It took a few tries, but I’ve finally settled on a recipe for Momma’s Syrup Pie (or Tarte au Sirop). My goal was to recreate a pie that is, on the surface, very simple: a sweet pie dough crust, with a caramel custard-like filling, though not a caramel custard pie per se. This old Cajun pie was a doozy to figure out because few reliable, exact recipes exist as far as I can tell. Oh, syrup pies are out there, for sure, and many a Cajun household has its own version. But I was unable to find one that would render the confection I remember from childhood. The most common things that pop up online for “Syrup Pie” or “Tarte au Sirop” are old recipes from Canada or France. But despite the similar names and assumed provenance of this Cajun dessert, none of those pies were what Momma made.
The pie I set out to make – Momma’s pie – is buttery; the filling is sweet (but not cloyingly so), slightly smoky, and does not involve eggs, like custards typically do. It would have been very nice if I or one of my siblings had bothered to take down an accurate recipe from Momma (which was all in her head, of course). Sadly, that did not happen, so her recipe died with her.
In my discovery process (which always involves personal and online research, and many trials and errors in the kitchen) I learned that the most important aspect of getting this pie right is not the list of the relatively few ingredients, but the technique. Like when making a roux, you have to be patient to get this pie right. That said, the nostalgic child in me thinks all this fuss is well worth the effort.
For the Sweet Pie-dough Crust:
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
6 tablespoons of sugar
6 tablespoons of cold unsalted butter
1 extra-large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon ice-cold water
Mix dry ingredients by hand or in a food processor. Chop butter into small cubes, add to the dry ingredients, coat with flour, then hand crumble (or pulse 15 times) till the result is like thick sand.
In a large mixing bowl, add the egg to the mix and combine well with a fork. Add the water if needed to allow the dough to form into a ball – but not too much. You don’t want a sticky dough. Kneed 4 or 5 times on a lightly floured surface. Form a 6-inch disk, wrap in plastic and chill for one hour before rolling out. This is enough dough to fill a medium-sized (8 or 9 in.) pie pan, with extra to make strips for the top of the pie.
For the pie filling:
24 ounces of corn syrup (not maple)
5 ounces of evaporated milk heated about 45 seconds in a microwave (or a sauce pan) until hot, but not boiling.
3.5 tablespoons of sifted all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons cold, salted butter
Sea salt for sprinkling
On high heat in a thick saucepan, cook the syrup till just boiling.
Reduce heat to medium-high and whisk in the warmed milk until fully blended. Whisk in the flour, one tablespoon at a time, until all is fully incorporated with no lumps. Continue whisking occasionally for 8-10 minutes more, till the mixture is the consistency of room-temperature peanut butter. Stir in the salt and butter. Remove from heat and continue to stir occasionally for another 5 minutes to allow the mixture to thicken further.
Pour filling into an unbaked sweet pie-dough shell, cover with 1/2-inch strips of rolled-out pie dough, then fold over the excess edges from the perimeter of the pie pan. Bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes or until the crust is light brown. Remove from oven and lightly sprinkle coarse sea salt over the top (a modern twist that helps temper the pie’s sweetness). Cool on a wire rack for 1 hour before serving.
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