March 25, 2011

Lemon Custard Pie, Done Right This Time

I recently wrote about my misadventure with Lemon Custard Pie.  It would have turned out great, except that I got distracted while putting it together and used salt in place of sugar in making the crust. This resulted in the pie being so salty that it was not edible.  I could tell this one had a lot of potential, though, so I decided to give it another try - this time without the added salt - and to try out some ideas I'd come up with to boost the lemon flavor.

First off, credit where due.   The recipe I ended up with is closely based on two different Cook's Illustrated recipes.   CI originally printed their recipe for Lemon Custard Pie in the May 1999 issue, while their Foolproof Pie Dough for a Single Crust Pie recipe (a variant of their famous "vodka pie crust") was published in November, 2007.   I started with these recipes and made changes from there.

The biggest change I made to CI's Lemon Custard Pie recipe was to up the amounts of the lemon zest and lemon juice in order to boost the lemon flavor.  I balanced out these changes by adding a bit more cornstarch, to help the custard set while including a bit more liquid.   I also added just a bit of fresh-ground nutmeg to the custard.  Juli's father, who is a vastly better baker than I, uses a bit of nutmeg in a lot of his creations, and I've found that this adds a bit of depth to a variety of baked goods without being overwhelming or obvious.   

In regard to the crust, the big change I made was to add in some extra flavoring, so the crust would reflect and support the lemon flavor of the filling.   I've experimented with this concept in a couple different pie recipes (I'll cover the other in a different post), and so far it's worked like a charm.  In this case, I added a bit of lemon zest to the dough, to give the pie crust a bit of lemon flavor of its own.  I was a bit worried this addition would mess with the texture of the crust, but that wasn't the case, and several people - starting with Juli - said they found the crust delicious. 

The crust wasn't the only thing that turned out great, though.  The filling was wonderfult - rich, creamy custard with a bold lemon flavor - and the pie as a whole was just plain excellent.  The last one looked fine, but this one looked just as good, and it tasted even better.  I've made a few pies now, and this one was very possibly the best one I'd made to date.

Lemon Custard Pie

yield = 8 servings

1 1/4       cups unbleached all-purpose flour (6 1/4 ounces)
1             tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2          teaspoon table salt
6             tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch slices
                 and chilled
1/4          solid vegetable shortening, cut into 2 pieces and chilled
1             teaspoon freshly-grated lemon zest
2             tablespoons vodka, chilled
2             tablespoons cold water

2             cups whole milk
1             cup heavy cream
3             large eggs
2/3          cup sugar
3             tablespoons + 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1             teaspoon vanilla extract
3             tablespoons + 1 teaspoon freshly-grated lemon zest
2             tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/8          teaspoon table salt
1/8          teaspoon freshly-ground nutmeg

Add 3/4 cups flour, sugar and salt together in a food processor until combined.  Add butter and shortening and process until dough starts to collect in uneven clumps (there will be some very small pieces of butter remaining).  Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around the processor blade.  Add lemon zest and remaining 1/2 cup flour and pulse until combined.  Empty mixture into medium bowl.

Sprinkle vodka and water over dough.  Use a rubber spatula in a folding motion to mix, pressing down on the dough until it sticks together (it will still be a bit tacky).   Flatten dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour (or up to 2 days). 

Lightly spray a 9-inch pie plate with nonstick cooking spray (preferably a variety designed for baking).  Lay out overlapping sheets of waxed paper and generously flour the wax paper.  Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out on the waxed paper, making a 12-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick.  Lift waxed paper and carefully tip it downward so one edge of the dough touches the outer rim of the pie plate, then carefully flip it so the dough settles onto the pie plate with a bit of overhang on all sides.  Ease dough into the pie plate by gently lifting the edge with one hand while carefully pressing the dough into place with the other.  Refrigerate until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.  Adjust oven rack to lowest position.  Place rimmed baking sheet on oven rack and heat oven to 425 degrees. 

Trim overhanging dough to 1/2 inch beyond the lip of the pie plate.  Fold overhang under dough so the folded edge is flush with the edge of the pie plate.  Press tines of a fork against the dough to flatten it against the rim of the pie plate, or flute it using fingers.  (If the dough has started to get warm or to soften, refrigerate again until firm, about 20 minutes).

Line crust with foil and fill with pie weights.   Bake for 15 minutes.   Remove foil and weights, rotate the pie plate and bake until the crust is golden-brown and crisp (5-10 minutes).  Remove baking sheet and pie plate from oven, keeping the pie plate on the baking sheet.  Reduce heat to 375 degrees.

After you put the pie crust into the oven, heat milk and cream in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until steaming.  While the milk mixture is heating up, whisk together eggs, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, two tablespoons + 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and nutmeg in a medium bowl.

Once the milk mixture is steaming, pour it into the egg and cornstarch mixture in a slow, steady stream while whisking. 

Pour the egg and milk mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat.  Stir constantly with a wooden spoon, scraping bottom of the pan, until the custard begins to thicken; when a layer of custard sticks to the spoon when scraping the bottom of the pan, the custard is ready.

Pour custard into the hot pie crust and return pie and baking sheet to the oven (if the crust isn't still hot, or if you baked it ahead, put it in the oven for a few minutes to warm it up).  Bake until the custard has set around the edges but still jiggles in the center when shaken (12-15 minutes).  Transfer pie plate from the oven to a wire rack.  Sprinkle remaining tablespoon lemon zest evenly atop the custard.  Allow pie to cool to room temperature (about 2 hours).  Cut into individual portions and serve. 

Cooking Tip:
The recipe above is for a 9-inch pie.  To make a pie for a 10-inch pan (such as the Fiesta pie plates), adjust the amounts of ingredients in the filling by approximately 1/4.  You can do the same with the crust, but the pie will also bake up just fine if you simply roll the crust out a bit thinner. 

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