The Twinks’ birthday is fast approaching. Like every year, they will choose their own desserts to eat on their special day. Yes, every year, our twins get to choose their own birthday dessert. We’ve never made them share because they already have to share their born day. So far, this Crème Brûlée Pie is the winner for the girl-child. I want to share it for those who, like our daughter, enjoy two desserts in one.
Crème Brûlée was one of my first tests in my Classical Pastries class in culinary school. All these years later and I can still hear Chef Bandula’s voice in my ear, “If we can’t make a proper crème brûlée, we can’t expect to be proper pastry chefs.” Indeed, Jan. Indeed. Two signs of a properly made crème brûlée is the exquisite sound of the “CRACK!” as you thwack your spoon through the hardened caramelized sugar shell, and the creamy pudding beneath. Simple in every way, shape, and form; but equally simple to foul up.
We’ll explore the actual making of a traditional crème brûlée some other time. Today, we’re going to alleviate a lot of the pressure of using a bain-marie and pour the crème brûlée base into a pre-baked pie shell.
This dessert begins with rolling out our pre-made pie dough. By “pre-made” I mean made in advance. If you must use the pie tin already filled with dough from the supermarket…ooookkkkaaaayyyyyy. (best believe I was rolling my eyes and sighing really loud right there) But, let’s be honest- homemade anything tastes better than pre-made every thing else. It really does take fifteen minutes-tops- to make your own pie dough. If you’re a lazy bum like me, make a double-batch and freeze the dough for desserts like this.
Whatever you decide to do (hopefully it’s homemade) use a rolling pin to roll your pie dough out into a circle that’s twelve to fourteen inches in diameter. Lightly dust the surface of the dough with some of the flour you were using on the counter.
Roll the dough onto the rolling pin to make it easier to transfer to a 10″ pie plate (you can use a 9″ inch if that’s all you have). Starting at the side closest to you, unroll the pie dough onto the pie plate. Press the dough into the pie plate completely- pay close attention to those corners where the pie dough will naturally round, instead of crease, into the plate. This will be beneficial later when we’re blind-baking the pie dough.
After you’ve pressed the dough into the plate, crimp the edges with your fingers or the tines of a fork. My favorite way to decorate a pie crust is with a fluted edge. The best way I can describe the technique is to grab a piece of the crust between the second and third knuckle of your forefinger and the meaty part of your thumb. Give the dough a ninety degree twist counter-clockwise (to the left). This will leave you with a pretty, frilled edge. If it doesn’t work, just go eighties’ style and pinch it.
Once you’ve fluted to your heart’s content, dock (or poke) the surface of the pie dough with the tines of a dinner fork. This will cut down on the amount of puffing the pie dough will do as it bakes. Now, some bakers stop right here and bake the pie as is. I’ve been known to be obsessive in…well…every aspect of my life, so baking is no exception.
For now, put your fluted and docked pie crust into the fridge to chill for at least an hour. This chill time will not only give you time to clean up your counter and prep your crème brûlée ingredients, it also allows the butter in your pie crust to firm up. This will create a crisp, flaky crust after baking. The fridge time also ensures that any gluten strands that were stretched during the rolling/fluting phase have had a chance to relax, thus preventing excessive shrinkage…which no one likes.
But, in my obsession, I’m also practical so…
…in addition to using egg yolks as the base for our crème brûlée, we also need a smidge of them to mix with water to create an egg wash. So, use a whisk to beat the yolks to smithereens. Then, scoop out a tablespoon of the yolk and put it, and a tsp of cold water, into a small mixing bowl. Use a fork to blend the two together well, and you have your egg wash (without the waste you would have had using a whole egg).
My obsession confession is still to come.
Once you’ve mixed your egg wash together, pull your prepared pie shell out of the fridge. Use a pastry brush to brush the egg wash onto the fluted, or crimped, edge of the pie shell. Don’t bother with brushing the inside of the shell. Not only will we not be able to see that part in the finished pie, applying it will also cause the pie shell to stick to our parchment layer.
Now for my obsession…
Instead of just docking my pie shell to prevent it from puffing, I also weigh down the pie dough to make sure it stays as flat as possible. Some people use dried beans. I’ve heard of others using pennies- I, personally, don’t bake money in my food; no matter how careful it can be done, it’s still nasty. I use ceramic pie weights to get the job done.
