9 Oct 2011

Ale 'Custard' Pie: An experiment too far

Obviously drunk on the success of my Hogsmeade Butterbeer Tarts, a mischievous little voice in my head cried, "More Ale!" So I got to thinking... Is it possible to use an entire pint of ale in a sweet pie filling?

Because of it's high egg content, I reasoned I could substitute Tudor Buttered Beere for the custard in a baked custard tart as long as I added some cream to tone the flavour down and give the mixture a thicker consistency. You see, I've always imagined the Butterbeer in Harry Potter to taste like a frothy, creamed honey ale with a bit of a kick that lingers at the back of your throat. (Nothing like the insipid butterscotch-flavoured root beer concoctions floating about). But let me tell you, the flavour of ale in this was something else. Not for the faint hearted.

The article does warn:
 "The taste is ‘sharp’, as the cloves bind with the ale to make it the lingering, lasting taste on the tongue, drying the mouth, (it is almost unpleasant at first) but carry on drinking and it soon mellows and it becomes acceptable, then very drinkable ... [if] chilled and blended with cold milk it is very enjoyable ... tasting of caramel and winter spices; and this is how we recommend it"

It was far too bitter for my taste, even after dumping in a whole cup of brown sugar.So I got to thinking... If adding more milk makes it more drinkable, would adding the filling to a cheesecake make it more edible?
Thankfully, I came to my senses and admitted defeat.

I'll post the recipe for the sake of curiosity only. I don't actually recommend making it. I was going to finish this pie with a meringue top because that's what every ale needs, right? A nice bit of froth on top? Sufficed to say, it never happened.

Ale 'Custard' Pie (An epic fail)

For the pie:
1 package unsweetened shortcrust pastry (or homemade)
1 bottle (500ml / 2 cups) real ale
1/8 tsp ground ginger
pinch ground nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
3 large eggs + 2 egg yolks, reserve whites
500g (1 cup, packed) light brown sugar
120ml (1/2 cup) double cream or whipping cream
30g unsalted butter

For the Meringue:
Reserved egg whites
¼ tsp cream of tartar
4Tbsp light brown sugar
½ tsp vanilla

Pre-heat oven to 220*C (425*F)
Prepare a 18cm x 4cm (1½ inch x 7 inch) pie tin with short crust pastry.

Pour the ale into a saucepan without letting it fizz too much and add the spices. Gently bring to a low boil, remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs, egg yolks, sugar and cream. Gradually pour the ale mixture into the bowl, stirring constantly. (Be careful not to scramble the eggs). Add the butter and whisk until dissolved.

Pour into the prepared pie tin and bake for 10 minutes before reducing the temperature to
180*C (350*F) and baking for another 20 minutes or until the middle has set.

While the pie is in the oven:
Whisk the eggs whites with cream of tartar until it foams. Add brown sugar 1Tbsp at a time, whisking well between each addition until stiff and glossy. (You should be able to turn the bowl upside down and none will fall out). Whisk in vanilla.

Spoon onto hot pie filling and spread right to the edges of the crust to form a seal. Bake until just golden and allow to cool.


  1. "Cooking requires confident guesswork and improvisation-- experimentation and substitution, dealing with failure and uncertainty in a creative way"
    -- Paul Theroux, Sir Vidia's Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents

    I've never read the book or heard of the author before but I found this quote to be perfect for this post. Keep it up!

  2. And a very good quote it is too. Well found!
    My 'confident guesswork' was impeccable (the pie baked and set as expected)as for the rest... well, it makes a good post.

  3. Thanks for a post that admits to a recipe of good intentions gone wrong. I recently tried two experiment of cooking with apple wine, and neither came out right on the first pass. I think, in the opposite vein of the beer to strong, it was just too subtle of a flavor, but still plaid havoc with the make-up of the recipe. Your post gave me faith in the ability to put up the experiment, and let people know that things don't always come out perfectly.

  4. Aw, thanks! I'm sure all the greatest cullinary creations are the result of trial and error. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. At least yours were edible!


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