Cheryl Day’s take on the Bill Smith classic is a make-again (and again) recipe writes Dorie Greenspan in her July 1 bulletin. Here Dorie shares a great recipe from Day’s new cookbook for Atlantic Beach Pie that she describes as perfect for Fourth of July. I, for one, am definitely going to make this for the upcoming holiday.
Almost as enjoyable as the pie is Dorie’s background on the dish—and Dorie, you weren’t the only one who had never heard of this pie. I hadn’t either so at least there are two of us. Dorie also introduces us to a new cookbook, Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking. Now here’s one I am most likely the only one not to know about Day or her Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Georgia as Dorie has long been a big fan.
Since July 4th is coming up, I’d better cut to Dorie’s bulletin and the recipe for the pie. Please let me know what you think. Also, be sure to subscribe to Dorie’s newsletter. It’s the best and it’s free. I mean, really, what’s there to lose? Well, of course, your waistline but hey, save your calories for all the good things Dorie has to offer.
Here we go.
From Dorie Greenspan:
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Am I the last person on the planet to discover the joys of the Atlantic Beach Pie made famous by Bill Smith at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a James Beard Foundation America’s Classic restaurant that featured fresh, seasonally-focused Southern cuisine. I’m thinking I might be. I’m also thinking I might not have ever come around to it had Mary Dodd not mentioned how much she loved the recipe for it that’s in Cheryl Day’s newest cookbook, Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking.
I might be slow on the recipe front, but I’ve been a Cheryl Day fan for a long time. Cheryl, who founded and owns the Back in the Day Bakery with her husband, Griffith, in Savannah, Georgia, is one of the country’s most important voices in Southern foodways – one of its most beloved too. She is a bestselling author, the co-founder of Southern Restaurants for Racial Justice, a legacy baker and an inspiring speaker – it was marvelous to hear her at the Cherry Bombe Jubilee this year.
It was funny that when Mary said the name of the pie, I thought that there was a Maida Heatter recipe for it – but I was wrong. Maida Heatter didn’t publish a version, but a million other people did. It’s cherished. And even if it weren’t as great as it is, it would be easy to have a soft spot for it because of the story that spins around it. I loved hearing Katie Workman on NPR/All Things Considered talk about the first time she had the pie – she called it an OMG, “When Harry Met Sally” experience.
THE SHORT SALTY BACK STORY
You can get a fuller telling of this story in a bunch of places – I love how Margaux Laskey wrote about it in The New York Times (subscription) – so I’m just going to tell you the part I like most.
While the name “Atlantic Beach Pie,” is Smith’s, he doesn’t claim the dessert as his own, saying that it’s served all over East and North Carolina, where it’s called Lemon Pie. Growing up, his mother – and evidently everyone else’s mom, too – was convinced that if you ate dessert after you’d eaten seafood, it would kill you. The one exception was citrus – life could go on after a citrusy sweet. And so, this lemon pie was the specialty at fish places along the coast.
And what a pie – it’s a quirky one.
SALTINES, LEMON JUICE AND SWEETENED CONDENSED MILK – WHODDA THUNK?
Everything about this pie is beachy, especially it’s saltiness. The press-in crust – which could be made from graham crackers, and I read that it was in many places – is made from crushed saltines, butter and sugar. It’s thick and salty-sweet and fun. The filling, which was traditionally lemon, but which can be a mix of lemon and lime (or why not all lime?), is satiny and jiggly, slip-through-your-teeth smooth and reminiscent of lemon-meringue pie – gets its shimmy from egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk. (Remember how Jessie Sheehan used sweetened condensed milk in that terrific recipe for potato-chip and pretzel fudge, and called the canned milk her BBF – her Baking Best Friend?)
As for the topping – as near as I can tell, it was meringue, until it wasn’t. (Meringue makes sense, since you’re using yolks for the filling and will have whites left over.) Bill Smith opted for whipped cream and Cheryl Day, (scroll down for her recipe), went for whipped cream tanged-up with buttermilk – a genius partner for the sweet filling. (Hold onto the recipe – it’s a nice way to get the flavor of crème fraîche when you can’t get crème fraîche.) In some recipes, the pie gets a grating of lemon or lime zest, and in many it gets a light shower of flaky sea salt. The constant is the see-saw sweet-salty balance. Oh, and the life-saving power of citrus.