In order to use the pie weights, though, you’ll need to cut a circle of parchment paper that’s big enough to hold the pie weights, and act as a barrier between them and the pie dough. This is important because these pie weights are reusable, but not necessarily washable. While they’ll bake with anything you put them in and, thus, become sterilized, you still don’t want to have them directly on the surface of your baked goods.
To get the most accurate parchment circle, I fold a square (about a square foot piece) in half, then fold that in half again, and fold that in to a triangle as shown above. I eyeball the center of the pie plate, place the tip of the parchment triangle above that spit and cut the paper in a curve using outside of the pie plate as my guide. This will leave an excess of paper which will ensure the pie weights don’t come in contact with the dough.
Unfold the paper and spray the bottom lightly with non-stick spray. Then place it into the pie shell. Pour in your ceramic weights, or dried beans (you’ll need about a pound of dried beans for this), and press them into the shell gently. Make sure you get them into those corners. Bake the sheet in your preheated oven for fifteen minutes on the middle rack. After fifteen minutes, remove the pie plate from the oven, and allow the pie crust to cool for five minutes before removing the paper and pie weights. Allow the crust to cool completely before filling. You’ve just blind-baked your pie shell!
If you weren’t going to bake this pie further, you would return the pie shell to the oven and bake for an additional fifteen minutes, uncovered. Since we have more baking planned for this one, we’re going to leave it partially blind-baked.
While your pie shell is baking, begin the crème brûlée base. Prior to bringing your cream to a steam, split open a vanilla bean using the tip of a very sharp paring knife. After running the tip of the knife down the center of the bean, use the flat (unsharpened) back of the knife to scrape out the vanilla seeds within. Leave them on the knife’s blade or put them into the pot.
In a 2 qt saucepan, over medium heat, bring your heavy cream and the vanilla seeds and scraped pod to steaming. You don’t want the cream to boil, you want to see steam rising off of the surface of the cream and very tiny bubbles form along the outer edge of the cream in the pot. Once the cream is steaming, pull it off the stove and allow the vanilla to infuse for fifteen minutes.
While you’re waiting for the vanilla to infuse into the cream, add the first quantity of sugar to the egg yolks you whisked earlier. Whip these together until the yolks are lemony-yellow, and thickened to the consistency of yogurt. This should take about five minutes.
After the cream’s infusion time has elapsed, remove the bean pod from the cream and discard. If you don’t have a fresh vanilla bean, this is when you’d add the vanilla extract, or bean paste, to the cream. Gradually add the warm cream to the egg yolks, whisking constantly to prevent any of the warmed liquid from cooking the eggs.
Pour your crème brûlée base into your pre-baked pie shell and bake in the oven for fifty minutes to an hour. After about a half-hour of baking, peek in on your pie. If it looks like it’s browning too much, lay a piece of aluminum foil over the surface. No need to press it onto the pie, just lay it on the surface of the crust. You want to avoid it touching the custard because it’ll mess up the aesthetics. Laying the foil on the surface will stop the pie from becoming too dark.
At fifty minutes, don an oven mitt and tap the side of the pie plate. If it’s jiggly, not fluid, remove it from the oven. If it’s extremely sloshy, let it bake for an additional ten to fifteen minutes. You’re looking for a wiggle that’s reminiscent of jello and not jiggly like me, post-babies. After removing it from the oven, allow the pie to cool to room temperature before putting into the fridge.
In order to get the best results, I let this pie sit in the refrigerator for a minimum of twenty-four hours. If you’re desperate, you can let it chill for four hours before serving. Again, I recommend a full twenty-four hours, or overnight. Once your pie has chilled fully, use the remaining sugar to create a thin, even layer on the surface of your pie.
Use your palm, or the flat part of your fingers, to make sure the sugar isn’t clumped up in places on the surface, as this will prevent you from achieving an even caramelization.
Use a butane torch to caramelize the surface of the crème brûlée. Usually a pass over the sugar will get the sugar melting. Move onto the next section after the sugar melts; then return for a second pass. If you don’t have a butane torch, the other option is to set the pie under a broiler. If you choose this route, you’ll need to keep a close eye on the pie. The caramelization will happen fast and you need to be ready to pull it. That means have oven mitts on so you don’t burn yourself.
