Egg custard pie is a Southern favorite, often a nostalgic family recipe transcending generations. It’s simple, classic, and incredibly comforting. If you grew up in the South, you probably have a relative who makes egg custard pie time and time again, but even those of us who don't have a time-honored family recipe can now make this comforting classic at home.
This recipe is the classic, the original dessert from which many other custard pies are derived. Switch out whole milk for buttermilk and you have buttermilk pie, or thicken the custard with cornmeal and you have chess pie.
Egg custard pie is made with a basic custard baked in a flaky, all-butter pie crust. The flavors are simple: aromatic vanilla and nutty ground nutmeg. But its simplicity is the basis for its reassuring comfort. That, and the marriage of two contrasting textures: a smooth, creamy custard and a snappy, flaky crust.
Tips and Tricks for the Best Pie Crust
While there is no shame in using a store-bought crust (it’s such a time saver!), there’s nothing quite like a buttery, flaky pie crust made from scratch. These tips will make you a pie crust expert so you can achieve the perfect pie crust every time.
- Keep it cold: Mixing the dough with cold ingredients and chilling the mixed dough before rolling will help create an extra flaky crust that’s a breeze to roll out. It can help to dice the butter ahead of time, then chill or freeze it for 20 minutes before mixing the dough. This prevents the butter from melting into the flour during mixing so you can achieve a flakier crust.
- Make ahead: After mixing the dough, refrigerate it for at least one hour before rolling. This extra time in the fridge not only chills the dough but also allows the flour to hydrate and the gluten to relax. Chilled dough is much easier to roll out and better maintains the distinct layers of butter in the dough.
- A food processor makes quick work of preparing a pie crust and cuts the butter into the flour without melting it. Don't fret if you don't have a food processor; pie dough is easy to mix by hand with a pastry cutter or just the tips of your fingers.
- Add the ice water one tablespoon at a time. You know you’ve added enough water to the dough when a small handful of the crumbly dough holds together when pinched with your fingers.
- Blind bake the crust before adding the filling. With a liquid filling like custard, blind baking the crust ensures it’s crisp, flaky, and sturdy enough to support the filling. Without blind-baking, the crust would be too soggy.
How to Make the Custard Filling
The custard filling for this pie is an easy mix of milk, butter, eggs, sugar, and flour with a bit of vanilla extract and ground nutmeg for flavoring. The custard ingredients are whisked together in a large bowl and poured into the pre-baked pie crust. Then it’s carefully placed into the oven and baked at a low temperature so the custard can thicken slowly to help prevent curdling the eggs by cooking them too quickly.
When the pie is ready, the custard will just have begun to turn golden. The edge of the custard will be set, but the middle will still wobble. You may think it's underbaked, but the custard continues to thicken as it cools. If you want to be extra sure, you can check with an instant-read thermometer. The center of the custard should register between 170°F and 180°F.
Make-Ahead Pie Crust
While the custard filling cannot be prepared in advance, you can get a head start on the crust. The pie crust can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored in the fridge tightly wrapped with plastic. The pie dough can also be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw the dough in the refrigerator overnight before rolling out the crust.
You can even freeze the par-baked crust. After the crust has cooled completely, double wrap it in plastic and store it in the freezer for up to one month. Let the crust thaw in the refrigerator overnight or on the counter for 1 hour before pouring the custard filling in.
The cooled pie will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator covered tightly with foil or plastic wrap. The custard filling does not freeze well, resulting in an unpleasant texture once thawed.
For When You Want More Pie
Egg Custard Pie
Recipe Note: To make the pie crust from scratch, allow for an additional 15 minutes of hands-on time plus 1 hour to chill the dough.
Use an oven thermometer to check the temperature of your oven. The slightly more gentle baking at 325°F ensures the custard bakes evenly, which keeps it from sinking and curdling.
- 1 store-bought or homemade pie crust
- 1 cup (200g) sugar
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 4 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons (28g) unsalted butter, melted
- 2 cups (480ml) whole milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F.
Lightly grease a 9-inch pie plate with butter.
Roll out the homemade crust:
Dust your countertop lightly with flour. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough to a 12-inch circle, about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick.
To roll the dough, start at the center and roll outwards to the edges. Rotate the dough as you roll to keep the dough circular. If the dough starts to stick, lightly dust the dough or the rolling pin with more flour.
Transfer dough to pie plate:
Carefully transfer the dough into a 9-inch pie dish. To do this while minimizing the risk of tearing the dough, use the rolling pin to roll up the dough, then unroll it into the pie dish. Gently press in the dough to line the lightly greased pie dish.
Crimp edges of pie dough then freeze:
Roll and fold the overhang of dough to build up the edges, trimming any excess dough as you work around the pie dish. Use your fingers or a fork to crimp the edges of the pie dough. Transfer the crust to the freezer, unwrapped to chill until the oven is preheated.
Prepare crust for pre-bake:
Remove the chilled crust from the freezer. Line the inside of the crust with enough heavy-duty aluminum foil or parchment paper that it extends over the edges. These make convenient handles for easy removal later and protect the rim of the crust from over-browning. Fill with pie weights or dry beans about two-thirds full. This ensures the crust doesn’t puff up while baking.
If you need more tips and tricks for blind baking a pie crust, here is a good resource!
Par-bake the crust:
Bake the crust for 45 to 50 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove the foil and pie weights and let the crust cool slightly while preparing the filling.
Reduce the oven temperature:
Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.
Make the filling:
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, salt, and nutmeg.
Whisk in the eggs, followed by the melted butter, then the milk and vanilla extract. The filling will be quite liquid and pale yellow.
Bake the pie:
You can place the pie onto a sheet pan before adding the filling into the parbaked crust (this will ensure that there is no spillage in your oven.
Pour the filling into the parbaked crust. Carefully transfer the pie to the oven and bake, 50 to 55 minutes. The custard should be set at the edges, but still wobbly in the center. An instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the pie should read 170°F to 175°F. The custard may appear too liquidy, but it will set further as it cools.
If the edges of the pie start to get too dark you can cover them with a pie shield or strips of aluminum foil.
Cool and chill:
Remove the pie from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool to room temperature. When it’s completely cool, store the pie in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve.
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