Boozy desserts always seem a little bit naughty to me – especially desserts that are a bit booze-forward, so you get the sense that you’re indulging in more than just a slice of pie or piece of cake after dinner! This recipe was inspired by a wonderful recipe for rum pie in Martha Stewart’s Pies & Tarts, which is a book that has been on my shelf for a long time. While I love rum, I happened to be in the mood for a bourbon-infused dessert and used that spirit as a starting point instead. Bourbon may not scream “dessert” to you when you first open that bottle, but it is actually a wonderful spirit to bake with. All bourbon is barrel-aged and barrel-aging tends to introduce notes of vanilla, toffee and baking spice to whiskey. Of course, no two bourbons will taste exactly the same, but the vanilla and spice flavors are things that you’ll find in just about every bottle. And this means that bourbon can easily be incorporated into many vanilla and spice desserts.
This Bourbon & Vanilla Bean Custard Pie starts with a vanilla bean base. Vanilla bean is infused into whole milk, which is combined with sugar, eggs, cornstarch and plenty of bourbon. The bourbon is added after the custard base is removed from the heat, along with some butter. The butter adds a silkiness to the custard, while the bourbon infuses it with flavor. Not all the alcohol will cook out of the bourbon when you add it at the end of the cooking process like this, and that means that you’ll taste bourbon in every bite.
For a richer pie that is a little bit more like creme brulee than a regular custard, you can substitute the milk for half-and-half (or simply replace half of the milk with heavy cream). For a lower fat pie, you can actually use a lower fat milk, however the pie will not be quite as velvety as one made with whole milk. I used whole milk in this pie and love the consistency that it delivers. The pie is easy to slice but not so rich that you feel limited to eating only a tiny slice.
The finishing touch on this pie is a bruleed topping – and it isn’t made by flambeeing the pie, even though there is bourbon in the filling! The topping is simply made by sprinkling sugar onto the pie after baking and putting it back under the broiler for 1-2 minutes, until the sugar has caramelized. If you have a kitchen torch, you can skip the broiler and brulee the sugar by hand. The sugary topping should be prepared just before serving, so simply leave the pie in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve it. The pie can be prepared a day in advance.
Bourbon & Vanilla Bean Custard Pie
2 1/2 cups milk, pref. whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/3 cup bourbon*
2 tbsp butter, room temperature
9-inch pie crust, prebaked and cooled
1-2 tbsp sugar, for topping
Preheat oven to 350F.
Pour milk into a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the vanilla bean seeds using the back of a knife. Add the seeds the the pod to the milk. Bring to a simmer and turn off the heat. Let stand for 10 minutes to infuse the milk. Remove the pods and bring milk back to a simmer.
While milk is heating, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, salt, eggs and egg yolk. When the milk comes to a simmer, temper the eggs by very slowly drizzling the milk into the egg mixture while whisking constantly. When all the milk has been added, pour the whole mixture back into the saucepan. Cook, stirring regularly, until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Remove from heat and stir in the bourbon. Add the butter and stir until it melts and becomes completely incorporated into the butter.
Pour custard into prepared pie crust. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until filling thickens slightly around the edges of the pie.
Allow pie to cook completely, then refrigerate until well-chilled, 4-6 hours.
Before serving, sprinkle sugar over the top of the pie. Put the pie under the broiler for 1-2 minutes, until sugar is caramelized, or brulee with a kitchen torch.
*I recommend Maker’s Mark for this recipe, though many other brands of bourbon can be used.