Baked Sunday Mornings: Buttermilk Pie

Pie dough and I have never really gotten along… until now. I have tried a number of pie crust recipes over the years, and they generally come out tough, soggy, flimsy, burnt, or otherwise unappealing. Oh, and my crusts almost always shrink (usually unevenly) in the pie dish. It ain’t pretty. In fact, I rarely make pie because I don’t feel like dealing with pie dough, even though rationally I know it’s not difficult or time-consuming. Don’t tell anyone, but… I actually resorted to store-bought frozen dough a few months ago. Wow, it feels good to get that off my chest; I’ve been holding it in for so long. Now I can move on and put that shameful episode behind me.

But now, thanks to BAKED, I can finally say that I have produced a beautiful, flaky, golden pie crust. (Anyone else hear the angels singing, or is that just me?) This week’s Baked Sunday Mornings recipe is Buttermilk Pie, which originates in Texas, but BAKED (in their trademark fashion) put a Canadian twist on it with the addition of maple syrup. The pie at first sounded simultaneously intriguing and slightly unappetizing. I have to confess… I was a little scared. Nevertheless, I was going to take a chance and try this challenge! I love participating in this baking group because it gets me to try things that I might not ordinarily choose to bake, and so far I’ve experienced several delightful surprises, including this pie!

The ingredients for this classic pie dough are very simple: 3 cups flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon fine salt, 2 sticks cold butter (cut into cubes), and ¾ cup ice water. I put my bowl of butter cubes in the freezer for several minutes to make sure they were extra chilled, because cold chunks of butter in the dough create flaky pockets when the crust is baking. Warm butter makes depressing pie dough. After mixing the dry ingredients and tossing in the butter cubes, I put the mixture into the bowl of a food processor and pulsed several times, until the butter had been processed to small pieces, about the size of large peas. I then drizzled in the water through the feed tube while pulsing in 4-second bursts.

I suspect that my pie doughs have come out tough in the past due to over-working; in order to end up with a tender, flaky dough, one must work with a quick, light hand. The recipe says to stop adding water as soon as the dough comes together in a ball, so I stopped once the dough was clinging together towards the center of the bowl, even though there were still plenty of crumbs at the bottom. I didn’t want to overdo it! I turned the dough out onto a board and gently brought it together with my hands into a large ball. The dough is also said to be a little stickier than most other pie doughs, and mine wasn’t especially sticky, so I was a little worried. There were some sticky spots, but it was still kind of crumbly. Not sure what to expect, I split my dough into two portions, flattened them into disks, encased them in parchment paper and plastic wrap, put them in the fridge to chill, and crossed my fingers…

After a couple of hours, I pulled out one dough disk and was pleased to find that it was firm, yet pliable– not crumbly! I rolled it out to a 12-inch round as instructed, with no resistance or sticking.

Transferring the crust to my pie dish was similarly uneventful– it was easy to nestle into the dish and press into the bottom and sides. (I used my trusty Emile Henry earthenware dish, which bakes its contents gently and evenly compared to a glass dish, in my experience.) So far, so good, though I was a little concerned that when I trimmed the dough it was very stretchy– had I worked it too hard and overdeveloped the gluten in the dough?? I would find out soon enough. I then placed the dish in the freezer to chill again while making my decorative garnish.

The recipe says that this is not a visually showstopping pie; in fact, it “almost repels attempts to gussy it up”. Naturally, my reaction to this was: CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. Game on– I was going to make this pie pretty! I took out the second dough disk and rolled out about one third of it. (Put the rest back in the fridge and reserve for another use.) Over the years, I have collected an absurd number of various cutters and decorating tools, including Williams-Sonoma’s Fall Pie Cutters set. These are small plunger cutters in the shapes of a maple leaf, oak leaf, acorn, and pumpkin. And this was the perfect opportunity to finally use them! I cut lots of little shapes out of the second dough round, placed them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, and put the sheet in the freezer to chill while I made the filling.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this pie filling; from the description it sounded like it should be gooey, custardy, sweet… and not particularly attractive. However, buttermilk is one of my favorite ingredients to bake with, as it generally results in moist, tender, rich baked goods. I’ve never made a pie with it, but I figured it could only lead to good things. The filling seemed easy enough to pull together: eggs, flour, sugar, dark brown sugar, melted butter, buttermilk, and maple syrup. To avoid your butter congealing, it’s important to make sure your eggs and buttermilk are at room temperature. This will result in a smooth, homogenous mixture. (If your mixture congeals, simply warm the bottom of your mixing bowl over a pot of gently steaming water, like a water bath, and stir until the butter re-melts.) Once my ingredients were combined, the mixture was a yellowish color and had a fairly thin consistency.

