Phyllo Custard Pie with Apricots and Walnuts

Every time I visit my favorite wine shop in town, the owner’s wife chats me up about what I’m cooking lately.  The last time I was in, she told me her secret, no-fail dessert recipe for ruffled phyllo with a rich custard.   According to her, this dish is a must have with her friends and it is perfect because in the time it takes to bake the phyllo she can fix her hair.  After pouring the custard over it and putting it back in to finish baking, she manages to put on her makeup!  Perfect…two birds, one luscious dish!

I searched for the exact recipe and came up with a few variations on the “ruffled milk pie” theme.  The recipe that follows is my interpretation based on my friend’s directions, what I found in my research, and my own modifications and enhancements.

This dessert would be an interesting addition to an Easter brunch.  It is rich in flavor…orange, cinnamon, vanilla, apricot, and walnuts…but still airy and light.  The chewy, slightly tart apricots are like little jewels dotted in the crispy top of phyllo.

9 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed (I used Athens brand)

4 TBSP unsalted butter, melted

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1 cup milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

zest of one small orange

2 cinnamon sticks

3 eggs

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla (or vanilla bean paste)

1/4 cup apricots, chopped

1/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Brush the bottom and sides of a 8×8 or 9×9 inch square pan with some of the melted butter and set aside.

Unroll the phyllo sheets.  Keep them covered with a piece of plastic wrap with a damp paper towel on top to keep the dough from drying out.  Working with one sheet at a time, brush the sheet with some of the melted butter.  Bring the sides of the sheet together in a loosely pleated/ruffled fashion.  Roll the dough into a spiral to make a rosette shape.  Repeat with remaining sheets.  Place the rosettes into the pan in rows of three.  Dust the top with the ground cinnamon.  Bake in the oven 20 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp.

Heat the milk, cream, zest, and cinnamon sticks over low heat while the phyllo is in the oven.  Whisk the eggs, sugar, and vanilla together in a large bowl.  Just before the phyllo comes out, slowly add some of the heated milk mixture into the eggs and sugar while whisking to temper the eggs.  Keep adding the milk to the eggs until it is all combined into a custard mixture.  Discard the zest and cinnamon sticks.

Remove the phyllo when it is golden.  Ladle the custard mixture evenly over the top.  Sprinkle the apricots and walnuts evenly over the top of the phyllo and return the pan to the oven.  Bake another 20 to 25 minutes until the custard is set.  Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Stranded But Not Starving

One of my favorite books on food is Culinary Artistry written by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page.  This book breaks down what goes in to making a chef, a culinary artist.  Recipes and restaurant menus from masters such as Daniel Boulud, Jimmy Schmidt, Alice Waters, and Charlie Palmer give the reader insight into their personal cooking style.  What I particularly love about this book is the “Composing a Dish” section which contains comprehensive lists of ingredients and their best flavor matches.  Often, when I want to make something new, I refer to this book to get inspiration.  The binding is cracked and many pages are soiled or stuck together with sauce from using it so frequently!

Another interesting section is the “Desert Island Lists”.  The authors posed this scenario to chefs:

“If they were asked to choose only ten ingredients to take with them to a proverbial desert island to cook with for the rest of their lives, which of their favorites would they choose?  Which ingredients and flavors do they feel they couldn’t live without?” [1]

I have pondered my own answer many times over, and here is my personal list:

  1. Tomatoes – without a doubt my most favorite food; fresh, juicy and acidic preferably
  2. Olive oil – because tomatoes are so much better with olive oil, plus it’s good for the skin
  3. Lemons – I adore lemon juice on just about everything
  4. Potatoes – some sort of latent Irish need, I suppose
  5. Chicken – versatile because you get light and dark meat and it can be cooked a variety of ways (live chickens would be great because then I could have eggs, too!)
  6. Prosciutto – this would be the thing I would fantasize about if I didn’t have it; authentic from Parma only, please!
  7. Herbs – thyme, basil, and chives
  8. Cheese – any sort of goat milk cheese because I love the distinctive “barnyard” tang
  9. Dried Michigan cherries – one of the best things about Michigan is the Cherry Festival in Traverse City
  10. Red wine – just trying to keep it as enjoyable as possible!

There you have it.  If anyone wants to send me to that island, I guess I wouldn’t mind!  Just let me get my supplies first.

What would YOU take along to your island?


[1] Dornenburg, A. and Page, K.; Culinary Artistry. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996