Once your Crème Brûlée Pie is caramelized, you can thwack it with the back of a knife before you cut slices for your adoring friends and family. I serve mine with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and fresh berries- just like I do my crème brûlée.
IF your pie manages to last more than a few hours, this will hold up under refrigeration for two days. Make sure you keep the surface from forming a skin by pressing a piece of wax paper, or plastic wrap, against the exposed sides of the crème brûlée. There’s no better way to celebrate the birth of my babies than with this marriage made in dessert!
How about you? What are some of your favorite combinations? Pin this recipe, then share with me in the comments below.
Crème Brûlée Pie
Yield 8 servings
A pastry marriage of velvety custard and flaky pie dough. Begin a day to several hours in advance.
Special equipment needed:
ceramic pie weights or 1 lb of dried beans
8 oz pre-made pie dough
6 large egg yolks
1 tsp water
1 quart heavy cream
pinch of kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar + 1/4 cup for caramelizing
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds removed
1 tsp vanilla extract (+ 1 tbsp if not using vanilla bean)
- Place an oven rack into the middle of your oven, then preheat your oven to 425°F.
- Using a rolling pin, roll out the pie dough to a 12-14" circle. Transfer the dough to pie plate, pressing into the pie plate completely. Crimp the edges with your fingers or the tines of a fork. Dock the surface of the pie dough with the tines of a dinner fork, then place the plate into the fridge to chill for at least an hour.
- Place the yolks into a large mixing bowl. Using a whisk, beat the yolks until they are smooth. Scoop out a tablespoon of the yolk and put it, and a tsp of cold water, into a small mixing bowl. Use a fork to blend the two together to create an egg wash.
- Remove your prepared pie shell from the fridge. Use a pastry brush to brush the egg wash onto the fluted edge of the pie shell. Cut a circle of parchment paper (see post for instructions) to lay inside of the pie shell. Spray the bottom lightly with non-stick spray, then place it into the pie shell. Pour in your ceramic weights, or beans, and gently press them into the shell. Bake for fifteen minutes.
- After fifteen minutes, remove the pie plate from the oven, and allow the pie crust to cool for five minutes before removing the paper and pie weights. Allow the crust to cool completely before filling.
- Reduce the oven's temperature to 350°F.
- In a 2 qt saucepan, over medium heat, bring your heavy cream, the vanilla seeds and scraped pod to steaming. Once the cream is steaming, pull it off the stove and allow the vanilla to infuse for fifteen minutes.
- While you're waiting, add the first quantity of sugar to the egg yolks you whisked earlier. Whip these together until the yolks are lemony-yellow, and are the consistency of yogurt. This should take about five minutes. After the infusion time has elapsed, remove the bean pod from the cream and discard. If you're not using a fresh vanilla bean, add the entire quantity of vanilla extract to the cream (add only 1 tsp of extract if using the bean).
- Gradually add the warm cream to the egg yolks, whisking constantly to prevent any of the warmed liquid from cooking the eggs.
- Pour your crème brûlée base into your pre-baked pie shell and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour. After about a half-hour of baking, if it looks like it's browning too much, lay a piece of aluminum foil over the surface. This will stop the pie from becoming too dark.
- At fifty minutes, use a oven mitt and tap the side of the pie plate. If it jiggles like jello, remove it from the oven. If it's liquid, let it bake for an additional ten-to fifteen minutes. After removing it from the oven, allow it to cool to room temperature before putting into the fridge for 4-24 hours.
- Once your pie has chilled fully, use the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar to create a thin, even layer on the surface of your pie. Use your palm, or the flat part of your fingers, to make sure the sugar isn't clumped up in places on the surface, as this will prevent you from achieving an even caramelization.
- Use a butane torch to caramelize the surface of the crème brûlée. If you don't have a butane torch, set the pie under the broiler. Keep a close eye on the pie. The caramelization will happen fast and you need to be ready to pull it out of the oven quickly.
- Once your Crème Brûlée Pie is caramelized, you can serve immediately, or refrigerate it. Serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and fresh berries. The finished pie will hold up under refrigeration for two days. To prevent the surface from forming a skin: press a piece of wax paper, or plastic wrap, against the exposed sides of the crème brûlée.
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