Smoky Tea Prune and Grappa Custard Pie

September 15, 2010
3 Ratings
  • Makes One Nine-Inch Pie
Author Notes

September and early October tend to be warm here in the Bay Area, so fall comes a bit later than in other places. You know autumn has arrived, however, when the farmers’ market vendors begin selling the new crop of nuts. There’s nothing, really, like a fresh walnut. I combine walnuts, prunes and figs in this pie, then cover them with a Grappa scented custard. Have you ever steeped prunes in a smoky tea? There's something about the raisin-y sweetness balanced with the smoke notes in the tea that I find irresistible. Enjoy!! ;o) —AntoniaJames

What You'll Need
  • 1/2 pound pitted prunes
  • 1 tablespoon Lapsang Souchong tea leaves (also sold as “Russian Caravan”)
  • 1 cup chopped walnut pieces, divided
  • 4 medium green or purple fresh figs, stems removed and quartered (Please see note below.)
  • 2 ½ tablespoons Grappa, divided (plus more for the topping . . . see below) below.)
  • 1 egg plus one yolk
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice, or more or less to taste
  • 2 nine-inch pie crusts
  • For the egg wash: 1 egg plus 1 tablespoon water
  • ½ teaspoon of white sugar mixed with 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • TOPPING: 2/3 cup crème fraiche + 2 tablespoons Grappa + 1 tablespoon sugar
  1. The night (or at least six hours) before making the pie, steep the tea leaves in 1 cup of just-boiled water, off the heat, for four minutes. Strain the tea and, in a small bowl, cover the prunes with it. Press down on the prunes to make sure they are fully immersed, at least to start. Let them sit at room temperature until ready to use.
  2. Prepare the crusts: Roll out the bottom to create a ½ inch overhang; put in the pie plate, cover well and refrigerate. Roll out the top crust, large enough to create a ¾ inch overhang; wrap with plastic and refrigerate until ready to use. (If I’m not using my rolling pin for other things, I wrap it around the pin, leaving on just the bottom/outer layer of wrap.) Refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. When ready to begin assembling the pie, preheat the oven to 425 Fahrenheit.
  4. Pour the soaking liquid off of the prunes, pressing down on them to release as much liquid as possible. Put the prunes in a strainer to drain.
  5. When the oven is hot, toast the walnut pieces on a baking sheet for about 5 minutes. Watch carefully, lest they burn. (It may well take less than 5 minutes to toast them.) When done, put half of them immediately into the prepared pie shell, and the rest into a bowl. They will continue to cook on the baking sheet if you don’t.
  6. Put the fig quarters in the pie shell, on top of the walnut pieces.
  7. Put the prunes in next, then the remaining 1/2 cup of walnut pieces; sprinkle over the filling the allspice and one tablespoon of Grappa.
  8. Paint the outer edge of the lower crust with the egg wash. Cover with the top crust, fold the top crust edge over the bottom crust edge and crimp.
  9. Brush the top crust with egg wash. Lightly sprinkle with the sugar and cinnamon mixture. If you do this from about 16 inches above the pie, you’ll get a more even distribution of it.
  10. Make 6 or 8 vents around the outside, and cut in the middle of the pie a vent that’s about 1 ½ inches in diameter. You can make it square or circular, or any other shape you like.
  11. Bake for 12 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit on a shelf in the bottom third of your oven.
  12. While the pie is baking, mix in a glass measuring cup with a spout the egg and second yolk, cream, vanilla, almond extract, ¼ cup sugar, allspice and 1 1/2 tablespoons of Grappa.
  13. Once the pie has baked for 12 minutes, turn the heat down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  14. Remove the pie from the oven and slowly pour the custard, a tablespoon or two at a time, into the vent hole. Tip the pie gently in each direction to allow the custard to fill the whole pie.
  15. Bake in the center of the oven for another 30 minutes.
  16. Check for browning after the pie has been in for a total of 25 minutes and put on a foil frame, or use whatever other method you prefer, if necessary to prevent the edges of the crust from getting too dark.
  17. Allow the pie to sit for at least an hour before cutting. Shortly before serving, mix together the crème fraiche, 2 tablespoons of Grappa and sugar. Serve each slice with a generous spoonful.
  18. Enjoy!! ;o)
  19. N.B. I substitute a tablespoon of Grappa for one tablespoon of water in my pie crust. It works like a charm in my mother's old-fashioned hot-water crust recipe, which is included in my Fidget Pie recipe on food52.
  20. Also, if you don't care much for Grappa, you could use Armagnac in this instead, or brandy.
  21. About the figs: If you can't get fresh figs, used dried, but plump them up in a cup or so of smoky tea, made just as you made the tea for the prunes. Or, substitute another quarter pound of prunes.
  22. N.B.: The custard is adapted from that in the Apple and Custard Pie in Phyllo Pastry recipe in Susan G. Purdy's "As Easy as Pie" (Atheneum, 1984)

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • SallyCan
  • Sagegreen
  • luvcookbooks
  • gingerroot
  • mrslarkin

Recipe by: AntoniaJames

See problem, solve problem. Ask questions; question answers. Disrupt, with kindness, courtesy and respect. ;o)

