No offense to Ms. Draoulec whose book I love, but she didn't make it easy for me to prepare the Belgian pie of my desiring. First of all, I have no use for prunes or raisins, so I definitely wanted to try the rice filling, but the recipe in her book is for the prune version. So I scoured the internet for a recipe for the rice filling, but the one I kept coming across was made with instant pudding, and I did not prefer that. In my web search, I ran across another prune pie recipe from Kim Potier. Ms. Potier is the Secretary-Treasurer of the Peninsula Belgian American Club, and I managed to track her down via e-mail. Kim has been an invaluable resource to me, as I am someone who has never even seen a Belgian pie, let alone made one. Kim shared a couple of recipes for the rice filling from a Belgian cookbook that her club sells, called Belgian American Heritage Customs and Cookbook by Margaret Draize. She also explained that the pies are made in something more like a cake pan than a pie pan which was a very helpful tip. But there were more complications. One of the rice filling recipes was metric, which hurt my pretty little American head. Plus, it had ambiguous instructions such as "do not cook until too thick." Well, if you've never made it before, how do you know how thick "too thick" is? Furthermore, the recipe didn't say how many pies the filling was for. So I went with the other recipe she sent that was titled "Rice Pie Filling for Three Belgian Pies." That was comfortingly specific, so that was the one for me! And whatever else comes of this experiment, I won't ever make rice pudding any other way. Delicious! But my Belgian pie troubles were far from over (that sounds delightfully ominous, like a Lemony Snicket book, doesn't it?)...
For the crust, I wanted to make the sweet dough from the recipe in Le Draoulec's book (credited to Emily Guilette, aged 91 at the time of the book's publication in 2002) because it was made with, of all things, mashed potatoes! But the recipe was only for one pie, and the rice filling recipe was for three pies. I had read that Belgian pies were very small, so I decided to go ahead and make three of them. But tripling the dough recipe wasn't my only concern. The instructions say to let the dough rise until doubled, but there is no yeast in the recipe (one must assume that it was inadvertently left out of this publication). So how much to use? I found one recipe that called for three cups of flour and one ounce of fresh cake yeast, and another that called for six to seven cups of flour and two ounces of fresh yeast. So since the recipe I was using would be four and a half cups if tripled, I decided to go with the two ounces of fresh yeast, converted to 2/3 of an ounce of instant yeast that I believed would be more than enough. However, as it took nearly three hours for my dough to double, it might have needed more yeast overall. And Ms. Guilette's said that the amount of flour needed would vary, so I ended up using six cups of flour total before I panicked and stopped adding more. Still, the dough was extremely soft and sticky.
Then there was the cheese topping issue. The recipe in American Pie called for a 24-ounce tub of cottage cheese for one pie, so I bought 72 ounces for three pies. The problem was that my food processor wouldn't hold all of that, so I thought I would make it in two batches. But once I finished processing half of the topping, it looked like it was more than enough for all three of the pies, so I decided to leave well enough alone. And as it turns out, I had way more of the cheese topping that I needed for all three pies. I couldn't bring myself to throw it away, so I dug out my mini tart molds, pressed a quick graham cracker crust into each, and filled them with the leftover cheese mixture. Presto! Five little cottage cheesecakes! After all, the filling was just the blended cheese, egg yolks, and sugar...sounds like cheesecake to me! All I added was a little vanilla. (Yes, I am very pleased with myself. Could you tell?)
You might think that all of this confusion and guesswork and recipe amalgamation and fuzzy math would be a recipe for disaster, but I think the pies turned out WONDERFUL! However, they are NOT small, so I think I will have to eat one, give one away, and freeze one. I am going to share the final version of the recipe(s) that I used if you want to try your hand at Belgian pie, too. And if anyone out there has actually had Belgian rice pie, please let me know if this even comes close to looking authentic. I would appreciate the feedback. Thanks!
FOLLOW-UP: I have received much feedback letting me know that, while my pies looked tasty, they are far from correct. Apparently, Belgian pie crusts are much thinner, sort of like thick pizza dough. So perhaps the amount of dough I thought was just for one pie should have made two or three! Also, I now understand that the cheese topping usually only goes on fruit pies, not on rice pies.
(Frankenstein) Belgian Rice Pie
1 egg plus one yolk
1/3 cup melted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mashed potatoes
1/4 can (??) condensed (see what I mean?? I used sweetened condensed) milk
1 1/2 cups flour (or more...I used two cups)
3 teaspoons active dry yeast (or a little less of instant...maybe one envelope=2 1/4 teaspoons)
Mix crust ingredients together until well-blended (I did this in my stand mixer). Cover and let rise until doubled. Punch down then press dough into a greased, nine-inch cake pan (spritzing your fingers with pan spray helps!). Dock the dough with the tines of a fork. Cover with the rice filling (recipe follows) and a smaller circle of the cottage cheese topping (recipe also follows), about one cup (topping should be 1/4-1/2-inch thick). Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes (until the edges start to brown). Serve warm or cold.
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons rice (or 5/8 cup plus 2 teaspoons--sorry, I am trying to convert the recipe to make enough filling for just one pie...and how else are you going to get 1/3 of 2/3 cups of rice? If I were you, I'd just make the rice filling for three pies and save most of it to eat as a scrumptious rice pudding!)
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 1/3 cups milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar (next time, I might reduce this to 1/4 cup...the pudding was awfully sweet)
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
Bring rice and water to a boil, cover, lower heat and simmer until all the water is absorbed (about 15 minutes). Add the milk and heavy cream. Cook until rice swells and milk/cream mixture is greatly reduced and the mixture has thickened considerably (looks almost like rice pudding--perhaps 30-45 minutes of simmering and stirring occasionally). Add the salt, sugar, and egg. Cook about three minutes more until custard sets up (really looks like rice pudding, because, well, that's what it is). Remove from heat and add the vanilla (or preferably, the scrapings from a vanilla bean or a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste).
Cottage Cheese Topping:
8 ounces small-curd cottage cheese
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon butter, melted
Combine ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until as smooth as you can get it.