When I was a child, one dessert that adorned the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables was egg custard. A firm, yet smooth and creamy confection within its own small bowl and topped with a sprinkling of nutmeg.
No whipped cream or any other topping was needed; it was pure perfection as it was.
Once we moved to Pennsylvania and began frequenting the farmers markets, custard pies were offered at every bake stall. The filling was the same wonderful egg custard but was now baked inside a flaky pie crust.
Now I could have this all year long! No more waiting for those two special winter holidays.
What could make it even better? I could learn to make it myself and not depend on someone else to create it or hope there was any left at the market to purchase.
So, of course, a desire for a bit of origin/historical knowledge nudged my brain into research mode.
While the French and the British debate which country invented custard first, it was actually developed in Ancient Roman times.
Bakers and cooks understood the binding power of the incredible, edible egg. Simmering milk, eggs, and honey in a clay pot within a wood burning oven coagulates the egg proteins and thickens the milk during baking.
The ingredients form a firm texture yet still have a slight wiggle in the center.
With the invasion of Britain, the Romans also brought with them their culture and that includes food techniques, tools, and recipes.
By the Middle Ages, the English were baking, boiling or steaming their custards. The French, though, were adding fruit and fresh cream, then baking the mixture in a round, flat crust which became known as a tart.
Later, in the 1900s, pudding and custard pies began making the rounds of the home kitchen.
Now I must warn you, while the recipe calls for the filling to go to the top edge of the pie crust, be prepared for spillage. Aluminum foil covering the rack and even a sheet on the oven bottom itself will prevent a load of burnt-on cleanup afterwards.
Maybe others have a better way of getting a very loose filling into a pie crust, but I have tried several techniques and always manage to spill. So I admit to being a baking klutz, but my goodies are still quite delicious, if not runway-model perfect.
For this recipe, I also substituted Swerve for the sugar due to my need for lower sugar content.
Allowing the pie to cool completely for at least two hours in the refrigerator will give it a firm texture while remaining smooth and creamy. Also, you’ll want to use whole milk as milk with reduced fat will require baking the pie up to an hour longer.
Egg Custard Pie
1 cup sugar (can substitute with 1 cup Swerve Granular or Truvia Baking Blend); 6 large eggs; 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract; 1 tsp. nutmeg, divided in half; 2 and 1/2 cups whole milk; 1 deep dish pie crust, frozen, unbaked
Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking rack with aluminum foil in case of spillage.
Beat together sugar, eggs, vanilla, and ½ tsp. nutmeg. Add milk and whisk until smooth; pour mixture into pie shell. Sprinkle remaining ½ tsp. nutmeg lightly on top of the custard. Carefully place pie into oven on top of foil.
Bake for 45-60 minutes; filling will rise and firm up with very slight looseness in center. Remove from oven and let cool for 20 minutes before placing into refrigerator to completely cool for about two hours.
Makes one pie, eight servings.
While delicious as is, adding fresh fruit to the top or on the side will pretty it up. Whipped cream, I have found, washes out the flavor of the custard and nutmeg. Enjoy your sweet tart!