Whenever I travel by car, I clip my trusty GPS to the dashboard and set it loose like a bloodhound in a banquet. Sure, its intended use is to help me find my way, but I prefer to employ its services in the pursuit of good food. As I amble along the trail, my chow hound reminds me of the little take-out shop in Reading, MA, serving nothing but the best homemade chicken pies, or, the roadside clam shack in Ipswich, MA, frying up clams that smack of the sea. And when I'm in Vermont, it inevitably takes me along the maple trail.
Ducking into the crowded Wayside Restaurant in Berlin, VT, I'd already heard about their lauded maple cream pie. As fellow diners dug into their salt pork and milk gravy, I eagerly awaited the sweet stuff. It arrived at our table with a simple dollop of whipped cream on top. I smiled, and thanked my co-pilot.
Traditionally, Vermont's Maple Cream custard is thickened with flour. I'm a fan of thickening pastry cream with cornstarch, because the result is so silky. A bit of butter, stirred in at the end doesn't hurt either.
Maple Cream Pie
Makes 1 9-inch pie
For the crust:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into shards and chilled
About 3 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
4 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean
1 1/4 cup dark maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon corn starch
6 egg yolks
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy whipping cream, to top
For the crust:
In the bowl of a food processor, add the flour, salt and sugar. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the chilled butter ( I like to cut the butter into thin shards, then briefly chill it on a cookie sheet in the freezer), then process until the butter is cut into the flour and it is the texture of cornmeal. Add two tablespoons of the ice water and pulse a couple of times to bring the dough together, being careful not to over process. Add the remaining ice water, only as needed and until the dough just comes together. Remove the dough from the processor, wrap it in plastic, flatten it into a small disk, then chill it for at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375°.
Once chilled, roll the dough out on a cool surface to about 1/8-inch thick. Fold it in half, or drape it over the rolling pin to set into your pie plate. Trim the excess dough, then crimp the pie edges. Prick the bottom of the pie dough all over with a fork then freeze the molded pie dough for about 15-20 minutes.
Line the pie dough with aluminum foil, then set to bake as is or filled with pie weights (or beans). Bake for about 20 minutes or until the dough is set on the bottom. Remove the foil, reduce the heat to 350° and continue to bake until the crust is golden brown, about 15-20 minutes more. Remove from the oven, cool and fill with maple custard.
For the maple custard:
In a large, heavy-bottom pot set over medium heat, add the milk, the vanilla bean (which has been cut lengthwise and beans scraped into the pot), the maple syrup and the salt. Bring the milk to a simmer, then remove from heat and allow to steep, 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla pod.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the corn starch to a thick smooth paste. Bring the milk back to medium heat. Once the milk just comes to a simmer, ladel about 2 cups into the egg mixture, whisking to combine. Pour the egg mixture into the pot of milk, whisking constantly. Cook until custard thickens, about 5-8 minutes. Once thick, remove from heat and continue stirring to cool. Once the custard is cooled to about 140°, add the softened butter pieces, stirring after each addition. Your custard should be thick and smooth. If you find you've ended up with some lumps, pass it through a fine mesh strainer and nobody will know.
Pour the custard into the pre-baked pie shell and allow to cool. Once cool, cut into slices and top with whipped cream.