Grapefruit Custard Pie {Gluten-Free}

Rhubarb, my true love, is finally here, gracing the baskets at our co-op with its ruby-hued stalks. So are bright red strawberries, small and sweet. (Or at least they were, until the recent storms knocked out all the crops.) But all I can seem to think about is grapefruit, specifically in pie form. The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book is to blame. The book brims with tantalizing images of seasonal pies made by sisters Emily and Melissa Elsen and captured by photographers Gentl and Hyers. It is physically impossible to not want to bake a pie (or piesssss) after paging through their unique recipes.

I had a bunch of grapefruits left over from sake cocktail experiments and decided to slap together their grapefruit custard pie in the the gluten-free pie shell I’ve been working on. I wasn’t planning on sharing it here since I figure you all have more to get excited about by now than boring old grapefruit. I certainly did.

Grapefruits are available year-round in California, but I notice them mostly during the late winter and early spring. I’m not sure if this is just a selection effect that occurs during the gap between the last persimmons and the first rhubarb, but that’s how it is. Their musky, floral flavor and bright hue are just the thing to get one past the final push of winter. (Or as we call it in California, “winter”) but they usually fade from my radar after that.

But then I made the pie and shared it with friends and everyone went, “Grapefruit pie? I’ve never heard of grapefruit pie before. Wow, this is amazing! It really tastes like grapefruit. It’s so light and refreshing. It’s like a lemon meringue pie without the meringue. Meringue is nasty.” I agreed on all counts. (Sorry, meringue.) Grapefruit pie was much more exciting than I expected.

So I made two more because I couldn’t stop eating them wanted to get my modifications just right. Yes, very responsible.

The original recipe calls for Campari which I didn’t have; knowing that the aperitif is colored with red dye #40 (and used to be colored with dye made from crushed bugs – ech) didn’t make me want to rush out and buy any. Since I love elderflower with grapefruit, I used St. Germain elderflower liqueur instead. This combination was introduced to me by my friend Calvaleigh who invented this stunner of a cocktail. I took down the sugar in the pie by half a cup since St. Germain is so much sweeter than bitter Campari, and I added back some of the bitter notes with grapefruit zest. I used blood orange juice for color. I traded the wheat flour in the filling for sweet rice flour which is commonly used as a thickener, and made a couple of other small tweaks along the way, too.

The recipe called for simply whisking all the filling ingredients together, then pouring the cold custard into the par-cooked shell and baking it. I thought I would be clever and cook the filling a bit first, which works well for lemon bars and that sort of thing. But that method turned out not to work well in this case. The cold mixture of sugar, eggs, and citrus juice thickened up when I whisked in the cream. But in a pot over a flame, stirring, stirring, stirring, the mixture thinned out again and took its sweet time thickening back up. (I think this has to do with the acids in the citrus breaking down the proteins in the dairy.) When I poured the hot filling into the crust, the pie took nearly as long to bake as the filling that started off cold and thick. The texture was denser, and had a less bright, fresh flavor. The filling that started off cold fluffed up more in the oven, and remained pleasantly delicate in flavor and texture. It was the clear winner. I won’t second guess those sisters again.

Other pies from Four and Twenty that I have my eyes on are:

  • Rhubarb Custard
  • Strawberry Balsamic
  • Chamomile Buttermilk Custard
  • Lemon Sour Cream
  • Peaches and Cream
  • Sweet Corn Custard
  • Brown Butter Pumpkin
  • Buttered Rum Cream
  • Black Bottom Oatmeal
  • Malted Chocolate Pecan

Someone else who loves this pie? My friends over at Frog Hollow Farm‘s fruit CSA, Happy Child. An all-fruit box from Frog Hollow is pretty much a dream come true, and I was thrilled when Molly and Lael asked to include this pie recipe in their weekly newsletter and on their site. This week’s boxes come stocked with an assortment of citrus and avocados, including bright red grapefruit, and they deliver to drop sites all over the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

It’s always dazzling to taste something familiar in an unexpected form, like this pie which conveys the musky-floral-bright notes of grapefruit in a delicate custard. The texture of the softly set custard is somewhere between panna cotta and a delicate lemon curd. The alcohol in the St. Germain bakes away, leaving behind a hint of flowers and spring that blends seamlessly with the grapefruit. It’s downright beguiling. I’ve found the paler orange-pink fruits to have a more tart, complex flavor than the bright pink ones, so I prefer them here, but either or both will work.

Encased in a buttery crust which manages to stay crisp for two or three days, it is pure heaven. It may even make you forget all about rhubarb. For now.

