One Good Recipe: Buttermilk Pie

Robert Stehling’s Buttermilk Pie

PG tested

Robert Stehling is the James Beard award-winning chef and owner of Hominy Grill in Charleston, S.C. I dined at one of his tables while attending the Association of Food Journalists conference in Charleston a few years back. The food was casual and deeply flavorful, with outstanding fried green tomatoes, biscuits with a sweet-tart tomato conserve, shrimp and grits, and all sorts of vegetable sides, including okra and tomatoes and Charleston red rice. But I don't remember eating this pie. I would have, and so will you once you make it and serve it forth.

Because I had buttermilk pie in mind, I tried a few other recipes before I settled on this. While no one (husband, neighbors) minded that I kept on making pies, I wasn't happy until I made this one. The others I tried were missing the glorious light texture and classic buttermilk tang, which likens this to cheesecake, but not.

Anyway, it's a classic Southern dessert with a tangy buttermilk twist that needs to come up North now, too. Make it with a local buttermilk or at least use a whole-milk one for the best results.

Beating the egg whites and folding them into the pie is what gives the best texture. What I did was to use a portable electric mixer to beat the whites first, just to soft peaks, and then beat the butter and sugar, etc. in another bowl with the same beaters. Now that's not quite how the recipe is written, so you can ignore me. I can never leave things alone. This isn't the easiest buttermilk pie recipe, but it's the best.

It comes from a favorite book “Holy Smoke,” which is all about North Carolina barbecue and written by John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed. Sugared sliced strawberries are the perfect topping. Raspberries would be glorious, as well.

Pie pastry for 9-inch single crust pie

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs, separated

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg (or ground nutmeg)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fit pie pastry into a 9-inch pie plate, making a high fluted edge or decorating the edge with the tines of a floured fork. Fit sheet of foil into pie crust. Fill foil with dry beans or rice. Bake 10 minutes. Remove foil and beans; bake 5 more minutes until crust looks dry but not browned. Transfer to wire rack.

Turn oven to 350 degrees. With electric mixer at medium speed, beat butter and sugar until blended and crumbly. Add egg yolks; mix well until creamy, scraping sides. Mix in flour, lemon juice, nutmeg and salt. Scrape sides. With mixer on low, slowly blend in buttermilk (mixture might look curdled).

In clean bowl with clean beaters, beat egg whites at high speed just until soft peaks form. Add a small amount of buttermilk mixture to whites. Fold in with rubber spatula. Gently fold whites into remaining buttermilk mixture until just mixed. Pour into pie shell.

Bake until filling is golden brown and barely moves when pie is jiggled, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Serves 8.

-- Adapted from “Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue” by John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed with William McKinney (University of North Carolina Press, 2008, $30)


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