Every once in a while, I have the good luck to come up with a recipe that makes people melt into little pools of helpless joy the minute they take a bite. This is one of those recipes.
No pie has gotten more rave reviews at my office than CurvyMama’s Crème Brûlée pie. And since my office is full of reporters with wonderful vocabularies, I heard quite a bit of well-phrased rapture about this pie. The contrast of the silky-soft creamy filling with the lightly crunchy caramelized top sent my colleagues right over the edge.
I played with several versions of this pie, trying different combinations of egg yolks and whole eggs, and various blends of whole milk and cream. Adding more whole eggs made the filling too firm and eggy; Subbing out some of the cream for milk made it too dense. I also decided to be really generous with the vanilla bean, dropping an entire Madagascar pod and its seeds into the milk/cream mixture.
A note on the vanilla bean seeds: Most recipes for crème brûlée call for straining out the seeds. I chose to keep them because I like their earthiness and the mark of authenticity they lend to any vanilla undertaking. (Take that, vanilla extract!!) If you want a more elegant version, put the filling through a fine sieve before pouring it into the pie shell.
For the syrup, I wanted just a drizzle of very light, fragrant orange, but nothing too sweet. I tried a couple of versions and rejected them right away. Too cloying. I wanted something more grown-up, something with an almost bittersweet edge.
I remembered the orange flower and rose water syrups that Middle Eastern bakers pour over hot cakes and baklava. Some Googling led me to syrups produced by simmering orange zest and juice in water with sugar and lemon juice. Adding the orange blossom water only at the end, when the syrup has reduced and thickened slightly, preserves its amazing fragrance.
I’m smitten with this graceful little syrup; it’s a great counterpoint to the soft/sweet/crunchy experience of the pie. But the flavor might not be for everyone, especially since most of us aren’t accustomed to bitter or flowery elements in our sweets. You might offer the syrup on the side, or drizzle just the teensiest little bit over each slice as you serve it. If they love it, they’ll know where to find you for more.
To get your crème brûlée pie experience going, combine the milk and cream in a medium saucepan. Slice open the vanilla pod, scrape out its seeds, and add both to the pan. Whisk lightly to combine and to break up the clumps of seeds.
Over medium heat, bring the mixture almost to a simmer, but don’t let it simmer. As soon as steam rises from it, turn off the heat. Cover the pan and let it steep for half an hour.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, whole egg, 6 tablespoons of the sugar and the salt. Refrigerate.
Roll out a disk of dough–preferably good all-butter or butter-and-lard dough–big enough to line a 9-inch pie plate.
Trim the edges and finish them by rolling them under and crimping all around. Put the shaped dough in the freezer.
When the milk mixture has been steeping for about 20 minutes, preheat your oven to 425. When you’re sure it’s fully up to temperature, take your pie shell from the freezer. Place it on a drip catcher or rimmed baking sheet. Line it with parchment or an oversized coffee filter, and put in a couple of handfuls of dried beans. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Remove the beans and liner. Bake for another 5 minutes.
While the pie shell is on its last few minutes of baking, discard the vanilla pod in the warm milk mixture. Take the egg-sugar mixture from the refrigerator and whisk it into the milk mixture.
Turn the oven down to 300.
Slide the oven rack with the pie shell out to its midpoint. Ease the pie shell to the front edge of the rack. Pour in the filling. Taking care not to spill the filling, gently slide the pie back to the center of the rack, and the rack back to the center of the oven.
Bake at 300 for 45-50 minutes. Check the pie about halfway through to see whether the pastry edges are getting too brown. If they are, cut a large circle out of a sheet of aluminum foil and gently lay it on top of the pie so that it covers the crust but leaves the filling exposed.
The pie is done when the center is just barely set, but still wiggles slightly when jiggled.
Take the pie out of the oven and set it on a cooling rack. Cool completely. Chill until ready to serve.
To make the syrup, bring sugar and water gradually to a boil in saucepan, swirling pan to help dissolve the sugar, but not stirring. Once it boils, add orange juice and orange zest. Turn down the heat. Simmer 10-15 min., until syrup coats the back of a spoon.
Add the orange flower water. Cool.
Just before serving, take the pie out of the fridge and sprinkle the remaining 2 Tbsp. of sugar over the top. With a butane kitchen torch, caramelize the sugar, moving the flame tip slowly back and forth across the sugar.
It’s probably a good idea to cover the pastry edges with foil before you brûlée, since it’s easy to scorch the edges with the flame tip.
Drizzle a little of the cooled orange blossom syrup over each slice of pie as it is served. Enjoy!
- 1 disk of pie dough, enough for a 9-inch single-crust pie
- 1 1/4 c. heavy cream
- 1 c. whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 whole egg
- ½ cup sugar, divided
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1 cup extrafine sugar
- ½ cup water
- Zest of 1 orange
- Juice of 1/2 orange
- 1 Tbsp. orange blossom water
- Roll out the dough and ease it into a 9-inch pie pan. Trim, roll, and crimp edges, and freeze. Preheat oven to 425.
- In a saucepan, combine the cream and milk. Slice open the vanilla bean and scrape out its seeds with the tip of a paring knife. Add the seeds and the pod to the pan. Whisk to break up clumps of vanilla bean seeds. Heat the mixture over medium heat just until it begins to steam. Take it off the heat, cover pan and let steep 30 minutes.
- While the milk mixture is steeping, whisk the egg yolks, whole egg, 6 Tbsp. of the sugar and the 1/8 tsp. of salt together in a bowl. Set aside.
- When the oven is preheated, line the pie shell with parchment or a large coffeemaker filter and add a couple of handfuls of dry beans. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Remove the parchment and beans and bake for another 5-7 minutes. Take the pie shell out of the oven. Reduce heat to 300.
- When the milk mixture has steeped for 30 minutes, whisk the sugar-egg mixture into it.
- Slide out the oven rack and place the baked pie shell on the front edge of it. Carefully pour the custard filling into the pie shell, slide the rack back into place and gently push the pie to the center of the rack.
- Bake 45-50 minutes, until the filling jiggles slightly but is not liquidy. Let cool to room temperature, then chill.
- When ready to serve, sprinkle the remaining 2 Tbsp. of sugar over the pie filling. With a kitchen torch, caramelize the sugar, moving the flame tip back and forth slowly over the surface of the filling and taking care to avoid the pastry.
- Bring sugar and water gradually to a boil in saucepan, swirling pan to help dissolve the sugar, but not stirring. Once it boils, add orange juice and zest. Turn down the heat. Simmer 10-15 min., until syrup coats the back of a spoon. Stir in the orange flower water. Cool.