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Screw cake; let them eat pie:

Strawberry Rhubarb Crème Fraîche Crumble Pie
Lemon Buttermilk Pie
Apricot Cherry Fold-Over Pie

One year ago:

Raw, Vegan Chocolate Cheesecakes
Buckwheat Cheese Blintzes (Gluten-Free)

Two years ago:

Cheddar, Beer and Chive Gougères

Three years ago:

Chocolate Mint Chip Ice Cream
Lemon Mascarpone Tart
Pistachio Chocolate Torte

Four years ago:

(Raw, Vegan) Chocolate Pudding
Rhubarb Chèvre Galettes
Lemon Balm Crème Fraîche Ice Cream

Grapefruit Custard Pie {Gluten-Free}

Inspired by / adapted heavily from The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book

I highly recommend investing in a bottle of St. Germain to make this pie. The alcohol all cooks out, but it amplifies the floral flavor of the grapefruit and makes the pie taste magical. (As a bonus, you’ll then be able to make the best cocktail ever, the Pink Grapefruit Vieux Mot, invented by my friend Calvaleigh, or splash it into prosecco or white sangrìa.) Lacking St. Germain, you could try substituting an orange or ginger liqueur, or simply omitting the liqueur and adding another quarter cup of sugar to the filling.

I made this with my gluten-free pie dough, but if gluten isn’t an issue for you, feel free to use your favorite pie crust (or half a recipe of my flakiest, all-butter pie dough) and use all-purpose flour in place of the rice flour in the filling. Having the pie crust hot when you add the filling helps to keep the crust crisp. My gluten-free crust worked best when I blind-baked it almost all the way, until golden all over; it didn’t brown much more once the filling was added. This pie is best the day that it’s baked, but can be refrigerated for up to three days.

All ounce measurements are by weight.

Makes one 9″ pie; 8-12 servings

For the pie:
1 almost-fully-baked 9″ gluten-free pie shell, hot
3 tablespoons (.75 ounces / 20 grams) sweet white rice flour
3/4 cup (5.75 ounces / 160 grams) organic blonde cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
4 tablespoons (2 ounces / 55 grams) melted butter
1 cup (8 ounces / 225 grams) strained ruby/pink grapefruit juice
4 tablespoons strained blood orange juice (optional, for color – otherwise, 4 more tablespoons grapefruit juice)
1 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
2-3 teaspoons finely grated grapefruit zest (colorful part only, from 1 medium grapefruit)

Prepare things:
Have a rack positioned in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400ºF. Have your pie shell baking on a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack, and blind-bake it until it’s golden all over, somewhere between par-baked and fully-baked. The gluten-free crust won’t brown much more once the custard is added. (If your pie crust has already baked and cooled, that’s fine – put it in the oven for 5 minutes before pouring in the custard.)

Make the custard:
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, whisking until combined after each addition. Whisk in the melted butter, then the grapefruit and blood orange juices, and finally the heavy cream and St. Germain liqueur. The mixture should thicken up with the addition of the cream. Strain the mixture into a large measuring pitcher or bowl, and whisk in the grapefruit zest to distribute it evenly.

Bake the pie:
Pour the custard into the hot pie shell set on a rimmed baking sheet. Carefully transfer to the lower rack of the oven, reduce the temperature to 325ºF, and bake until the sides are slightly puffed and the center is quite wobbly but not watery, about 35-45 minutes. Be careful not to over-bake, or the filling will separate.

Remove the pie from the oven and cool completely, 2-3 hours; it will still be cooking from residual heat. (If the filling is too soft to slice, chill the pie 1-2 hours.) The pie will keep at room temperature for one day, or refrigerated for up to three days, though it is best on the day of baking when the crust is most crisp.

33 thoughts on “Grapefruit Custard Pie {Gluten-Free}”

  1. I really really like pie + I particularly like citrus-y pies which makes me wonder why on earth I've never had one with grapefruit in. This is utterly beautiful and it makes me want to head into the kitchen and start baking immediately.

    1. That is the sweetest note, and I highly recommend doing so; though I'm guessing that if we're anything alike, it doesn't take much to make you want to head to the kitchen to bake. ;)

  2. How have I never even heard of a grapefruit custard tart before? It sounds phenomenal! My Dad loves grapefruit so I'm sure he would be thrilled if I made this!

  3. That pie crust is utter perfection.. I can just imagine how wonderful this pie is and grapefruit custard sounds like something I need to experience. :)

  4. This pie sounds so different and delicious! I wonder how it would be with white grapefruit? There are certainly plenty of those in our neighborhood.

