During my school days, which now seem like an eternity ago, the end of August was definitively the end of summer. I still get a tinge of anxiety walking into a grocery store this time of year and seeing the “Back to School” section. I have a split second of unadulterated dread before I remember, marvelously, that I’m actually just there to buy wine and q-tips, not binders and book covers.
Now that I’m not anxiously waiting for the bus at 6:45 in the morning, I realize that September (the first three weeks of it anyway) are pretty much still summer where I live. The air conditioners still buzz during the day, though less at night, and markets are still slinging the last of the summer tomatoes and corn, alongside early apples and pears. The light is gloriously golden in September and the weather is perfection. I’m also a Virgo, so maybe I’m biased.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I still have a certain sentimentality for these last days of August, the dog days of summer, when the air is like bathwater and the insects hum from the trees. There is definitely an ephemeral, “blink or you’ll miss it” quality to the end of another season; the slight chill in the air a gentle reminder of what is to come, like it or not.
The change of season has me desperately scrambling to make all the summer foods while I can. In real terms, that means eating potato salad and watermelon for dinner about five days in a row and averaging two plums a day. I’ve been wanting to channel this anxious energy into baking, as well, so I decided to take advantage of late-summer Mission figs, Italian Prune Plums, and Concord grapes and serve them with a classic pie that has been on my “to bake” list for too long.
Custard Pie has been around for a long time and has not changed much in terms of ingredients. A source I found from 1845 only differs from the recipe I used (from The Joy of Cooking) in terms of scale, otherwise it’s practically the same. I was pleasantly surprised by the delicate milky taste of this pie and it paired nicely with the roasted fruit (though I would recommend serving it alongside the pie, and not placing it directly on top as I did for the photo).
Final Note: I realized while typing it out that my pie crust method is slightly laborious. If you have a pie crust recipe that you’re comfortable with, use it. Just make sure the crust is blind baked and that it is hot when you pour the hot custard into it.
Custard Pie with Late Summer Fruit
- 3 eggs
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated or ground
- 1 egg + 1 teaspoon water for egg wash
Prepare pie crust (recipe below). On a well-floured surface, roll out disk of dough until it is 3 to 4 inches larger than your pie plate. Gently and quickly lift dough from surface into pie plate. Fit into pan, and trim off any crust that hangs over the edge. With the edge of your hand, press trimmed dough all around the pie plate to create an even edge. Place crust back in fridge.
Roll the excess dough into long strips about the diameter of your pinky finger (it takes a while and you may need several strips). Take crust out of fridge and brush bottom and lip of crust with egg wash (save the rest for later). Place rolled strips around the perimeter of the crust, joining the strips with a little water if needed. Using clean scissors, place the blades on about a 20° angle and snip into dough, almost reaching the bottom of the strip but not quite. Repeat this all around the pie and then bend each tip slightly in alternating directions. This creates a wheat stalk look similar to Pain D’Epi. Place in freezer for about 30 minutes, which helps preserve the design of the crust once it bakes.
Preheat oven to 375°. Line the bottom of the pie with parchment and fill with rice, beans, or pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove parchment and weights. Lightly prick the bottom of the pie with a fork and use the rest of the egg wash to glaze the edge design of the crust (you can also sprinkle with a little sugar). Bake for 15-20 more minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare custard mixture. In a large heatproof bowl. whisk together eggs, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Set aside. In a medium sauce pan, bring milk to a simmer. When it simmers, slowly whisk hot milk into egg mixture. By now, the crust should be done. Remove from oven and lower temperature to 325°. Pour hot custard into hot crust, and return to oven. Pull out rack and sprinkle nutmeg over top of custard, push rack gently back in, and bake for about 40 minutes, until center wiggles slightly (like a gelatin) but sides are firm.
Let cool completely on a rack, then refrigerate. Serve with Honey Roasted Fruit (recipe below), if desired.
Pie Crust (makes two 9-inch crusts, freeze half for later)
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, small cubed
- 1/2 cup Crisco
- 1/3 cup + 3 tablespoons ice water
In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and sugar. Cut in shortening and cold butter using a pastry cutter or food processor until the mixture is the size of small peas. Drizzle in water and mix with hands just until dough sticks together when you press it. Turn out onto floured surface and divide dough in two. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and then press down to form disks. Freeze half for later, and place other half in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Honey Roasted Fruit
- 4-5 fresh Mission figs
- 4-5 Italian Prune Plums
- 2 bunches Concord grapes, or other variety
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 2 tablespoons honey
Preheat oven to 400°. Slice figs and plums in half and arrange with two bunches of grapes on a sheet pan. Drizzle over melted butter and honey, and toss to evenly coat fruit. Bake for about 20 minutes and serve warm, alongside cooled custard pie.
Pie Crust and Custard Pie from Joy of Cooking.