Buttermilk Pie

There's so much to catch up on! That should be the new title of this blog, by the way. Maybe if I set a goal of monthly posts, it just might happen. Anyway, there really is a lot to tell. Baby C has grown by leaps and bounds. Rolling! Teeth! Singing! Grabbing everything! Crawling any day now! Eight months old already. Who, what-what?! I can't believe it. She is at the age now where I want her to stay this way forever. And then the next day she'll do something completely new and adorable, so it keeps it sort of bearable that she is inevitably going to grow up. Sigh. She is eating literally everything she is offered with gusto and eyes everything she's not quite ready to have yet, like an amazing dessert that has totally re-centered us after a crazy month around here. I give you...buttermilk pie.

To start at the beginning, when I haven't been busy literally chasing Baby C around the place (boy, she sure does roll fast--I mean, why crawl when you can roll at warp speed?), my new thing is entering recipe and cooking contests. I know, I know--how kitsch, right? But there is crazy prize money involved in some of them, so hey, why not? And it is fascinating, this world of contesting. For instance, I have learned that there is a difference between recipe contests and cooking contests. What now? Well, recipe contests are just submitted recipes, with or without a photo, and almost always can be submitted online these days, so really, they are the perfect thing for lazy creative people with lots of good ideas for original recipes. So you know I've been getting in on that.

Cooking contests are like "offs". You know, cook-offs, bake-offs, that sort of thing. Competitors actually have to congregate and cook for judges in a live contest. The "offs" are hard core and I've been submitting entries for some of those, too, even though I am kind of scared of actually getting selected to participate in an Off. Like the Granddaddy of All Offs, the Pillsbury Bake-Off. So flippin' great and Americana at it's best, right? Well, I got in really late in the game, like a month before the deadline. So for four weeks, I ran around like a deranged Sandra Lee, conjuring up recipes using items from the eligible list of Pillsbury family products.

A few were pretty good--those got submitted for the Off and can't be shared here yet lest I make myself ineligible because I've "published" them on the internets. Other experiments for the Off were, at best, very confusing in the mouth and are dead to me. There were so many processed foods in our personal refrigerated section at one point that I was sure we were becoming part of the epidemic. I'm no hippie when it comes to food, but I do like to make prepared foods with long, mumbo-jumbo ingredients lists just an occasional thing, and for a few weeks, everyday was an occasion.

But the deadline for the Pillsbury Bake-Off has passed, and things are getting back to normal around here on the baking front (read: scratch cooking, recipes developed by experts), much to the relief of the ever-supportive husband (thanks for pretending to like that crushed sugar cookie/marscapone/jam thing, babe). But there was one lone pie crust and half a quart of buttermilk rattling around in the fridge. In these waste not, want not times, I opted for the obvious utilization of said quickly expiring ingredients: Buttermilk Pie.

Nothing makes you feel like you instantly live on a farm than saying you are making a Buttermilk Pie, even if you use a packaged pie crust. I mean, Pillsbury shows people on farms eating their products a lot in their commercials, but I'm not so sure that's really the case. But so what? This pie is everything a great dessert should be and the star is the filling. It looks, smells and tastes like it should be on a sprawling buffet at some small town's ladies' luncheon where all the husbands show up at the end and scarf up what's left and everyone raves about the pie. It's somehow at once subtle yet abundant in flavor, tasting of fresh eggs and sweet butter and a swirl of nutmeg, with tangy buttermilk and a bright squeeze of fresh lemon keeping everything from getting to be just too much.

You'll find lots of different recipes for buttermilk pie in cookbooks and online, but I love this recipe because the eggs are separated, and the meringue folded into the filling right before baking gives an incredible weightlessness to the custard--so unexpected in the mouth because the pie appears so rich in color and lush in texture, like whipped cheesecake filling. The custard also separates in the pie shell in the most gorgeous way when you pour it into a warm crust before baking--fluffy, set and almost cake-like at the top, with a layer of lemon curd-like custard underneath. Delicious, delicious, delicious. Say it with me now: My, oh my, Buttermilk Pie.

Buttermilk Pie
Adapted from Robert Sehling and Food and Wine

Serves 8

This is the perfect dessert to pair with good strong coffee. It also would be a great match with fresh seasonal fruit of all kinds, and of course a bit of freshly whipped cream. Even better the second day after a night in the fridge.

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 9-inch pie shell, your favorite homemade or store-bought variety

Place an oven rack in the center position. Bake the pie shell according to the pie crust recipe or package directions. Begin baking the shell while you make the filling so that the pie crust will still be warm when the filling goes in. When the shell is done baking, set the oven to 350 degrees.

To make the filling, beat the butter until creamy with an electric mixer. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the egg yolks and flour and beat until incorporated--batter will be very thick at this point. Switch to a whisk and energetically stir in the buttermilk, lemon juice, vanilla, nutmeg and salt (you can use an electric mixer for this step, but have a kitchen towel ready, because it tends to make a big mess). Set aside.

Clean the beaters well, and in a medium bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff, but not dry, glossy peaks. Fold the egg whites into the batter until no streaks of white remain (whisking gently a bit if necessary to help things along). Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust and bake until the custard is set, deeply golden and a toothpick inserted in the very center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack completely before serving. Refrigerate before serving if desired.

PieShauna Sever