The birthday party. From left, Simon Hannah, Dan and his birthday pie, Therese, Jake and Marissa
#100daysofcooking, Recipes

Day 61: Dan’s old custard still cuts the mustard

Bourbon and Vanilla Bean Custard Pie

Who doesn’t love pie?

If you’ve been reading Road Wordy, by now you should know that Dan loves pie. Really loves it. Along with jam, sugar, meat, potatoes and alcohol.

So for his birthday, we hosted a dinner last night with all of his favourite things: boozy-braised short-ribs (recipe to come), roasted potatoes, presents, me, the kids, games, and a birthday pie. A bourbon and vanilla bean custard pie, to be exact, incorporating an unopened tin of Bird’s Custard Powder that Dan has owned since before we met.

This pie has been a long time coming.

Dan and I met in the summer of 1999. In the following nine years of our courtship (you could say we are slow cookers), Dan moved to three different homes. During the first move, I discovered a couple of things: Dan had an inordinate number of partly used bottles of French’s Yellow Mustard, and similar number of tins of Bird’s Custard Powder.

Dan owned this tin of Bird's Custard Powder when we met in 1999. Both it and Dan have remarkable staying power.
Dan owned this and several other tins of Bird’s Custard Powder when we met in 1999. Both it and Dan have proven to have remarkable staying power.

Custard wasn’t among the desserts of my childhood so I was drawing a blank. Dan didn’t seem to know what to do with them, either. But from one kitchen to the next, those half-dozen or so unopened tins of custard powder were dutifully packed, moved and stored.

At least until July 2008, when Dan and I finally made the big move.

If you’ve gone through this process, you will know that combining two households is accompanied by much duplication. We now had two dining room sets. Two microwaves. Six ladles. Eight containers of mustard (only two French’s Yellow, though.) And a half-dozen tins of Bird’s Custard Powder.


We disposed of all but one tin (nostalgia, perhaps?) and for more than eight years it has sat in the cupboard, unopened and long past its marked best-before date.

Armed with this Baking Bites recipe, a vanilla bean and some Wild Turkey bourbon, we put the powder to use. The result was quite a bit thicker than traditional custard — closing in on a creme brûlée, in fact — so we carried on and finished with a burnt sugar topping.

Plan B (or more likely Plan A): a tower of decadent doughnuts from Edmonton's Doughnut Party.
Plan B (or more likely Plan A) for the birthday dessert: a tower of decadent doughnuts from Edmonton’s Doughnut Party.

Can’t say it got rave reviews from the children. Our British almost-in-law, who was most keen on giving the pie a try, pushed it aside after a bite or two — the flavour wasn’t quite right, he said. The other three, who were skeptical of this experiment to begin with, were put off by the strong bourbon taste.

(Fortunately, they had brought along the real birthday dessert — a tower of artisan deep-fried goodness from Edmonton’s Doughnut Party.)

But Dan and I both kind of liked our pie. Maybe we just have lowered taste standards (thanks to the ongoing “100 Days of Eating Oddly” experiment), maybe we just have higher tolerance for bourbon.

Or maybe this: after eight days of celebrating both our birthdays, perhaps we’re just becoming increasingly fond of old things.

Kitchen Castoff Used

Bird’s Custard Powder

Bourbon Vanilla Bean Custard Pie for Dan's birthday.
Bourbon Vanilla Bean Custard Pie for Dan’s birthday.

This is how we did it


  • 9″ pie shell, already baked and cooled
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup custard powder (or 1/4 cup cornstarch plus 1/4 tsp salt)
  • 3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1/3 cup bourbon
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 – 2 tbsp sugar for topping


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour the milk into a saucepan. (If you want a richer custard, you can use a combination of milk and heavier creams.) Split the vanilla bean lengthwise then use the blunt edge of a knife to scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and the pods to the milk. With the heat on medium, slowly bring the milk to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Then remove the milk from the heat and let sit for about 10 minutes or so to let the vanilla flavour infuse the milk. Remove the pods and bring the milk back up to a simmer.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs and egg yolk and the custard powder (or cornstarch and salt) until it is smooth. When the milk is back up to a simmer, use a ladle to add it bit by bit to the sugar and egg mixture, whisking it thoroughly to combine as you go. When all the milk has been incorporated, pour it all back into the saucepan. Cook, stirring regularly, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon.

Remove from heat. Stir in the bourbon, then the butter and mix thoroughly until the butter melts. Pour the custard into the pie crust and bake until the filling thickens slightly around the edge of the pie. When it has cooled, refrigerate until it is well chilled, four to six hours.

Before serving, sprinkle the sugar on top then put the pie under the broiler for one to two minutes (or use a kitchen torch) until the sugar is caramelized.

Curious about my “Kitchen Castoffs” concept? Here’s the explainer describing my 100-day project.

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