I have been officially defeated by lemon basil.
I looked everywhere for it:
- Whole Foods
- Trader Joe’s
- Lotte Market
I finally had to admit defeat, after backing into a large ice chest of squid on ice at Super H-Mart and muffling a shriek (GIANT SQUID and I are NOT friends). I could not think of a single other place to look for stupid lemon basil. Googling it only resulted in seed packets. Somehow lacking the patience to buy and grow my own lemon basil, I settled instead for crying “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME, MARTHA?!” and trying to find a substitute.
The recipe has three major components – the pie crust, the custard, and macerated red berries. The custard is the most intriguing part, and is made in two steps. The cream and milk, along with the alleged lemon basil, are brought to a boil on the stove before sitting in the fridge overnight. After the basil and cream have spent a lot of time together and became best friends, you remove the basil, return the milk/cream to the stove, then whisk in eggs yolks for a silky, rich custard. From there, you pour the custard into the pre-baked pie crust and bake it.
I wanted to keep both the lemon and basil notes, so I zested a medium lemon (producing about a teaspoon of zest) and used two sprigs of regular basil. If you also fail to find lemon basil, do try to find the mildest basil you can. Italian basil can be a bit spicy. You should probably not use that. If you grow basil on your balcony but always forget to water it, and it has managed to hang on but developed a super spicy taste out of spite, you should probably not use that either.
This pie is completely worth the agony of the fruitless herb hunt and terror of the squid. The custard is luscious, with gentle herbal undertone of basil that brighten and add depth to the rich custard. The red berries on top, tossed in sugar, complement the baked custard with a delightful freshness.
As far as the “red berries” go, I stuck with raspberries and strawberries, making no effort to find flowered currants or elderberries. One ridiculously elusive ingredient is enough for any recipe.
Lemon Basil Custard Pie with Red Berries
- You can 100 percent substitute a teaspoon of lemon zest and two sprigs of mild basil for lemon basil
- My cornstarch/egg yolks mixture never got truly pale, but I whisked for two minutes exactly and all went as planned.
- No one should judge you for failing to locate elderberries. If they do, they should be banished.
- My pie dish was occupied by a blackberry pie, so I used a tart pan. It worked just fine.
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 2 to 4 tablespoons ice water
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 lemon-basil sprigs, plus more, with flowers, for serving
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
- 10 ounces fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced (about 2 cups)
- 8 ounces fresh raspberries, halved or cut into thirds if large (about 2 cups)
- Fresh elderberries or currants, kept in clusters (optional)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Crust: Pulse flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor to combine. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some larger pieces remaining. Add ice water; pulse until dough just starts to come together. Pat dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.Let dough stand at room temperature until pliable. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to an 11-inch round, about 1/8 inch thick. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate, fold over edge, then crimp. Freeze until firm, about 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line pie-crust with parchment and fill with weights or dried beans. Bake 25 minutes, then remove parchment and weights and continue to bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Let cool.
- Filling: Meanwhile, bring milk, cream, and lemon basil just to a boil in a medium pot. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep at least 2 hours (or overnight in the refrigerator).
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Return milk mixture to a simmer; remove lemon-basil sprigs. Whisk together egg yolks and sugar in a bowl, then whisk in cornstarch and salt until mixture is pale and thick, about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in hot milk mixture until smooth. Pass mixture through a fine sieve into piecrust; skim any foam from surface with a spoon. Bake just until set in center (if browning too quickly, tent edges with foil), about 30 minutes. Let cool completely. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
- Berries: Gently toss strawberries, raspberries, and elderberry clusters with sugar in a bowl. Let stand until juicy, about 5 minutes. Spoon berries and juices over chilled pie, top with lemon-basil flowers, and serve.