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Entries in pie (3)


A real contender


We'd had apples and pumpkin already for our pies, yet I still had the lingering twitch to make another. One with walnuts. And maple. As you do, this time of year.

For my friends in the United States, I'm here to give you a head start. For everyone else, I'm here to give you Maple Walnut Custard Pie.

While I'd boldly declared dessert plans figured, I've gone and improved upon the theme with a real contender for shared billing with that ice cream. I made this pie on Sunday, a week after our Thanksgiving and forty-some-odd days before the American counterpart (there's your head start, pals to the south — you can thank me later).

Ice cream was actually at the beginning of this. That's what got into my head, this funny memory of a past conversation with a friend, detailing the merits of Butter Pecan ice cream versus Maple Walnut. (And it's a good friend who both puts up with, and ardently participates in, such arguments.) Our debate made me think of my father, as it always does — not only because Maple Walnut is usually his favourite, but also because he began sugaring the maple trees on his property the same winter my eldest son was born.  

He tapped a few trunks and he, with the help of my eldest nephew, harvested the sap. They made quite the picture, ferrying buckets full of clear liquid from the forest to big pots that sat atop a wood-fed stove. There the sap bubbled and reduced, going golden then amber and sweet. In those first years, the stove had a shorter stack, so the resulting syrups were touched with smoke. The syrup smelled, and even better tasted, of crisp air and campfires. 

It was the nicest I've ever had. 

So I made this pie, with my father still in mind, and my mother-in-law too, because she likes both butter pecan and maple walnut, and Sean's grandmother as well, because she makes the finest Butter Tarts and this pie reminds me of them —  a subject we should stick a pin in and come back to later.

This pie is an old-fashioned looker, made by hand. You can consider it a rustic variation on pecan pie, a brawny northern cousin that's caramelly sweet but unexpectedly subtle. A bit flannely, with a generous smile. That sort.

You'll see there's two brown sugars in the filling. I thought all dark might be too heavy, and all golden might be too anemic - but using only one or the other would be perfectly fine in a pinch. The one thing can't be fiddled is the maple syrup, which needs to be proper stuff. 

Choose the grade you're fond of, or if you come across some smokily intense maple syrup, then that's the one to invite along. It'll hang around with the toasty-edged walnuts and get on like best mates who to talk about ice cream. 

Their companionship is both complimented and tamed by the boosted creaminess brought by a swirl of evaporated milk (I know!) stirred in with the eggs. And the oats! Those oats, they're tricky misters, and the subject of quite the side-eye as they went into the bowl. But oh, what a difference a soak and a bake make. The oats fluff up, lose their form and give the pie a pleasant density, setting the custard soft and pudding-like, underneath the cobblestone crust of walnuts that float to the top and go crunchy.

In secure belief that this is a pie you'll like, I'll see about asking Dad for an extra-large syrup harvest come spring.

I'll thank him later for that. Quite possibly with pie. 


Maple Walnut Custard Pie
Adapted from The Egg Farmers of Ontario.

The ingredients are pretty much the same as the original; the method is where things change. Here there's the instruction to pre-bake the crust. And, when almost done, the warm pastry gets a thin coat of egg white, which is then baked for a minute until shining.

These added measures maintain some of the crust's crispness, which is nice against the smooth filling. It also makes the pastry edge extra pretty. 

1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup golden brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup butter, melted
Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/8 teaspoon table
Unbaked 8-by-2-inch chilled pastry shell, see note
Granulated sugar for sprinkling
One egg white for brushing plus 3 whole eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat an oven to 400°F (205°C). 

In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the walnuts until golden and fragrant. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together sugars, oats, evaporated milk, maple syrup, melted butter, vanilla and salt. 

Prick the pastry all over with a fork. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes, pressing down any puffed areas with the back of a spoon gently if necessary. Remove the foil and bake for 10 minutes more, the crust should be starting to look dry in places. Remove the crust from the oven, brush all over with a thin coating of the egg white, and sprinkle edge with granulated sugar, if desired. Return to the oven to bake for 1 minute more. 

