All Photos: Wendy Goodfriend
Once upon a time I lived in Texas. Well, I grew up there, kind of all over the place: Houston, Dallas, and went to college right outside Austin. But as the first person in my entire family to be born in the state, we didn’t come with a rich heritage of traditional Texas dishes that were handed down through the generations. But that’s what friends are for. Years later, after I immigrated to California and took up residence, my closest friend from college moved out here as well. We started spending every Thanksgiving together, and every year he’d make his Meemaw’s buttermilk pie. I was intrigued. Buttermilk Pie? What? It sounded weird, but apparently it has a cult-like following in the longhorn state. Once I tasted it, I understood. It’s essentially a simple buttermilk and brown sugar custard pie, often flavored with a bit of vanilla and sometimes citrus zest. Being a baker, I decided to take it upon myself to come up with the ultimate version.
I found that many versions were just too sweet, bordering on cloying (or just downright cloying). Or they used store-bought pastry crusts. Or they lacked depth of flavor. I wanted one that struck a balance between sweet and tangy, where the buttermilk still shone, and was highlighted with enough vanilla and citrus to give it some depth.
I like serving it with tangy fruit. Just use whatever you have, ideally whatever is ripe and in season. You can serve it with raw fruit, like succulent raspberries or slices of juicy peaches, or apples sautéed in a little sugar and lemon juice, or pears poached in white wine, citrus peel, and vanilla. Here I’ve served it with cranberry compote to give it a festive holiday glow. This is a nice alternative or even a lovely partner to a pumpkin custard pie on the Thanksgiving table.
Recipe: Buttermilk Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie
Flaky Pie Dough
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp sugar
7 tbsp very cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
6–7 tbsp very cold water
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at soft room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
Pinch of kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling
Cranberry compote (see recipe below) or 1–2 cups chopped fresh seasonal fruit such as berries, poached pears, sautéed apples, or caramelized blood orange segments
In the bowl of a food processor, stir together the flour, salt, and sugar, if using. Sprinkle the butter over the top and pulse for a few seconds, or just until the butter is slightly broken up into the flour but still in visible pieces. Evenly sprinkle 6 tablespoons water over the flour mixture, then process just until the mixture starts to come together (if it still seems dry add an additional tablespoon). Dump the dough into a large lock-top plastic bag, and press into a flat disk. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes or up to 1 day, or freeze for up to 1 month.
Roll out the dough disk into a round about 12 inches in diameter and about 1/8-inch thick. Line a 9-inch pie pan or dish; trim the dough to leave a 1-inch overhang. Fold the overhang underneath itself, and flute the dough edge. Place the lined pie dish into the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes.
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Line the pie shell with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until the dough starts to look dry, about 15 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake until the crust is very lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 350°F.
In the bowl of the food processor, process the butter and sugars until creamy and smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs and process until smooth. Add the flour, salt, buttermilk, vanilla, and lemon zest and process until smooth. Pour the filling into the shell. Bake until the top is golden brown and the custard has set, about 45 minutes. Let cool completely, about 3 hours.
To serve, dust the pie with confectioners’ sugar and serve with a big scoop of compote or fruit.
Recipe: Cranberry compote
2 cups (1 bag) fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
In a saucepan over medium heat, stir together the cranberries, 1 cup water, the sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the compote thickens and the cranberries soften and pop, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool completely. Store in the fridge for up to 1 week.