24 Reviews

autevsky February 17, 2013
This pie sounds amazing- I was wondering if you've ever made it w/o the top crust and if you thought the custard filling could handle that?
AntoniaJames February 18, 2013
I have never made it without the top crust; alas, I don't think it would work well. The custard sort of surrounds the prunes, and I think it needs the heat of the fruit beneath that top layer to cook. I do think that a variation on this, using a tart pan and making an almond cream to put down first, and then topping with the soaked prunes, would be a treat. But even then, I'd top it with a lattice (making, in essence, a crostata), because prunes simply are not that attractive on their own. But here's another recipe that might interest you: a flaugnarde (a clafoutis made with a fruit other than cherries) using prunes soaked in wine. http://food52.com/recipes/14664-wine-soaked-prune-flaugnarde-clafoutis ;o)
SallyCan September 16, 2010
Booze in the crust~what a great idea...you can coordinate your spirit with the flavors in the filling...rum for mincemeat...or coconut...bourbon for pecan...maybe even gin for lime...or venison....which have you tried, and which work best?
AntoniaJames September 16, 2010
Rum or bourbon with pecan, bourbon or brandy with apple, rum or bourbon with pumpkin and sweet potato, Scotch or Grappa with figs, gin with mincemeat (love the woodsy notes with all those warm spices and rich, deeply flavored fruits), Pernod when figs are paired with anise, ginger liqueur with pear or pear/apple combos .. . . those are a few that come to mind . . . .
Sagegreen September 16, 2010
I love your use of tea, not to mention the touch of grappa! Lovely recipe.
AntoniaJames September 16, 2010
Thank you! I'm looking for other ways to use the smoky tea, which adds a really interesting note to the fruit. It seems particularly suited for prunes and figs, as is the Grappa. ;o)
luvcookbooks September 16, 2010
Hope I'll have time to get grappa today-- also just got a tea cookbook, so interesting to see this pop up.
AntoniaJames September 16, 2010
What is the tea cookbook? Sounds interesting!!
luvcookbooks September 16, 2010
Culinary Tea, by Cynthia Gold and Lise Stern
a lot of tea information (the drink) and then tea recipes
just started looking at it and haven't made anything yet
from the index
Smoky Black Lentils
Chai Ice Cream with Hibiscus Almond Brittle
Lapsang Souchong-Braised Short Ribs of Beef
Jasmine Tea and Brandied Fruit Sangria
AntoniaJames September 16, 2010
Sounds so interesting! I'm particularly drawn to the smoky tea, and am interested in exploring more culinary uses, because I cannot eat smoky paprika (any paprika, for that matter) or any kind of smoked peppers and spices derived from them, so those obvious sources of smoke are not available to me. Thanks so much. I'll have to try to find this book!
luvcookbooks September 17, 2010
Thinking about purchasing a stove top smoker-- read about it in Eugenia Bone's preserving book. Recently read about the Green Egg, sounded like it would make a good smoker as well. Very sad to hear about your paprika allergy.
SallyCan September 16, 2010
A beautiful, interesting, and sophisticated pie! Like you! Love the treatment of the prunes, and I think that the topping should be required, not optional. The grappa fiend in this house wants me to make this pie :)
AntoniaJames September 16, 2010
I agree. The topping really isn't optional. I'll correct the recipe. What a silly mistake. The Grappa fiend will love the topping. In fact, the Grappa fiend may find that the topping goes well on all kinds of things. ;o)
AntoniaJames September 16, 2010
A couple more suggestions, Sally . . . you can sprinkle more Grappa over the pie filling, and did you see the note about substituting some of it for the water in Mother's hot water crust recipe? I've had a lot of fun playing with brandies, bourbon, rum, etc. in pie crusts. You should warm it slightly before adding, and warm just a touch, too. Putting a bit of booze in the crust gives it a great "nose," too . . . . but makes this pie even more of a "grown up" dessert. ;o)
gingerroot September 15, 2010
I can only imagine how good this must taste. It looks wonderful.
AntoniaJames September 15, 2010
Thank you, gingerroot! It's surprisingly rich, even with the custard in a secondary role. ;o)
mrslarkin September 15, 2010
Yes! Love the smokiness of the Russian Carravan!! This sounds great!
AntoniaJames September 15, 2010
Thank you so much! I plump up dried cherries, yellow raisins and/or red currants, sometimes all together, in Russian Caravan tea late in the evening, and stir the whole gorgeous, fragrant mixture into my steel cut oats for breakfast the next morning. If you like smoky tea, you'll love that, too! ;o)
aargersi September 15, 2010
This is fabulous ... first off we know that all of AJs recipes are, plus the prune fig walnut custard thing - LOVE it .... with ingredients like that it has to be good.
AntoniaJames September 15, 2010
Aaawwww, shucks, you are much too kind. Thank you. ;o)
nannydeb September 15, 2010
I love prunes! I just try this.
AntoniaJames September 15, 2010
If you love prunes, you'll love this pie! I hope you try it. ;o)
Midge September 15, 2010
Love all these flavors. What a brilliant combination.
AntoniaJames September 15, 2010
Oh, I'm glad you think so. Quite a compliment, coming from you. Thank you so much. ;o)