Recent Experiments in the Kitchen–Custard Pie and Making a Black Roux

I had extra milk the other day, and I decided to make a custard pie. I searched the internet to find a recipe. The top 2 results used the same recipe that called for 2 and 1/2 cups of milk. I am an experienced cook, so I should have known better, but a 9 inch pie pan will not hold that much liquid, let alone the 4 eggs and sugar. The filling spilled over the top, and I felt annoyed. I cleaned up the mess and put the pie with the remainder of the filling in the oven. Again, I should have known better, but I followed the recipe instructions and blitzed the pie at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. The result was edible but not up to my usual standards. I remembered a reliable, oft-used buttermilk pie recipe, and a few days later tried again, substituting milk for buttermilk, and the result was much better. Buttermilk pie is a type of custard pie as are pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, and pecan pie; any pie using eggs is a custard pie. The following recipe for custard pie is better than the top recipes found in a google search. I think they are written by people who don’t really even cook.

First, make a pat-in-the-pan pie crust from scratch. The leading recipes claim store bought pie crust is adequate, but it is not. Take 1 cup of cake flour and 1/3rd cup of bread flour and mix with a pinch of salt, 1/3rd a cup of vegetable oil, and a little cold water to make a pie dough. Put the dough into a 9 inch pie pan and pat it into a crust.

Next, make the filling. Mix 1 melted stick of butter with 1 cup of sugar, 3 eggs, 1 cup of milk, 1 tablespoon of flour, and cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. Put the filling in the pie crust and bake gently in a 300 degree oven for 1 hour. The spices float to the top. The top recipes call for pre-baking the pie crust, but this is an unnecessary step. The premise for this step is the prevention of a soggy crust. What nonsense? Pour water on a baked crust and an unbaked pie crust and both will get soggy.

My custard pie made the right way, not the way the leading search results on google suggest.

The standard custard pie will never replace a family favorite of ours–the Cajun tart ala bouillie. This custard pie has a sweetened cookie dough crust and is best served warm.

For the crust mix 3/4 cup of lard or Crisco, 1 and 1/2 cups of sugar, 1/2 cup of buttermilk, 3 and 1/2 cups of cake flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, and nutmeg. This batter will by very sticky, and it is messy to work with. Line a pie pan with about half of this mixture.

Next, make the filling. Scald 2 cups of milk while mixing 2/3rds cup of sugar, 6 tablespoons of flour, 2 eggs, and 2 cups of milk. Slowly pour this mixture into the scalding milk. It’s best to temper this mixture by adding some of the scalded milk to it before pouring it into the scalding milk. This prevents the eggs from scrambling. When the custard is thick add 2 teaspoons of vanilla to it and put it into the pie crust. Top the pie with the rest of the crust. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Tarte ala bouille. Made with a sweetened cookie dough crust, this is much better than a traditional custard pie.

I was reviewing my copy of the late Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen recently and came across something I hadn’t noticed before. There are photos of different roux stages in this book, and I had never paid attention to the picture of the black stage of a roux. Moreover, I was a little surprised to learn Prudhomme considered this the best stage of roux to make a proper gumbo. He believed a light brown roux was right for dark meats, a dark brown roux was right for white meats, , but a good gumbo required a black roux. Well, the weather is currently too warm for gumbo. Instead, I decided to experiment with making a black roux to flavor the gravy for shrimp and grits.

I melted 1/2 cup of lard over very high heat and added half a cup of flour. I stirred constantly until the roux almost turned black. (I lost my nerve at the last minute.) I believe the result bordered between a dark brown roux and a black roux. I added 2 finely chopped onions to the roux and turned the heat down. I sauteed the onions until they were tender, then added 1 pound of shrimp. I seasoned the shrimp with salt and would have added red and black pepper, but my wife can’t eat spicy food. When the shrimp turned pink I added 2 cups of chicken broth and cooked until it came to a boil. Flour loses its thickening power the darker a roux gets.

I liked the flavor. It was slightly bitter, but a pleasant bitter, like coffee, chocolate, or beer. I don’t think I burned it. However, in the future, I’m going to stick with a dark brown roux for my gumbos. I feel more comfortable with them.

Shrimp and grits. The gravy was made with an (almost) black roux.
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