Smoky Tea Prune and Grappa Custard Pie

September 15, 2010
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

  • Makes one nine-inch pie
  • 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
In This Recipe
  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)

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Recipe by: AntoniaJames

When I'm not working (negotiating transactions for internet companies), or outside enjoying the gorgeous surroundings here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'm likely to be cooking, shopping for food, planning my next culinary experiment, or researching, voraciously, whatever interests me. In my kitchen, no matter what I am doing -- and I actually don't mind cleaning up -- I am deeply grateful for having the means to create, share with others and eat great food. Life is very good. ;o)