Years ago at some restaurant in New Orleans, I honestly cannot remember where, I had a dessert of Tarte à la Bouillie . I ordered because I was intrigued by the name and that it was billed as a creole custard tart. I like to order anything that smacks of a local specialty. That one was fanicied up with fruit sauce and whipped cream and what not. It was lovely, so I actually wrote down the name and tried to recreate it at home. I found some recipes online, which where rather complicated undertakings of egg custards and French techniques, and some in community cookbooks with such basic descriptions of process I couldn’t really figure it out. My first attempts were not successful so it went on the back burner.
Recently, though I came across a recipe online for Tarte à la Bouillie from Alzina Toups, a wonderful woman I had the pleasure to meet at a symposium of the Southern Foodways Alliance where she was accepting an award for her lifetime of serving traditional Cajun food at a tiny restaurant in rural Louisiana. I knew her version had to be good, plus it turns out to be the easiest one I’ve come across. I’ve adapted her idea slightly and just love the results.
Tarte à la Bouillie (boo-yee) is, as far as I can gather, a traditional Cajun dessert, bouillie meaning “burnt milk” in this case. Basically it is a sugar cookie crust filled with creamy vanilla pudding. Though its origins seem to be simple, a way to make a sweet treat from minimal, basic ingredients, the version I had in New Orleans, and other ones that appear online, are often fancified with sauces and fruits. Strawberries are an excellent accompaniment, but this tart is delicious on its own. I do veer to the fancy by infusing the custard with vanilla bean, because I love the intensity of the taste and the lovely flecks of vanilla seed, but you can easily use vanilla paste or simple extract. The cookie like dough here is sticky, but pretty forgiving. You can patch up any holes when fitting it into the pan with some extra dough pinched from the edges. The simple technique of folding the dough down over the custard makes for a lovely look and no extra crust sticking up from the edges. I am bound to try this technique with other pie recipes. If you have some leftover bits of crust, I have read that it is traditional to cut it into pieces and bake them up as cookies, which were once upon a time placed in a pillowcase for fisherman to take out on their boats and were hence called pillowcase cookies.
Tarte à la Bouille (Cajun Custard Pie)
- For the Crust
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
½ cup cold unsalted butter
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 Tablespoon milk or half and half
- For the Filling
½ cup granulated sugar
5 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 cups half and half
1 vanilla bean, ½ teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
- For the Crust
- Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a couple of times to mix. Cut the butter into small pieces and drop into the food processor. Pulse until the butter is combined and the mixture crumbly. Add the egg and egg yolk and pulse until combined. Drizzle in the half and half or milk and blend until the dough begins to come together. You can add a touch more half and half if needed. Dump the dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap and knead a few times with your hands to bring it all together. Form into a ball, then press into a disk and wrap in the plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
- WHen ready to make the tarte, spray a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom (or a 10-inch pie plate) with cooking spray. Flour a large pastry cloth or counter top liberally, the place the dough on it. Flour the top and a rolling pin and roll into a disk about 14 inches in diameter. The crust is meant to be a bit thicker than a regular pie crust. This dough is sticky, so sprinkle flour on the top as you go. Use a sharp knife to trim off any cracked edges, then carefully transfer the dough to the prepared pan and fit it in, pressing gently to fill the edges. You can patch any holes with a pinch of dough from the excess. Trim the top of the crust level with the top of the pan.
- For the Filling
- While the dough is chilling, sift the sugar and cornstarch into a small bowl. Pour the half and half into a medium saucepan and place over medium high heat. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and the bean into the half and half (or add the paste) Whisk in the cornstarch mixture and cook, stirring constantly with a spatula until the mixture is thickened, about 10 minutes. You want it just slightly looser than pudding. Pour the mixture into a bowl and scoop out the vanilla bean. Leave to cool until it is no longer steaming, then place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the fridge until the pie crust is ready. It doesn’t need to be completely cold to continue.
- When ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the custard filling into the crust and smooth it to fill evenly. Fold the excess pastry down over the top of the edges of the custard. Bake for 30 -35 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the custard is set and not jiggly. Cool to room temperature, the cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before slicing and serving.