- Butterscotch Pie and a Story of Sharing
This recipe came from one of my favorite pie books, The American Pie by Beth M. Howard. She writes of pain, loss, pie eating contests, and friendly neighbors. She loves turning people on via food and how pie has gotten her through the worst and the best moments of her life. Friends and family have passed most of the recipes onto her and some she has tweaked herself over the years. I have tried many a pie in her book, but this is by far the best. As she credits her pie mentor for saying, “you can’t go wrong with brown sugar and butter.”
The butterscotch pie was not the first cooked cream pie I ever tried, but was by far the most successful on the first try. With any kitchen adventure, I am what my husband lovingly refers to as a “dish whore”. I use a ton of dishes when I cook and bake, none of which I enjoy cleaning after. Cupcakes require at least 3 bowls (wet ingredients, dry ingredients, icing) plus the cupcake pan, and drying rack. Do things need chopping? I’ll usually use just 1 cutting board. But then there are the tools; oh how I love my kitchen tools. Corers and peelers, graters and mixers, not to mention the measuring cups and spoons. It adds up, so when I figured out that this incredibly good pie only required 1 saucepan and 3 bowls, plus the pie dish, let’s just say my husband actually asked me to make this a couple times.
Let’s get this out into the open: pies are for sharing. I mean… I love eating pie. Thanksgiving in my house requires as many desserts, usually pies, as there are people, guaranteeing a plethora of leftovers. And the best is having leftover pie just sitting in the refrigerator, waiting to be a late night snack or, occasionally, a breakfast. There is nothing like it. Except for the joy felt when you give a slice to a friend. Or a whole one to someone in need of a pick-me-up. Or as a thank you. Or a welcome to the neighborhood. You get the idea. Home made pies just work as a shared object. They represent a home goodness, nostalgia feeling and making something with your own two hands. It’s a connection between people without strings or expectations. Of course, my strongest memory of sharing a pie didn’t include any of those serotonin-good feelings, just tears, a little laughter, and a whole lot of regret eating.
My sister saw a picture I took of this pie and wrote asking for a slice. Unfortunately, it had already been eaten at a party, so I promised her I would make another. Later that week I did, and in a moment of pure stupidity thought I would give her an entire half. This pie had just barely started to set, and the whole thing was still piping hot. If I had half a brain, I would have brought it over the next day instead of trying to send it right then with her husband.
I took the pie slicer and cut it in half, and recklessness just took over my brain. “I can put the half in the Tupperware in one piece.” Yeah… no. But still I tried. I got a few pie cutters under the piece, as well as one big burger flipper, and made the move. Lift straight up, turn to the left and down into the plastic ware. Which would have worked perfectly, if the burger flipper handle hadn’t caught on my knife block, knocking the whole thing upside down, barely landing back into the pie dish.
Splat, boom, tears.
I looked at my husband in horror; I dropped the pie! Granted, it wasn’t on the floor, but it might as well have been. He gave that amused “you silly thing” look, and asked if I wanted help. Kitchen honor destroyed, I declined and decided to try again with the still beautiful half of the pie. Take two went perfectly and in it went. So all that was left from an afternoon of baking and putting love into the pie was now a messy pie crumble; meringue flat and essentially gone, filling falling everywhere and crust busted up like a granola bar. I sat on the kitchen floor, pie dish in my lap, slowly ladling in my sad pie remains.
But damn it, my mangled half still tasted good. And that was a great moment for me; I realized the pie had been through a lot. It was literally upside down and looked nothing like the beauty I wanted it to be. But it was still wonderful to eat, especially when every time I looked at it, I remembered that moment of panic and the attempt to juggle a steamy cream pie.
It also didn’t hurt that a few hours later, a text picture came through of the now empty Tupperware container. It was delicious and quickly eaten, either beautifully whole or comically crumbled.
This recipe is slightly adapted.
Until recently, I was all about the store bought crust. It was easy and unless you tried unrolling it before it defrosted, you couldn’t go wrong. It was also bland and honestly, felt like cheating. I would write away as ‘I haven’t found a good pie crust recipe yet. When I do, I’ll stop buying from the store.’ So there is no shame in buying from the store. But you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t at least try this crust recipe. One of the easiest I have found, I have made dozens of pies with it and have only had one disaster (due to an incredibly humid day).
With cream pies, it is best to use a blind-baked crust. This means a few extra steps. This will prevent the crust from shrinking while cooked so it won’t rattle around in the dish. My first time trying my crust shrunk anyway, but still tasted just as good as a perfectly blind-baked one. Instructions will follow the Crust recipe.
¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, chilled and cut into large chunks
¼ cup vegetable shortening, chilled
1 ¼ cups flour, plus extra for rolling
Dash of salt
Ice water (won’t need much, around ¼ cup)
In a large bowl, work the butter and shortening into the flour and salt by hand. Allow pea-sized lumps of butter to remain. Drizzling a little water at a time, toss the flour as if it were a salad. Don’t do too much, just enough to moisten. Add water, toss no more than 5 times, add more water, toss no more than 5 times. Repeat until the dough holds together on its own (make it into a ball and squeeze it. If it falls apart, add more water. If sticky or soggy, add more flour) Just remember, do not over work the dough. Less is definitely better. Take the dough and make it into a disk.
Sprinkle flour under and on top of the dough, especially on the rolling surface and rolling pin. Start from the center and roll out to the edges, don’t roll back and forth. Use the pie dish to calculate how big you’ll need it, with extra for the depth and crimping. Now VEEEEEEERY SLOWLY, lift the dough off the rolling surface, using a scraper. (I’m cheap and use what I have, which is a frosting knife and it works just as well.) Place it into the pie dish, letting gravity do most of the work. You may need to nudge it with your fingers a bit, as well as pushing out any air bubbles. Try not to roll the dough out more than once or twice. It’s better to cut and piece the dough together in the dish than to start all over. The dough will turn tough and be hard to chew. Don’t make pie hard to chew.
And there you have it. The best pie crust recipe I’ve found. But while a pie may taste wonderful, part of the pie journey is making it look good, but still homemade. Crimping was also a challenge to me; it never seemed to look good enough. The secret is what follows.
Roll the dough edge in an underhand motion (will take some practice) so it will sit on the dish rim. Hold your thumb and pointer finger together, making a little v. The inside of the fingers where your knuckles are should touch. Put them on the inside rum of the pie dish. On the outside, hold your other pointer finger vertically and gently push the side of your fingertip into the v of your other fingers, creating a nice groove. Lift your fingers off and repeat. Rotate the dish around so you aren’t twisting your body and pull your back out or something crazy.
Prick the bottom and sides with a fork. Lay a sheet of foil over the dough and fill it with weights. This can be beans, rice, screws, coins, whatever might tickle your fancy. It’s just to keep the crust weighted down so it won’t shrink. Bake the pie at 425° for 20 minutes. Remove the weights, turn the oven down to 375° and bake another 5-10 minutes until brown.
Now we are onto the best part (other than the eating of course). Watching this come together is a rollercoster. You have to watch the heat levels so as not to burn the bottom. And you swear the lumps won’t break up and it’ll just be a hot mess, but then poof! It’s thick, creamy, and a beautiful deep caramel.
1.5 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
½ cup cornstarch
2 cups whole milk (I have made versions with milk, half-and-half, and all heavy cream. I would recommend all of them. But go with the milk or half-and-half as the extra calories don’t change the taste.)
4 egg yolks (save whites for meringue)
2 tsp vanilla
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
Using medium heat in a saucepan, stir together the brown sugar and cornstarch (careful not to burn the sugar!). Add the cream gradually. Cook until thick and bubbling, then remove from the heat. This is where you swear it is chunky, gloppy, and will be ruined. Just keep stirring and believe it will even out.
Beat the egg yokes in a small bowl. Add about a cup of the sugar/cream mixture to the eggs. Make sure to stir quickly so the eggs don’t curdle. Toss it all back into the saucepan and turn the heat back on. Keep stirring (DO NOT STOP) until it boils gently. Keep stirring for two more minutes while gently boiling. It is very important to keep stirring and keep the heat low so it won’t burn. Cause a pot full of burnt caramel… so sad!
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and butter. When combined, pour into the pie shell. Allow the spoon and saucepan to cool a little before licking clean cause there is no way you can resist a taste of the heaven you just created. Besides, I always thought licking the batter off the spoon and bowl was the reward for making something meant for sharing. It was your bakers fee.
Now prepare the meringue. The first time I made the pie, I noticed not long after the pie was finished and was sitting, little tear drops starting appearing along side of the peaks. This is called a weeping meringue. It doesn’t change the taste, just the look a little. They are also a tad sticky. I thought it looked cute, as if the pie knew it’s time was coming to an end *evil laugh*.
4 egg whites
¼ tsp cream of tartar
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until peaks start to form. Add the sugar a little at a time, then add the vanilla. Beat on high speed until the peaks are stiff.
Spread the meringue over the pie filling, all the way to the edge of the crust so it creates a seal. Dab at the meringue with the back of a spoon. Bake at 375° for 15 minutes or until meringue peaks turn brown. Keep an eye on it so no burning happens!
Some days you just feel like eating a memory. I get that feeling with this pie so often, I figured out how to make a mini version. Really, it’s just the filling made into a ¼ size, so the portion isn’t completely out of control. It is still worth taking caution with, so share it with a loved one. Or throw caution to the wind and ‘accidentally’ eat it all yourself (like me). Follow the same recipe directions for the filling, just know it won’t take as long to cook. Put the finished filling in a bowl and chow down.
¼ cup brown sugar, another ⅛ cup brown sugar
1.5 tablespoons cornstarch
½ cup whole milk
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 tbsp butter (⅛ of a stick)