Set aside the crust to keep warm, and reduce the oven temperature to  350°F (175°C).

Stir the toasted walnuts into the filling, along with the whole eggs. As soon as the oven reaches temperature, pour the filling into the still-warm crust and bake until puffed at the centre and set with little wobble, about 60 minutes. Transfer to a baking rack and cool completely before slicing. 

Makes one 8-inch pie, serving 8-10.


  • I changed the size of the pie, as the greater ratio of filling to pastry made for a more satisfying bite. A pâte brisée recipe for a 9 or 10-inch pie will allow for the extra depth of a 8-by-2-inch pie plate. If using a store-bought pie shell, which are usually 9-inch, reduce the cooking time to around 40 minutes. 



Summer, swallowed whole

the last of august

I do believe that summer may have left us.

Despite the weekend's warmth of a sun that seemed especially golden, the rustle of leaves this morning speaks in murmurs of autumn. The sky looks a painterly depiction of the layers of a feathers on a dove's wing. 

I wore jeans the other day, and a shirt with long sleeves. What's worse is that I didn't mind. I may have even cast a longing glance at a pair of wool socks.

And then there's school. Yesterday was the the first for our First, Benjamin's first day at school. Backpack and new shoes, a fresh haircut and the whole nine yards. September is forever changed in what it means to him. And to us, as we zipped up that backpack and mussed up that hair and thought to ourselves, "my, how time does fly."

Not to dwell too long, or next thing you know I'll be humming The Byrds and we'll all be lost. 

Let's rewind. Back to summer. And back to this pie - it's Blackberry Cream Pie, in case you're wondering. And it was the way we said goodbye to our August, with a send off and a salute. 

If you ask me, there's no doubt, blackberries are the end of summer, swallowed whole. I feel like their sourness differs from that of strawberries and raspberries. It seems to hit further back on the tongue, at the back of the jaw and tannic. Like their looks, they taste darker, of fruit that should grow among brambles, of wildness and things overgrown.

And to me, this pie, is all that is an August afternoon, transfixed.

Inspired by a pie from Sweet Fine Day, this version has a golden shortbread crust beneath a filling of whole berries bound by a soft-set blackberry purée. It's voluptuous and beguiling like jelly without the wobble.The whole fruit, those ebony clustered bubbles bursting upon biting, are full of all of August's heat and humidity. 

There's patches of pink where the filling seeps into the pale cream, but mostly the fruit just shines duskily, jet and juicy.

The wind is picking up now, with the curtains at my side puffing in and out with the breath of September. The start of something new is upon us, but this summer, and it was a good one, is still on my mind. 


Blackberry Cream Pie
Adapted from the Fresh Strawberry Pie from Sweet Fine Day. Most packets of powdered gelatin contain 1 tablespoon, or 3 teaspoons - this recipe will use an entire packet, with 2 teaspoons for the filling and 1 teaspoon reserved for the topping.

Ingredients for the crust
2 cups shortbread cookie crumbs
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Ingredients for the filling
6 cups blackberries, divided
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons powdered gelatin

Ingredients for the topping
1 1/2 cups heavy, whipping cream
2 tablespoons caster sugar
Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons milk


To make the crust, preheat an oven to 325°F (160°C). In a large bowl, stir together the cookie crumbs and salt. While stirring, start to drizzle in the butter. Only use enough butter to dampen the crumbs - depending on the cookies used it might be as little as 1 tablespoon or as much as 3. If you compress the crumbs with the back of a spoon they should pack like sand at the beach, but not appear sodden.

Press the crumbs into a 10-inch springform pan, forming an even layer across the bottom and a 3-inch crust up the sides. Bake in the preheated oven until lightly golden and set, around 8-10 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.

To make the filling, take 3 cups of the berries and put them in a medium saucepan with the sugar and the of the salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring, until the fruit becomes soft and the juices begin to thicken, around 7-10 minutes.

Carefully remove the blackberries to a blender (or use an immersion blender), and process until smooth. Push the puréed sauce through a sieve, back into the saucepan. Return to the heat and bring again to a simmer, stirring often. Cook the sauce until it becomes thick, with a clear, glossy look, around 5-7 minutes. You should have around 1 cup of purée.

