Monday, August 07, 2006

ISO Belgian pie....

You would think after baking as many pies as I have over the past month that I would be all pie-d out! But you would be wrong if you thought that. I am just starting to get good at it! Cyd wandered into the kitchen on Friday (now known as Pie-day), spied the strawberry-rhubarb pie cooling on a rack on the counter and gasped at its beauty, declaring that I had really found my pie groove! But I must confess, it's very nice to not have to bake for the market this week, so that I can just make something that sounds good to me. What might that be, you ask? Well, I returned to Pascale Le Draoulec's book, American Pie, and I finally got around to trying an intriguing recipe, indigenous to the Belgian communities in Kewaunee and Brown Counties (near Door County), Wisconsin called, appropriately enough, Belgian Pie. It has taken me forever to try the recipe because I knew it was going to be very involved. Not difficult, mind you, but time-consuming as there are several steps. Belgian pies come in three traditional varieties, prune, rice or raisin (although any pie filling would work, including apple, cherry, poppy seed, etc.). And it's not really a pie so much as a raised sweet dough with one of those three fillings, and always a sweetened, cottage cheese topping. Indeed, it calls to mind a Danish more than a pie, but we'll let those Belgians march to their own beat.

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. So I guess I'm going to have to try again in the future. In fact, I am very grateful to a very nice man of Belgian descent from Door County, Wisconsin who emailed me and gave me his family recipe for Belgian pies, so I'm going to have to give that a try! Anyway, as this has become one of my most popular pages for visitors to my site, I don't want anyone to be led astray by my strange initial Belgian pie experimentations! When I finally get it right, I will let you know...

(Frankenstein) Belgian Rice Pie

Potato Crust:

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.

Rice Filling:
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
pinch salt
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
1 egg
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.


Anonymous said...

Lindsey, I don't usually comment on these things, but, wow, that is a good looking pie. While I'm commenting, I just want to let you know that I enjoy your blog! Thank you for sharing! :)

Mady said...

Hello Lindey. I found your blog in, of all places, the Roots-Web (Genealogy) messages. We had, indeed, an exchange of Belgian pie recipes in there. My comment about your rice-pie? They look scrumptious. Mine (I was born in Belgium) is a bit different. Here, in Canada, I buy the frozen deep-pie shells and pre-bake them for 20 minutes. I just cover the dough with a round piece of alu-foil and fill up with dried white beans (I keep them just for that purpose). The rice : I use no heavy cream in mine. The only other difference is, I add a small piece of lemon peel to the boiling rice. And the rice has to boil very long and slowly, until it gets "curly". Then I add 3 egg-yolks and a big tablespoon of butter (and for real luxury, a cup of crumbled macaroons). I never heard of the cheese topping. In FDlanders, the egg-whites are beaten stiff, with a couple of tablespoons of sugar, and go on top. And so, you have a meringue topping. I thought you might like to try this variation. I am certainly going to try yours with the cheese topping. I wish you a beautiful Fall Season.

Anonymous said...

Lindsey, I have just returned from Belgium and have been looking for this recipe. I am a bit confused. Is this recipe for 1 crust and filling for 3 pies or 3 complete pies?

The pie we had in Belgium had a thicker filling than yours, but that could be because we didn't cut ours until about 4am. Does your version become less "juicy" as it sits? Also, they browned the top golden. I can't wait to try your version!

Please send me an email with answers.

Anonymous said...

Hello Lindsey. Your pie does look very good, but not so much like the Belgian pies we make in the Brussels, Wisconsin area (which is the area you mention.) The pies are about an inch in height overall(they could be compared in size to one of those Personal Pan Pizza's from Pizza Hut, only not so thick!)Rice pie doesn't normally have the cottage cheese topping, but a whipped cream topping. The raisin, prune, and apple pies have the cottage cheese on top. Rice is my favorite pie, but I love the cottage cheese topping so prune and raisin come next. Lots of people make apple, because there are an abundance of apple orchards in the area.

Anonymous said...

Check out p.154 of America's Best Lost Recipes (2007) for Grandpa Boyen's Famous Belgian Rice Custard Pie. It calls for a regular pie crust. The rice filling is poured over a layer of prune filling. No topping. The Grandpa Boyen of the recipe was a boulanger-patissier in Belgium before immigrating to Montanta where he opened a bakery that sold this pie.

Mike said...

Believe it or not I am on a perpetual search for Tarte au Rice here in the U.S.
Have yet to find one. When I was a child that was my carry on upon returning from Bellgium each year, A stack of rice pies for my sisters. These look very different. You'll find the best ones come from the town of Verviers. Known for having the best: a macaroon crust(soaked in Rum!). Good luck, & please let me know if you'll make one or two, I'd happily buy them from you.

ron said...