PIE FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ATLANTIC
Maybe I could have searched all over Paris and nabbed Saltines, but when you want to bake a pie, you want to bake a pie. I was going to go with a graham-cracker base, but I found some crackers that did the trick. They weren’t salty enough, but that was an easy fix. And just because I could, I topped the pie with little meringue stars straight from the supermarket shelf. I love a country where you can buy meringue ready-to-go.
Would this be a good Fourth of July dessert? Yes? Good for a picnic? Yes? Good for a weekend brunch? Also yes. It’s an over-again recipe – a dessert you’ll make over and over again.
Happy weekend to all. I’ll see the members of the Playing Around club back here on Tuesday – that’s when I’ll tell you what the project for July is (so excited) – and we’ll all be back here together on Friday. Sweet, sweet wishes to everyone.
BILL SMITH’S FAMOUS ATLANTIC BEACH PIE
• Adapted from Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking by Cheryl Day
• Click here for printable recipe
Excerpted from Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking by Cheryl Day (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2021. Photographs by Angie Mosier.
GOOD TO KNOW BEFORE YOU START
The crust: For the fun of it – the saltiness, too – you should try the pie with Saltines. But if you can’t find them or don’t think you’ll like them, jump on the graham-cracker-crust bandwagon. You can use a food processor to crumble the crackers, but it’s easily done by hand, and you won’t have a machine to clean when it’s over. Cheryl says: When you make your crumbs, be sure to leave a little texture, rather than making a fine dust. Make sure your butter is super-soft because you’re going to smush it with the crackers to get a pressable mixture. (Mary melted and cooled the butter. I smushed it. Good both ways.)
The citrus: Cheryl goes with all lemon juice and some others, including Food 52, suggest all lemon, all lime or a mix. Mary made hers with all lemon and I went with some of each. (I’m a well-known sucker for lime.)
The topping: The allure of Cheryl’s Buttermilk Whipped Cream is great – also it’s such a smart way to add some tang to a sweet dessert. But thrift suggests meringue (some history does, too). And no one would turn down straight-up whipped cream. Mary made the buttermilk cream and loved it. I used store-bought meringues because I could. You don’t need me to tell you that you should do what you’d like.
My store-bought meringues
The finishing touches: Cheryl’s pie is gorgeously pristine – I love how she covers the top with beautifully piped little rounds of that ethereal cream. But grated zest is a possibility as is a few shiny pieces of flaky sea salt here and there.
Makes 8 servings
For the piecrust
• About 60 saltine crackers from about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 sleeves of crackers (190 grams) to make 2 1/2 cups crumbs (see above)
• 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
• 6 to 8 tablespoons (85 to 113 grams) very soft unsalted butter
For the pie filling
• One 14-ounce (300 ml) can sweetened condensed milk
• 4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
• 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
• 1/2 cup (120 ml) fresh lemon juice (or see above)
For the whipped cream
• 1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream
• 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
• A pinch of fine sea salt
• 1/4 cup (60 ml) buttermilk
To make the piecrust: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350-degrees F. Have a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan at hand.
In a medium bowl, blend together the cracker crumbs and sugar. Add the butter and mix with a fork (or your fingers or a combination of both) until the crumbs are moistened.
Press the mixture evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pie pan.
Bake the crust for 12 to 15 minutes, just until golden brown and firm. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.
To make the filling: Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325-degrees F. Place the baked piecrust on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
In a large bowl, whisk the condensed milk and egg yolks together until smooth. Add the lemon zest and juice, whisking until combined.
Pour the filling into the crust. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, until the filling is puffed up at the edges and the center no longer looks wet but still wobbles slightly when jiggled; it will continue to set as it cools.
Cool the pie on a wire rack for 1 hour, then refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours, or overnight.
To make the cream: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), whip the cream, sugar, and salt on medium speed until the cream starts to thicken. Add the buttermilk and beat until the cream holds nice soft peaks. Use immediately.
STORING: The pie can be refrigerated, loosely covered, for up to 3 days.
Excerpted from Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2021. Photographs by Angie Mosier.
PLAYING AROUND: I’m guessing that you’ll find lots of ways to use the salty crust and the excellent sweet filling separately and together. I think the crust would be terrific with a chocolate pudding filling and I think the filling would be terrific as a pudding. Of course you could make the pie in a different shape or size, play around with different toppings or just go straight to the freezer and scoop some ice cream over it. I think you’ll have fun with this one.
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