    1. Ooh, lucky you! I bet those would work beautifully, too. In fact, I deliberately refrained from calling it "pink grapefruit pie" because I figured white grapefruit would work equally well. :)

    1. What a sweet thing to say – thanks, Amy! I still have my fair share of pie fails, too. Whoever coined the term "easy as pie" was smoking crack, I think. Those suckers are tricky. I hope you give it a shot though. Your apple tart doesn't look like it ended in tears – it looks incredible!

  5. You read my mind! After making grapefruit curd all winter, I was thinking I should have grapefruit in pie form (instead of eating the whole jar of curd), and lo and behold here it is.
    I wish you had not pointed out the probably-should-have-been-obvious fact that Campari has artificial coloring, as I am quite fond of Aperol, which I assume also has the dye. I would rather eat insect-shell-based coloring!

    1. That's so awesome! I hope you love this pie. Grapefruit curd sounds superb, too! And yeah, I was disappointed to find out about the artificial coloring in Campari, too – I like it in cocktails. Ah well, all things in moderation, right?

  6. This pie looks amazing, I'm always looking for ways to use up grapefruit around here as we have a tree right out front. The cookbook sounds amazing too. But I have found having the right cookbook does not always work either as pies seem to be trouble for me.

  7. Thank you so much Alanna for the fabulous recipe – grapefruit custard? Never heard of it but that's why I am here! You are an inspiration.

    Grapefruit boring?? It is the nectar of the gods. Grapefruit juice vodka lychee martini anyone?

    I was in San Diego in December and stuffed grapefruit into my checked bag AND my carry on to take home to the Rockie Mountains. Yes, I PAID to check my bag so I could take transport home grown grapefruit. And it was ridiculously sweet and delicious.

    Therefore Alanna's Grapefruit Custard Pie for Christmas dinner. Yum.

    1. I'll take a grapefruit vodka lycee martini, thank you very much! That sounds to-die-for. I am enthralled and impressed by your devotion to grapefruit! I have a feeling you will go for this pie in a major way. Thanks for the super kind and lovely note!!!

  8. Oh my good god. You really are a goddess! I'm so so SO sad I didn't buy that giant sack of grapefruit at Costco this week :( Your recipes are always so fabulous, I can't wait to try this sure-to-be magical GF crust of yours!!!! Good thing lots of birthdays are coming up so hopefully I'll have a chance to audition this soon!!! GORGEOUS pictures! All that beautiful light surrounding that gorgeous pie….*swoon*

  9. Everytime I visit your blog, I'm inspired. Your photographs are so beautiful…each one should be printed and hung on a wall. Ryan and I fell in love over a grapefruit so this pie looks particularly tempting. Thank you for sharing all that you do!

  10. Terrific Pie!! Just made this the other night and it was just delicious-the St Germain added a really lovely flavor. I think it definitely helped to let it set up in the refrigerator before serving. I was so worried about overcooking it that I may have taken it out of the oven a few minutes early. The pie crust was also wonderful and it stayed crisp after being refrigerated a couple of days.I think it held up better than a "regular" crust! Thank you for so generously posting such detailed, well written instructions. I'm a far better, more confident baker than I ever was thanks to your guidance ( and gorgeous pics) Also, thanks for an excuse to finally splurge on the elegant full sized bottle of St Germain-I've been too flinty to do so before and kept buying those little tiny bottles! Can't wait to make this again…

    1. Hi Liz, Thank you so much for giving the recipe(s) a go, and for the lovely, kind note!! I'm pleased as punch that you liked the pie and crust. And it's a darn good thing I didn't know about those tiny bottles of St. Germain until now…

  11. Swoon. Alanna, this is a stunningly good recipe, from start to finish. The flavor of the custard is subtle and elegant, and the pie crust… oh, the pie crust. I'm the daughter of a phenomenally good southern cook, and since I stopped eating gluten about 7 years ago I've occasionally tried to pull off a gluten-free pie. But the crusts were all sad imitations of the flaky pastries my mom taught me how to make: my new ones were cardboardy or soggy or tasteless, sometimes all three at once. This, though! This crust flakes beautifully, tastes delicious, and melts in the mouth like a compliment from a southern gentleman. I can't thank you enough for sharing this recipe!

    1. Thanks, E! This pie is a favorite around these parts, too – we can never get enough of it. I'm SO glad you like the crust, too! That is high praise, and makes my week. I wouldn't mind a compliment from a southern gentleman either… ;)

  12. Thank you for this fantastic pie! I made it last night for a group of foodie friends and it disappeared in minutes… I only had 3 Tbls of St. Germain (bought a mini-bottle :) ), so I used substituted 1 Tbl of Campari, which leant the pie a great, very subtle bitterness and deepened the pink color. The GF crust was also stellar– I’m grateful to have finally found a delicious and reliable gluten free pie dough. Many many thanks! Woke up to requests to make it again.

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