Foodie Travels: Scratch Bakery, Durham, N.C.

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Molly and I are always excited to find a fresh local bakery. When that bakery serves up several kinds of homemade pie, it’s even better.
During a quick stop in Durham, N.C., we visited Scratch, one of those local places that feels almost like it’s set in a different location than it actually is. Scratch offers outdoor seating that has the cafe-style feeling of a European city plaza. But it also provides the desserts and brunch items recognizable in American dining venues.
We went to Scratch for pie, and on the day we visited, the offerings included chocolate, lemon chess, buttermilk sugar, sweet potato, rhubarb and more.
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While all of the options we sampled were delicious, and we sampled about everything but my least favorite flavor of rhubarb, the buttermilk sugar was the most unique. It had a creamy yet light, sweet, buttermilk-flavored filling, with a crunchy layer of sugar right on the crust.
The crust. It was the most flaky, pastry-like crust I’ve had in recent memory on any pie. And pie is our typical dessert of choice anywhere we can eat it, at home or on the road.
Scratch also serves up brunch items like the popular avocado toast and traditional breakfast sandwiches, as well as other pastries, coffees and drinks, and lunch menu choices.
If you visit, don’t expect to park right outside. The section of Orange Street is set up to be a pedestrian walkway. But you can find a variety of half-hour, hour and two-hour parking throughout downtown.
Scratch Bakery
111 W. Orange St., Durham, N.C.
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Light, Sweet & Creamy Egg Custard Pie

If you search for an egg custard pie recipe on Pinterest, you’ll have a hard time finding a good, old-fashioned recipe that includes a crust. When I first searched for a recipe, years before Pinterest was a thing, online recipes were mostly just egg custards. There was no pie shell – you know, the part that makes it a pie. I had a hard time, but I finally found this recipe.

It’s one I’ve stuck with for years, because it turns out delicious every time. It won’t be cakey and it won’t look bubbly on top; it’ll be a smooth, creamy custard inside a perfectly baked pie shell. And! I’ll also share a few tricks to fix two problems that I’ve ran into with custard pies before. Those are: burnt pie crust on the top, and pie crust getting soggy on the bottom/not staying on the bottom where it should be. (I’ve had an egg custard once where the pie crust melded with the pie, floating up during baking. You don’t want that.) Here we go!

Ingredients:

1 deep dish pie crust

3 eggs, beaten

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

2 1/2 cups milk

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 egg white (for brushing the crust)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Beat the eggs in a small container, then mix eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla well. Slowly blend in milk. If it looks a little frothy, like in the photo below, that’s okay! photo 3
  3. Brush the inside of the pie shell with one egg white – this prevents the pie filling and the shell from melding together and either getting a) soggy or b) mixed together like a messy cobbler.
  4. photo 2Pour into the pie shell. You will definitely want a deep dish shell, because this old-timey recipe makes a lot of pie filling! And those “regular” pie shells have certainly gotten smaller over the years. Sprinkle the top with a little nutmeg.photo 1 (2)
  5. Bake for at least 45 minutes, then cover it with a sheet of tin foil. Then, continue to check the pie at intervals of 15 minutes. The tin foil is the trick to keep the top crust from burning. (As you can see in the photo below, I didn’t do this early enough, but it did stop the crust from getting any darker.)

So when is the pie done? It’s tough to tell with an egg custard. Most people tell you to shake it, but an egg custard will always will be wiggly. Here’s my method: with a towel or oven mitt, pick up the pie on the right side and tilt it slightly to the left. If the entire middle of the pie moves to the edge and looks like it’s going to pour right out of the pie – it’s not done. But – if the middle is holding together and the pie has been cooking for more than an hour, it’s done. Here’s what it should look like. 🙂

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Molly’s take: I hadn’t made an egg custard in a while, so I was nervous about making it as part of an anniversary gift for my husband’s parents. When it came out of the oven (finally!) and we tried a small slice to make sure it tasted right, it was absolutely delightful. My only regret is not making two so we could have eaten the other one! Is this pie easy? Sure, it’s easy to mix up the ingredients and put it in the oven. But it takes a while to make a good egg custard pie. Remember, you’re cooking a lot of eggs and milk into something relatively solid. And you have to put tin foil on the pie to keep it from burning. And you have to check it often. But the end result is absolutely worth it. Now it’s time for me to go make another one…

Matthew’s take: The egg custard is a pie I’ve rarely seen among others at church and other social gatherings over the years. But the egg custard pie is a long-standing tradition in the Tessnear family. It goes back at least as far as my dad’s grandmother on his mother’s side. I grew up eating my mother’s egg custard pies, and this edition was as creamy and tasty as any egg custard pie I’ve ever eaten. Don’t expect to fill up your stomach with an egg custard pie slice. Egg custard is not about quantity. It’s about consistency and taste. The lightness of it makes it a great dessert option following a heavy and filling meal. I give the egg custard pie an A+ for taste, but I would warn you that it’s not the easiest pie to make if you’re not patient, and it will never be the prettiest pie you’ve ever seen from a bright colors standpoint. But you’ll love this pie if you enjoy light desserts and trying a recipe you rarely find on the table.