I really wanted to tell you about this pie yesterday, but I couldn’t, because I was making it as the surprise dessert in a birthday dinner for one of my inner posse, LegalPie. Since she subscribes to the blog, the post would have ended up in her inbox and wrecked the surprise. Now I’m free to blab about it all I want.
So you can imagine what we’re talking about, here’s a slice from CurvyMama:
I chose buttermilk pie for this occasion because LegalPie started fixating on it when I was in New York City earlier this month, making pies at Bubby’s restaurant. Reading the blog, and listening to my stories by Skype, she got really hungry. She started cruising the Internet for pie. She hit on buttermilk pie, and, in an extremely subtle sort of hint, sent me a bunch of links to recipes. This, together with the approach of a Major Birthday, formed a little asterisk in my head.
A few days before her birthday, I looked at the links. I did some Internet searching of my own. And this New York-and-California girl learned that buttermilk pie is a beloved Southern dessert. Recipes vary, but all are some kind of riff on sugar-butter-eggs-buttermilk, with flour, cornmeal or even Bisquick added for heft and thickening. They are baked, producing a comforting, custardy result. Some have a crust; others are crustless.
Then I complicated my world by looking at Ron Silver’s pie cookbook. Ron, you might remember, is the owner of Bubby’s, which began as a pie shop in 1990, but has since morphed into a full-service restaurant. I admire and love his pies, so his cookbook is one of my main guideposts. His buttermilk pie isn’t much like the Southern classics. He starts with an unbaked graham cracker crust, and adds a filling that is equal parts sour cream and buttermilk, sweetened a tad and enriched with vanilla bean seeds. It holds its shape by the grace of gelatin.
I had myself a dilemma. Go with the old-fashioned Southern buttermilk pies that LegalPie clearly longed for? Or choose Ron’s version, knowing it wasn’t entirely the target of her craving? I chose Ron’s, in part because I was intrigued by it, and in part because in his introduction to the recipe, he compared it to panna cotta, one of LegalPie’s favorite desserts. Bingo. The starting gate was open.
So I started with the graham cracker crust, which Silvia Hernandez, part of the wonderful pastry team at Bubby’s, taught me to make. I used storebought grahams, ground them up, combined them with a tad of sugar, a decent dose of cinnamon, in a nod to LegalPie’s taste; and melted butter, and pressed them into the pie pan. I baked it in a hot oven before I realized that Ron’s recipe calls for an unbaked crust. The pie turned out fine, and I would do it again this way, fearing that an unbaked crust would turn into a mass of floating crumbs once I pour the liquidy filling in.
Here’s what Silvia’s patient tutelage helped me produce:
I thought you might like to see the pie-weighting system Silvia taught me, which I mentioned in that blog post that is linked above. It involves putting a disposable aluminum pie tin filled partially with dried beans inside the unbaked crumb crust. The picture here is from another day, when I used this method to help pastry crusts keep their shape during blind-baking. But I wanted to at least give you idea what the system looks like, whether you use it for pastry or crumb crusts.
While my graham cracker crumb crust was cooling, I made the buttermilk filling. I combined half of the buttermilk with the gelatin in a saucepan on a cold stovetop, and let the gelatin soften for about 10 minutes. The gelatin formed a wrinkly sort of pattern while it softened.
In a large bowl on the countertop, I combined the rest of the buttermilk with the sour cream and the vanilla bean seeds. I also made an icewater bath. You’ll see what happens with this in a minute.
Then it was time to heat the buttermilk-and-gelatin mixture. On medium-low heat, I whisked the gelatin into the buttermilk. I paid heed to Ron’s instructions not to overheat, waiting just until the mix emitted its first whisp of steam. Then I poured it into the cold buttermilk-sour-cream mixture, beating on low with a hand-held mixer.
Then I put this bowl of filling into the icewater bath, leaving it to chill, with an occasional whisk, until it got to about 50 degrees.You can see some stray vanilla-bean seeds clinging to the whisk here.
I did wonder whether the vanilla flavor would have been enhanced by putting the seeds in the warm buttermilk-gelatin mixture instead of in the cold buttermilk-sour-cream mixture. Maybe I will try it the other way next time.
But the final step with this pie was to pour the chilled filling into the cooled crumb crust and put it in the fridge. Given how liquidy it was, I was seriously worried that it wouldn’t set. But I was relieved to find, midafternoon, that it had set up nicely. No need for an emergency fallback dessert!
And since I had planned the dinner backwards from the dessert (natch), no need to rework the dinner menu. What a relief! 🙂
I also made a raspberry sauce for the pie (fresh raspberries combined with a little water and powdered sugar in a saucepan on medium-low heat, cooked until the berries are pretty soft and juicy, then strained to leave the solids behind). The brilliant red looked lovely drizzled over the creamy white pie.
Ron Silver’s Buttermilk Pie
One graham cracker crust (in this case, blind-baked, with 1 1/2 tsp. of cinnamon added)
2 c. buttermilk, divided
2 3/4 tsp. unflavored, powdered gelatin
2 c. sour cream
1 small vanilla bean
6 Tbsp. sugar
Put 1 c. of the buttermilk into a small saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the top. Let soften for about 10 minutes. Warm it over medium-low heat, whisking constantly until it emits its first steam. Don’t overcook. Remove from heat.
Prepare an icewater bath: in a big bowl, put lots of ice and about 1 quart of water.
In another bowl, whisk together the remaining buttermilk and the sour cream. Split the vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds and add them to the mixture, along with the sugar. Mix to combine.
Running a mixer on low speed, pour the hot buttermilk-gelatin mixture into the sour-cream-buttermilk mix in a thin stream. When blended, put that bowl into the icewater bath and let it chill until it reaches about 50 degrees.
Pour the cooled mixture into the crust and refrigerate until set.