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Evaporated milk is secret to Hawaii custard pies


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POSTED: Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Some things you have to take on faith. For example, I've come to accept that custard pies baked in Hawaii taste different from those elsewhere. This is based not on empirical evidence, but on the many, many inquiries I've received from former Hawaii people missing “;the good kine”; custard pie.

Jane Inouye, who's been living in Florida for 12 years, says she thinks she can quantify the difference: “;You just can't find a custard pie around here that has a creamy filling and flaky crust. Most times, the pies taste like cooked eggs, rather than sweet, creamy, with just a hint of vanilla!”;

To the rescue: Henry Shun, a retired professional baker, who collected many of his local-style recipes into a booklet, “;Seasons of Baking,”; in 2001 (e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for information).

Shun says most standard custard pie recipes call for fresh milk, whereas the traditional local recipe uses evaporated milk, which provides more richness. The formula, he says, is 1 part evaporated milk to 1 part water. Don't try to bulk up the taste by substituting fresh milk for the water; he says the flavor will be wrong.

Beyond that the fine-tuning is in the technique. Shun's filling is made a day ahead, which makes it nice and glossy. Bubbles will rise to the surface, where you skim them off — this way your baked pie won't have air pockets or a pocked surface. Also, Shun suggests filling the pie shell a bit short of the rim. Bake 10 minutes, then add more filling. This keeps the center from sinking.

What we're focused on here is the filling, not the crust, which is a discussion for another time. The recipe calls for a 9-inch unbaked pie crust. Use your favorite recipe or a pre-made crust (no shame in that).

Shun did offer some trouble-shooting if the crust doesn't turn out perfectly: If it's soggy on the bottom, double the amount of sugar in your dough. This is a good rule of thumb for any custard or pumpkin pie, he says, especially deep-dish. If the crust makes a bubble in the bottom, punch eight small holes in the bottom of the empty pie pan with an ice pick. This lets the expanding hot air escape without pushing up the dough up and creating a raw center. I did this as a precaution with my pie as it seemed logical (note that you can still reuse the pie pan).

My pie baked up beautifully, looking just like it came from a bakery. And it did indeed taste rich, creamy and not at all eggy.

 

CUSTARD PIE FILLING

5 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1-1/2 cups evaporated milk
1-1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
9-inch unbaked pie shell, at room temperature

Break eggs into mixing bowl.

Combine sugar with cornstarch. Whisk into eggs until incorporated. Continue to whisk for 1 minute. Add evaporated milk, water, vanilla and salt. Mix until well-incorporated. Cover bowl and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Skim off any bubbles from top of filling. Stir gently to blend in cornstarch settled on bottom of bowl. Do not create bubbles while stirring. Pour filling into pie shell, filling it 1/4 inch from rim. Bake 10 minutes, then add more filling, up to the rim of the pie shell. Continue baking about 20 minutes longer, until done. Check frequently: Nudge the pie gently; if it ripples near the center, it is not quite ready. Do not overbake. If the pie puffs up in the center, you've baked it too long, and your filling will be full of holes and watery (what a shame).

Nutritional information unavailable.

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