As I began to think through my Easter menu last week, I thought I had a dessert all picked out. I was going to make bread pudding out of the Panetone bread that I was making for my Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge (no, I haven’t done a post for that bread yet… I’m still catching up on the blog posts).
But then I saw a recipe on my computer and my mind kept coming back to it. Once I got it on my mind, there was no turning back to Panetone bread pudding.
If there is anything that speaks love to this Texan’s heart it’s pie. I’ve written about pie before. You might remember this post from almost a year ago where I explained that the proper way to say this word is to draw it out like “piiiih.”
But back to Nana’s Buttermilk Pie.
Actually I mostly remember having Buttermilk Pie at my Aunt Mae’s house. Aunt Mae was my Nana’s sister and just a dear sweet precious lady. Buttermilk pie reminds me of family gatherings and being at my Aunt Mae’s house.
So I looked at the recipe that I had written down from my Nana before she died a few years ago and I compared it to one that a friend gave me recently. There was one big difference. The recipe my friend gave me included flour in the custard mixture whereas Nana’s did not. I wondered why.
My culinary curiosity got the better of me so I began to search the knower of all knowledge… my friend Google. Every recipe on the internet that I came across had anywhere from 1/4 cup to 1 teaspoon of flour mixed in the buttermilk and egg custard. One recipe, from a very well known tv food personality, even used 1/2 cup of Bisquick.
Something seemed wrong to me. I began to ask: What purpose does it serve? Is it merely a thickening agent? Why doesn’t Nana’s call for flour? Will flour make it better?
I wanted answers. Real answers.
Then I remembered. I got a book for Christmas that should have my answers.
Do you remember way back when I posted a kitchen wish list of sorts? It included several books; one of which was On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. Well, I was given this book by my father-in-law for Christmas. It’s not really the kind of book you just sit down and read cover to cover – as if I do that with just about any book on any kind of regular basis. It’s almost more like a textbook from college. But it’s a wonderful reference for situations just like this. So I pulled it off of my bookshelf and this is what I found:
“Flour or cornstarch can protect against curdling in custards and creams, even if they’re cooked quickly over direct heat and actually boil.”
The next paragraph states the following:
“A full tablespoon/8g of flour per cup/250ml liquid (or 2 teaspoons/5g pure starch in the form of cornstarch or arrowroot) is required to prevent curdling. The disadvantage is that this proportion of starch also turns a creamily smooth dish into a coarser, thicker one, and diminishes its flavor.”
So, I felt that gave me my answer. The flour in the recipe had been used to stabilize the custard and probably to thicken it a little. But there was potentially a flavor and texture trade-off. And you know, I’m all about the flavor and texture. So I decided that if no flour was good enough for Nana, it was good enough for me.
We were going flourless.
The results? A light custard pie that was smooth and so refreshing.
I could eat several pieces and it not ever feel heavy. Not that I did…. necessarily. But IF I did ever do such a thing as eat more than one piece, it WOULDN’T feel heavy. THAT’s what I meant to say.
The neat part is that in my research on the internet, I found some interesting things about Buttermilk Pie. Like this page that tells how popular it is all across the South, but especially in Texas. “In West Texas—where there’s not always enough fruit for fruit pies—buttermilk pie is a classic dessert.” If you’ve ever been to West Texas, you know that there is truth to there not always being a lot of fruit. There’s not a lot of anything. Period. But there are cows (for buttermilk) and chickens (for eggs). So this statement makes complete sense.
I also found several variations with different flavors accompanying the buttermilk and egg custard. Like lemon or nutmeg. As I looked at my Nana’s simple recipe the only extra flavor I chose to add was vanilla. Because I honestly can’t seem to bake without using vanilla.
So, without further ado….
1 ½ cup sugar
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) butter (melted)
¾ cup buttermilk
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 - 9” pie crust (plated but unbaked)
Preheat oven to 350 ºF.
Cream together eggs & sugar using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. Drizzle in melted butter & mix well. Add buttermilk, salt and vanilla. Pour into an unbaked pie shell. Bake @ 350 for about 40-45 minutes or until set. Cool completely. It is best when made ahead of time and refrigerated to allow the custard to really set up. Serve either cold from the refrigerator or at a cool room temperature.
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Friends, Farmer’s Markets and Piiih