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Oh boy, is this good! A thick layer of light-textured vanilla custard is just sweet enough to complement a tart and tangy apricot-cranberry topping. We’ve given a range of sugar in the topping; the lesser amount will make it tart (adult-style), while the greater amount of sugar will make it more kid-friendly. Either way, we know this pie will be a hit.
one deep-dish (at least 2 inches deep) 9-inch pie shell, such as Our Favorite Pie Crust Recipe, pre-baked
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) milk
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup (2 ounces) water
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin (a bit over half a packet; save the remaining gelatin for the topping)
1 tablespoon confectioners’ or glazing sugar
1 cup (8 ounces) heavy or whipping cream
2 cups (9 ounces) diced, dried (or candied) apricots
1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) whole fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup (4 ounces) water
1/4 to 1/2 cup (1 3/4 to 3 1/2 ounces) sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest or 1/8 teaspoon orange oil (optional, but good)
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (the remainder of the packet used in the filling)
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) brandy, or Grand Marnier liqueur, or water
Filling: Place 1 cup of the milk, the sugar, salt, and vanilla into a medium-sized saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup of milk, the egg yolks, and the cornstarch. Remove the milk mixture from the heat, and gradually pour the egg yolk mixture into it in a steady stream, whisking continuously. Return the mixture to the heat, continuing to whisk. Bring it to a boil and cook until it thickens; be sure to boil it for at least 1 minute. Remove the custard from the heat, and set it aside.
Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small heatproof container. Let it sit for 5 minutes, to soften. Heat over low heat or in a microwave until the gelatin melts, then stir into the warm custard. Note: For the smoothest filling, force the mixture through a fine sieve. Sprinkle the confectioners’ sugar over the custard in an even layer to help prevent a skin from forming while it cools. It needs to cool until barely warm before the whipped cream is added, but shouldn’t become cold enough that the gelatin starts to set up.
Topping: In a medium-sized saucepan, stir together the apricots, cranberries, water, and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for about 5 minutes, until the cranberries are tender. Sprinkle the remaining gelatin (about 1 teaspoon) over the brandy, liqueur, or water. After the gelatin has softened, stir it into the fruit, then remove from the heat. Set the topping aside to cool to room temperature; it will thicken as it cools.
Assembly: Whip 1 cup heavy cream until soft peaks form. Fold the cream into the room-temperature (not cold) custard, and spoon this filling into the pie shell. Refrigerate for 1 hour, or until the filling is set.
Spoon the fruit topping over the custard, and refrigerate the pie for 2 hours (or up to 24 hours), to allow the topping to firm. The pie may be made 24 hours in advance. Yield: 10 to 12 servings.
•If you don’t have time (or simply don’t want) to make the custard filling, here’s a good substitute.
1 cup (8 ounces) heavy cream, whipped
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons water
2 small (3.4 ounce) boxes instant vanilla pudding mix
3 cups (12 ounces) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Soften the gelatin in the water, then heat it in a saucepan set over low heat, or in a microwave, until the gelatin melts. Fold a bit of the cream into the gelatin, then fold that back into the remaining whipped cream.
Mix both boxes of the instant pudding with the milk and vanilla, stirring till smooth. Immediately fold in the whipped cream, then spoon the filling into the pre-baked pie shell. Spoon on the topping.
•We’ve used the smallest amount of gelatin in the filling that will allow the pie to set up firmly enough to hold its shape when sliced. If you want a firmer, more cheesecake-like texture, increase the amount of gelatin to up to 2 1/2 teaspoons (1 packet).
The natural pectin in the apricots works with the small amount of gelatin to thicken the topping. You may prefer to leave the gelatin out of the topping, use an extra 1/2 cup of water, and serve the topping as a sauce. (This was a request from some children who loved the creamy pie, but not the tangy fruit.)