Just because it’s summer, and we’ve been waiting all year for good fresh fruit, that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy anything other than a fresh fruit pie from time to time.
Indeed, sometimes it’s fun to turn the tables and use the fruit as the garnish against a cool, creamy-refreshing filling the way we have here.
If you have never tasted buttermilk pie, you are certainly not alone. And I wouldn’t fault you for your lapse: buttermilk, on its own, has limited appeal. Sweetened, however, enriched with eggs, flavored with vanilla, and baked to a turn, it rivals any custard you’ve encountered with its smooth-as-silk texture and tangy personality.
We play a neat trick here and lighten the filling by gently beating the egg whites and adding them back to the custard. The result is a filling that’s soft and oozing underneath but with a souffle-like top layer. It makes for a light slice so you can eat a bigger piece without the guilt.
I can think of a dozen ways to garnish the pie, depending on the time of season. My first choice is always lightly sugared fresh summer fruit – sliced strawberries, sliced peaches, nectarines or what have you. Other times of year, a generous spoonful of fruit preserves adds a colorful finish. Don’t leave out the nutmeg. Even though there’s just a touch, it ties together the fruit and filling beautifully.
I hope you’ll try this, and I’ll be amazed if you aren’t won over. Discovering new pies is always a thrill and I wouldn’t want you to miss this one.
Ken Haedrich, “Dean” of The Pie Academy
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup (1/2 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into ¼" pieces
- ¼ cup cold vegetable shortening, in about 8 pieces
- ¼ cup ice cold water
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 3 eggs, separated (you need 3 yolks and 2 of the whites)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and cut it into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender until the butter forms pea-size pieces.
- Add the shortening and continue to cut until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the water over the mixture and mix quickly with a fork until the dough pulls together. Shape into a ball. Place the dough on a large sheet of plastic wrap and flatten into a disk about ¾" thick. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
- When the dough has chilled, place it on a sheet of lightly floured wax paper and roll into a 13-inch circle. Invert the paper and pastry over a 9½" deep-dish pie pan, center, and peel off the paper. Gently tuck the pastry into the pan, then sculpt the overhanging dough into an upstanding rim. Place in the freezer for 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 400°.
- Tear off a sheet of aluminum foil about 16-inches long and line your pie shell with it, tucking it into the shell so it fits like a glove. Add enough dried beans to come nearly all the way to the top, to weight the pastry down. Bake on the center rack for 15 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the oven, lift out the foil and beans, and prick the bottom of the pastry 6 or 7 times with the tines of a fork, to keep the shell from puffing up. Lower the heat to 350° and bake 10 minutes longer. (Cool the beans, store, and reuse for the same purpose.) Cool the shell on a rack. "Plug" the holes in the bottom crust with dabs of cream cheese, to prevent leaks.
- Mix the sugar, flour, salt, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Add the buttermilk, three egg yolks, lemon juice, vanilla, and melted butter. Using an electric mixer, beat well for 30 seconds.
- Clean and dry the beaters. Beat the two egg whites in a separate bowl until they hold soft peaks. Add ½ cup of the liquid to the egg whites. Fold the mixture together. Add the whites to the remaining liquid and stir well to blend.
- Pour the filling into the pie shell. Bake on the center oven rack for 40 minutes, until the top of the pie is a light golden color. When done, the pie will be "set" - it will not move in waves when the pie is nudged.
- Cool the pie thoroughly on a rack, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour - preferably longer - before serving, garnished with fruit.