Off the heat, stir in the lemon zest, followed by the soaked gelatin, stirring quickly to dissolve.

Tumble in the reserved berries, give them a few turns in the pan to coat, then pour into the cooled crust. Refrigerate for 10 minutes to start to firm up.

To make the topping, pour the whipping cream into a bowl along with the sugar and scraped contents of the vanilla bean. Beat the cream to firm peaks, then fold in the sour cream. 

In a small saucepan, soak the gelatin in the milk. Once soaked, heat the gelatin gently over low heat until it melts and the mixture is smooth. Working quickly but gently, fold the gelatin into the whipped cream. Spread the topping over the blackberry filling, return the pie to the fridge and chill until set, around 2 hours. 

To serve, remove from the pan and cut with a warm knife, wiping the blade clean between slices. 

Makes a 10-inch pie.


  • I used an oatmeal shortbread cookie to make the crumbs for the crust, but a plain shortbread or graham crackers will work beautifully. In the case of the latter, you will need to use extra melted butter for the crumbs to hold together properly.
  • Earlier this summer I made this pie with raspberries and a graham cracker crust. If they're the berry for you, don't hesitate to do the same. 


Glowed in my mind

I used to have a particular prejudice against banana cream pies. When I thought of them, I thought of flabby pastry barely-restraining globs of pudding soused with imitation banana flavouring and topped with mounds of cotton-candy-sweet cream. I assumed their only use was as the punchline to a gag; the projectile of choice for one clown to toss squarely into the pucker of another - most likely right after they had exited the confines of a very small car. Discarded pie everywhere, the crowd erupts in riotous laughter.

That is what I thought of banana cream pies.

As with most prejudices, mine was not rooted in much reason. Save for an encounter with some aggressively-flavoured banana pudding I had at a friends house as a child, I do not think I have ever tried anything remotely associated to a banana cream pie. Banana bread, we're old acquaintances. But banana cream pie and I were pretty much strangers.

Most often I see it offered against the gleaming expanse of diner counters, on mile-high cake stands, with its pristine swirls captured under a glass dome. I am almost enticed. But then my wandering eye catches glimpse of Banana Cream's sibling Coconut or its dreamy cousin Chocolate, both equally (and moreso) tempting. There's no contest. It hardly needs saying that my preference consistently falls with the the latter.

My dear friend, all of that is in the past. For now I am a full-fledged, card-carrying convert.

These past few days, I have had reason to feel thankful. Thankful in a way that makes you feel lucky. That makes you feel cared for. That makes you feel light. I have had good reason to feel crazy as well, but the thankful part far outweighs all of that nonsense.

I wanted to bake something for those responsible for some of that gratitude, to wordlessly express how much their efforts were appreciated. I feel like a Wednesday is a fine reason to celebrate when they are around. With book laid open, the recipe for banana cream pie grabbed my fancy and would not let go; the notion of a proper pie just about glowed in my mind with projected nostalgia.

So I baked my first banana cream pie. And what did I learn?

I learned that banana cream pies can be sublime. Now that is an often-used word when it comes to dessert, but a more apt description would be hard to find. This pie is worlds away from any of my preconceived notions. Crisp pastry cradles slices of ripe banana layered with smooth, spiced custard. The fruit and pastry cream are meltingly supple, melding into one, singular, wonderful texture. Atop all of this a cloud of heavy cream, barely whipped and barely sweet, tangy and bright with the addition of some sour cream.

If you are going to have a banana cream pie, please take my word and make it this one. This pie is not for throwing.

Banana Cream Pie
From the book Baking: From My Home to Yours (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006) by Dorie Greenspan. A modern classic, this book is one of my most reliable resources - I have never been disappointed by a recipe. My family will heartily attest to that.



• I used dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar in the filling as that was all I had on hand. The resulting custard had a deep, rich caramel flavour; its colour was a bit muddied, but we didn't mind.
• I added a good pinch of ground ginger to go along with the cinnamon and nutmeg.