My Uncle Leon was a classicaslly trained "French baker" from Belgium. For many years he and my Aunt Amelia operated the "Denis Bakery" in west Tarentum, Pa. His Belgian pies were prune, rice, apricot and raisin. the crust was almost like a bread dough..what memories. My cousin Francine has all of his recipes. I can be contacted @ 772-633-6004 or if you desire.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

Lindsey sorry to rain on your
parade but my aunties all made belgian pie none looked like those things lmao , and so......

JoyBugaloo said...

Oh, I know! Boo hiss. Didn't you see my update? I readily admit that my first attempt was WRONG. But once you stop laughing, how about helping a sistah out with your aunties' recipe? I would be so grateful! --Gina

sue pieper said...

I happen to live in Kewaunee County and often purchase Belgium Pies at a grocery store near here, Stodola's in Luxemburg, WI. Personally, I don't like them at all but my husband & kids do, in particular the poppyseed one. Have you ever run into a recipe for that filling? I've been looking around & can't find one-that whole pie seems to be a local secret!

Anonymous said...

Lindsey, i was born in Liege where the tarte au riz is quite special and none are made like yours. Certainly cheese was never added. We make it with a yeast dough and a rice pudding filling all made with whole milk and cream. We bake it in the oven after adding a few egg yolks until the top is golden brown. eaten cold is best. Cheers

Jen said...

Well, this has been fun. Growing up in Kewaunee County and shopping at Stodola's often, it was fun to see this post. Yes, Belgian pie (as you now know) if more like a Danish as opposed to a pie. As the last grandchild in a long line of Belgian pie makers, I don't have the recipe, but will see what I can find. We use to make 50 pies for the Kermis every year. I remember the dough being like bread. We made rice, prune, raisin, apple, and occasionally a chocolate.

Niki said...

JEN! And/or anyone else who may have a pie recipe of the "danish-like" variety, preferably featuring apples (and of course, the cheese topping) - Please Read!

First of all I should say thanks for this great post! I was so happy to find it, and very much identify with the whole pie-making process as experienced by JoyBugaloo. Sounded a lot like my last attempt.

I grew up in Northeastern Wisconsin and only a couple of years ago moved out to California. My great-grandma (Dad's grandma) came over from Belgium and lived in the U.P. and whenever we'd go to her house she would stuff us full of food...and usually part of that was a Belgian pie. She usually made apple but I remember a prune or two also.

Sadly, Grandma Lizzy passed away a few years ago and I never did ask her for her recipe. My husband and I are traveling back to Wisconsin for Christmas this year with our new baby and I would dearly love to bake my dad a Belgian pie while we're at his house. He was very close to Grandma and I'm sure he assumes he'll never have one of those pies again...I just think it would be a thoughtful (and delicious) gift.

My only other attempt at making a Belgian pie turned out really weird - too-doughy crust, watery filling (I did apple) and the cheese topping wasn't quite right. Then again, the recipe was to produce 8 individual pies and I tried to adjust the amounts to make one deep-dish pie....I think some amounts were off.

Can any of you help me out in the next week or so??? My email address is if so...I will be eternally grateful... :)

Anonymous said...


This is a site where u can find an authentic recipe on belgian rice tart and rice pudding. I have tried the rice tart recipe and it is very easy. My hubby is from belgium and he says my rijst taart is very authentic.

Enjoy !!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Lindsey

Not sure if this thread is still open, but like you said earlier, your rice pie looks delicious but is not really authentic. If you want an authentic belgian rice tart recipe, try out the recipe in
the book "Everybody Eats Well in Belgium", it is out of print so I doubt if you can get it. Or better still, try out the recipe on this website

Hope it helps.

Kapppz said...

I grew up in Green bay and have family in Door Co. As a boy we went to the Belgium Church Kermisses and now was looking for an old memory. Food can often do that. I am looking for that prune cottage cheese pie recipe. Looks like you did most of the leg work for me. I think I can find the prune filling recipes from other sites. I was certainly surprised to find that this pie wasn't readily available. I watch Andrew Zimmern often and his fear is that a lot of the cultural foods and recipes are being lost by the passing of generations that take them with them as they pass. I have many family German recipes that my kids turn their noses up at and probably wont be carried forward. Notably two that come to mind are; Knobby Apple cake and a sauerkraut pork recipe that has apples and oatmeal in it. My 75 year old mother still makes it occasionally for herself.

Thank you for your good legwork on this and if anyone has a good prune filling recipe, I would love to see it.


Kathy said...

This recipe is from my grandma and 2 of her neighbors who are all from the old country...

2 lbs of prunes soak over night. Cook in the same water, then pit. (I used pitted prunes to start with.) Put prunes through chopper. Add 3/8 cup if sugar and one cup of applesauce. When pie dough is ready, add prune mixture into the shell. Bake plain or add cottage cheese topping.

Kathy said...

This recipe is from my grandma and 2 of her neighbors who are all from the old country...

2 lbs of prunes soak over night. Cook in the same water, then pit. (I used pitted prunes to start with.) Put prunes through chopper. Add 3/8 cup if sugar and one cup of applesauce. When pie dough is ready, add prune mixture into the shell. Bake plain or add cottage cheese topping.