The New Yorker Food Issue
A Girls Night Dinner Party

Robert Stehling's Buttermilk Pie


Last Friday night, I had a dinner party for a group of girlfriends, replete with dishes culled from pages of the past few Dining In sections of The New York Times (an herbed ricotta appetizer, roasted zucchini, a buttermilk pie). To fill the gaps, I added some of my own creations (brown rice salad, roast pork tenderloin). I'll be blogging about all these dishes, but I figured I'd start off where we ended, with dessert. Isn't that where most people want to start?

Matt and Ted Lee wrote about Robert Stehling's buttermilk pie last Wednesday. Stehling is the chef at Hominy Grill in Charleston, South Carolina. It sounded like just the right kind of dessert to make for an outdoor, end-of-summer dinner. The addition of lemon and nutmeg made it sound light and refreshing, while the lusciousness of the buttermilk custard promised something slightly more substantial.

I started out by making a pie crust from Cooks Illustrated. I don't own a food processor (but am frenziedly working towards collecting enough D'Agostino award points to get one!), so pie crust is something I'm determined to master without a machine. Besides, all those wonderful frontier women who made scads of pies daily never needed a Cuisinart. I like to tell myself this when I'm knuckle-deep in iced butter and flour, straddling a desperate line between too much hand warmth! not enough cold steel! But amazingly, this recipe was not difficult at all. In a bowl of flour, salt and a bit of sugar, you add several tablespoons of iced butter. After cutting those pats of butter into the flour until the mixture resembles a mass of large peas, you add some spoons of sour cream mixed with ice water. With no more than a few twists of the wrist, this dough comes together very quickly. Patted out into a disc, the dough is refrigerated for a few hours. It's then rolled out between two pieces of parchment paper.


Once out of the refridgerator and rolled out on a table, the lumps of butter quickly lost their chilled form and I had to very gently tug the parchment paper off the sticky butter to ease the crust into the Pyrex dish.  The dough-lined dish was chilled again, then lined with aluminum foil, filled with rice and baked. When the dough was set, I removed the rice and foil and finished baking the shell until light golden-brown.


I let the crust chill while working on the filling. Butter and sugar are creamed together (my hand-held mixer is on the fritz - only the highest setting works, which makes for a butter-bespattered kitchen each time I try to use it. This makes for both amusing and totally frustrating baking attempts), then eggs and flavorings are added. I prefer freshly grated nutmeg, but eyeballing the proper amount is always tricky. And too much nutmeg can be overpowering, despite its delicate nature. I figured the lemon juice was there to balance it all out. Egg whites are whipped to a soft peak and then both mixtures are folded together. I poured the filling into the cooled crust, then stuck the whole thing into the oven. 


The picture accompanying the article showed a much browner pie, and the separation of the filling into cakey top layer and custardy bottom layer didn't really happen with mine.


I served the pie still warm, with a few raspberries alongside each slice. The filling was light and airy from the beaten egg whites, and sort of melted in our mouths. The crust was flaky, but could have stood to be rolled thinner than I had managed to. My guests were clamoring for the recipe at the end of the night.