
Custards, in general, aren’t the easiest to prepare, thanks to all the eggs, which can be easily overcooked or curdled. And custard pies require that delicate balance — not too eggy, not too overcooked, not undercooked, either. It’s tough.
I searched recipes for one that captured that right balance — and maybe this is it.
It’s the master recipe for custard pie from “The Dessert Bible” by Christopher Kimball. Try it — and let me know how it turns out.
“The Dessert Bible” by Christopher Kimball
(Use your own crust recipe or a pre baked pie shell)
Ingredients for the filling:
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 T. cornstarch
4 large eggs
2/3 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. salt
Bake pie shell.
Pour the milk and heavy cream into a heavy saucepan. Remove 1/4 cup of the mixture to a small bowl. Add the cornstarch to the bowl and stir thoroughly with a fork until completely dissolved; reserve. Heat the milk and cream in the saucepan over very low heat while the pie shell is browning.
When the pie shell is ready, remove it from the oven. Bring the milk-cream mixture to a simmer and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Place the eggs, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl and whisk until combined. (Do not do this ahead of time.) Now gently whisk in the hot milk-cream mixture, pouring slowly.
Place pie shell back in oven and carefully pour in filling. Back for 15 to 20 minutes at 400 degrees (pre-heated oven) or until custard is set around the outside but still wobbles a bit in the center 2 inches. Cool for 2 hours before serving.