Let’s talk about custard pie


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.

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.

Custard Pie
“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.

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29 Responses to “Let’s talk about custard pie”

  1. Eric November 5, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

    Flamingo’s Custard pie is still my favorite. Even though they have different owners, the baker is still the same. Never cared for Lee’s….too dry for my taste. Kaneohe Bakery’s one is good though. Custard pie needs to be eaten at room temp or refrigerated.

  2. Rodney Lee November 5, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

    I miss Bea’s bakery pumpkin/custard pie. I’m sure the pure pumpkin was awesome too. I’ve yet to try Nanding’s but until then, it’s Lee’s for me.

    I’m still trying to find a good ol’ fashioned custard danish.

  3. edw November 6, 2013 at 12:49 am #

    I’ve never been much into straight custard pies, but key lime, pumpkin lemon etc. yes.

    One thing my pastry chef taught me was the fresher the eggs the better.

    • Catherine Toth November 11, 2013 at 9:54 am #

      Have you tried the lemon custard from Deluxe? It’s crazy good!

  4. Harry Covair November 6, 2013 at 1:07 am #

    I’ve eaten Custard Pies from: St. Germaine’s/Dutch Girl, Lee’s, Zippy’s, Liliha Bakery, Kaneohe Bakery, Flamingo (way back when it was on Kapiolani Blvd), and Paul’s Bakery (when it was still Paul’s). I still like Lee’s the best. St. Germaine’s uses Mr. Lee’s recipe so it’s about the same consistency.

    Wow, Kimball doesn’t use a water bath when baking his Custard pies.

    Rodney, try the Custard Danish from Kamehameha Bakery on School St. It’s a decent Danish. If not, ask Cat about the Taro Glaze and Taro Haupia doughnuts.

    • Catherine Toth November 11, 2013 at 9:54 am #

      WHOA. You are the custard pie expert. Just tried the Liliha Bakery one. It’s OK. I think Lee’s is better, too.

  5. M November 6, 2013 at 6:59 am #

    Hello Cat!

    I love custard pie, I’ll eat it no matter where it was bought or made..

  6. Annoddah Dave November 6, 2013 at 7:14 am #

    CAT: Custard pie is in my top ten…waiting for invitation to try yours. I will bring the ice cream, flavor of your choice.

    • Catherine Toth November 11, 2013 at 9:53 am #

      My mom wants to do a taste test — and include one of our homemade pies. We’re thinking about it!

  7. Glenn D November 6, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    Hi CAT, I like custard pies…all custard pies. They are like pizzas to me – no bad ones just some are mo better than the others but I like them all. But I like them either cold or room temp like Eric said. I like to eat them like pizza slice too…just grab and bite, no fork no plate, just me, the slice and napkins.

    • Catherine Toth November 11, 2013 at 9:53 am #

      I like the comparison between custard pie and pizza! That makes a lot of sense!

  8. Bruddah Shaun November 6, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

    I do not like custard pie Sam I am….

    • Catherine Toth November 11, 2013 at 9:53 am #

      Yeah, not even does. I like custard pie, but I’m not a huge huge fan. I prefer chocolate cream pie, myself!

  9. Karen November 7, 2013 at 5:05 am #

    Hi Cat,
    So how was Nanding’s pies? Was it as good as Paul’s? I still remember Paul’s custard pies as my uncle used to always bring one to our family get togethers.


    • Catherine Toth November 11, 2013 at 9:52 am #

      I never had Paul’s custard pie, but I’ve heard the custard is on point. But the crust, in my humble opinion, needs some work. It’s like they baked a lot of pies at once and the crust doesn’t get fully baked.

  10. Annoddah Dave November 7, 2013 at 7:42 am #

    CAT: am I wrong or are all the posters for this blog only males? is this a sign?

  11. Dennis November 7, 2013 at 11:14 pm #

    Love custard pies! I vote for Lee’s bakery!

    • Catherine Toth November 11, 2013 at 9:51 am #

      Have you tried Lee’s peach-pear pie? It might be better!

  12. KAN November 9, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    Annoddah Dave – I goin’ break da trend!

    Kane`ohe Bakery’s custard pie is my favorite dessert on earth. Part of this is due to sentimentality – it was also my grandpa’s favorite dessert on earth.

    Except for dim sum-kine custard tarts, I have not found a good custard pie in Seattle. Most bakeries don’t even make ‘em. And where I’ve found ‘em, they’re not that deep orangy-rich-looking pie – they’re pale and unexciting-looking.

    • Catherine Toth November 11, 2013 at 9:50 am #

      Sentimental value often outweighs everything else. I believe that!

  13. @digital_cupcake November 12, 2013 at 11:48 pm #

    Deelite Bakery(St. Germain), Ani’s and Ho Ho Chinese Restaurant in Kapolei have yummy custard pies!

  14. Michelle November 14, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

    I grew up eating the Dee Lite Bakery (now St. Germain) custard pies so it is the gold standard for me; cold custard pie for breakfast is amazing! I’ve tried Lee’s custard pie and their pumpkin custard pie – was okay. I like the Sunny Side pie that has the layer of chocolate pudding on top of the custard pie – nice pie. I just like the Dee Lite Bakery pie, but it is just to expensive!!

  15. cats rule December 5, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    I was suggested this website by way of my cousin. I am not certain whether or not this put up is written via him as no one else understand such specific approximately my trouble. You’re wonderful! Thanks!

  16. Kristiina June 6, 2014 at 8:45 am #

    Hi! I would love to try this recipe! What oven temperature do you bake the pie at? Thanks!

    • Catherine Toth June 6, 2014 at 9:49 am #

      Sorry, I missed that. I bake my pie in a pre-heated 400 degree oven. Some recipes might be slightly different. The pie shell — if you’re using a store-bought one, just follow the instructions on the packaging. Good luck!

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