Ch. 12: The Little Custard Pie That Could

Everyone on Guam has eaten custard pie. It’s one of those dessert table staples along with crown bakery donuts and a couple trays of latiya (look out for that post coming soon!). It’s safe to say that lovers of the pie have their favorite bakery to get it- for us that means Huang’s Cake Shop. I remember eating their custard pie since I was born, with my dad, a true custard pie lover, often scoffing whenever someone bought a pie anywhere else. It’s perfect really, with a good crust, silky and creamy interior and a top that’s not afraid of some golden brown deliciousness. And so with my Dad’s birthday coming up, and quarantine still well into effect leaving Huang’s temporarily closed, I decided to try my hand at making my own version of a custard pie in hopes it’d be good enough.

I decided to start off by making my go-to pie crust recipe which originally comes from Martha Stewart and which I’ve adapted slightly. I’ve been using it for years for just about every pie I make because it’s versatile and delicious- and really once you find a good recipe for pie dough, you don’t need to look anywhere else. I rolled it out and placed it into my pie pan, even taking extra care to give it a nice fluted edge. Then came the filling. Now I’m not sure if “custard pie” is just a Guam thing because the other recipes I found online didn’t really resemble what we’re used to here. I ended up finding one from Annie’s Chamorro Kitchen, a Guam daughter now stateside who runs a great blog chock full of local and Guam-inspired recipes- one of which is custard pie. Annie’s recipe is simple, needing only some bowls and a whisk. The eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt are whisked together before the hot half and half is gradually streamed in to avoid scrambling the eggs. I then poured it into my pie shell that I’d blind baked and let cool. Blind baking involves covering your dough with parchment and filling it with some weights- typically beans or rice to hold the pie down and help keep its shape while baking. It may seem like a skippable step, but blind baking ensures that the crust is fully cooked and flakey at the end of it all. After a while in the oven, I retrieved my pie to find it with a little more character on top than I’d like. The top portion of the custard had spotted in some areas due to the heat of the oven and for some reason had sunk down a little as it cooled. Again, I’m sure this was due to some error on my part as Annie’s pie was tall and without any of my blemishes. Still, I set it in the fridge to cool for the next day. 

After my dad’s birthday dinner, I retrieved the pie. My mom suggested to torch the top ala creme brûlée which was a great idea to cover up those spots as well as mimic that browned top we’re used to. I sprinkled on some sugar and got to torching which was undeniably fun. Brûlée-ing involves torching a thin layer of sugar with a blowtorch so it caramelizes and hardens. You could also quickly pop it under a broiler the old school way, however with the delicate texture of the custard and its ability to burn, I woundn’t recommend that. After some singing and my dad hamming it up for a Facebook video, we dug into the pie which was way more delicious than it looked. It had the same creaminess of Huang’s pie without any of the egginess that some of their competitors do (I won’t name names). The crunchy sugar top matched really well with the flaky pastry and smooth custard filling. My dad ate most of it over the course of two days. He even said that it tastes “just as good as Huang’s”-  which was a welcomed relief to even be on that level. I doubt I’d be recreating it anytime soon, especially considering we could just go buy one once lockdown is lifted.

My Go-To Pie Crust Recipe:

2 ½ cups of All Purpose Flour
2 ½ tablespoons of Granulated Sugar
1 cup and 1 tablespoon of cold Butter
2-4 tablespoons of cold Water

Quantities make 2 discs of pie dough which can be kept in the refrigerator for a few weeks or the freezer for several months.

In a food processor, pulse the flour and sugar to combine. Add in the cold butter and pulse until the butter incorporates into the flour. It should be the size of small peas. Drizzle in two tablespoons of cold water and pulse. Continue adding only enough water so that the dough comes together.. Empty onto a floured surface and roll into a ball. Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator to rest for an hour.

Alternatively, the dough can be prepared without a food processor. Whisk the flour and sugar in a large bowl. Cut the butter into 1/2″ pieces and add to the bowl. Toss to coat the butter in flour. With a pastry cutter or your fingers, break down the butter until the size of small peas. Drizzle in two tablespoons of cold water and pulse. Continue adding only enough water so that the dough comes together.. Empty onto a floured surface and roll into a ball. Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator to rest for an hour. Prepare crust per recipe instructions.

Custard Pie Recipe | Method from Annie’s Chamorro Kitchen:

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