It was time to assemble my pie. I took the crust and decorative cutouts out of the freezer. I sprinkled ½ teaspoon of flour over the crust and spread it evenly over the bottom and sides, which presumably creates a barrier to keep the filling from making the crust soggy. I gave the filling one more stir and poured it into the crust. I was then instructed to sprinkle another ½ teaspoon of flour over the top of the filling, though I didn’t understand the purpose of this. (Next time I may omit this or at least use a sifter in order to avoid the small chunks of flour on top of my pie.) Finally, I carefully placed my autumn dough shapes around the rim of the pie, lightly pressing them into the top edge of the crust and overlapping them. I was rather pleased with my ring of pretty leaves, pumpkins, and acorns; I felt very optimistic about the prognosis of my Buttermilk Pie!

Into the oven it went! Baking time was slated to be approximately one hour. Unfortunately, a portion of my decorative shapes had not been properly adhered to the pie crust, so they slipped into the filling, never to be heard from again. The ones that I had placed a little higher (essentially on top of the fluted edge of the pie dish) stayed where they were and baked up beautifully. After a half hour, the pie filling was still light in color and very liquidy.

I checked it frequently, and each time the crust appeared more and more set, developing a lovely golden veneer on top. The center of the pie was still quite jiggly, but the cutout shapes had begun to brown handsomely… and I wanted to keep it that way! I gently placed a pie crust shield on top of the pie to protect the shapes and let the pie continue to bake for the full hour.

It started to puff in the center and crack slightly, so I took this as a sign that my pie was ready. I took it out of the oven, and I must say that I was so very delighted! I was really not expecting this at all, but it was quite pretty. My pie taster was very eager to devour a slice (or three) and had to wait not-so-patiently for it to cool…

This shot shows the texture of the baked filling in close detail:

I allowed it to cool and then added one more aesthetic touch by sifting a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar over the filling, which also conveniently covered the few remaining flour chunks. I can see how the pie would be rather plain-looking without the embellishments, so I would recommend trying to dress it up if presentation is important to you. (If not, it will still taste just as yummy!)

When finally it was time to sample the goods, I was not disappointed– The pie was utterly delicious! The crust stayed flaky and had a wonderful buttery flavor, and the filling was dense, velvety, and pleasantly sweet. I found it to be slightly greasy, so I might reduce the amount of butter next time, but this was a minor hindrance. It was great on the second and third days too, though the texture started to resemble something akin to flan. I will definitely make this pie again, and I’m thrilled to finally have a go-to pie crust recipe! 🙂

Visit Baked Sunday Mornings for the Buttermilk Pie recipe, and check out what the other bakers created too!

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16 Responses

  1. Your pie is beautiful. GREAT JOB. Honestly, everyone’s pies are gorgeous this week – mine is so blah plain! LOL. I like the crusty brown top on a lot of them. I suspect I didn’t get that because of my whole butter issue.

    I was impressed with Baked’s pie crust as well – this was my first time using it. I halved the recipe because I knew I would only be using 1 crust, and I had extra scarps left over which I should have used my fall leaf cutouts on now – what a great idea! I’m pretty adept with pie crust, but I, too, have issues with it sliding down into the pan as it bakes, so I feel ya on that. I typically use a family recipe for all of my pie crusts (see my rhubarb pie post on my blog about it) and I substitute half the water amount with vodka (I didn’t do that with the Baked recipe this time). I read about this in Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipe series. Using chilled vodka in pie crust prevents the dough from developing as much gluten as with water – and it also makes it much easier to roll out and less prone to cracking. It works! I do that with my family recipe now (which also contains vinegar and an egg, believe it or not) and it works terrifically! I don’t share my pie crust recipe with too many folks, but I was surprised to chat with a friend of mine recently who said she had a very similar family pie crust recipe… so, it probably was one that a lot of people in the 1920s-40s claimed as ‘their own’ and passed down through generations! LOL

    Love the post, as always!

    1. Why thank you, kind sir! I do think you were being a little hard on yourself this week– your sliced pie was gorgeous. How long did yours keep? I was nibbling on it last night, but it had started oozing a syrupy liquid (sugar? butter?), so I decided it was done…

      Your family pie recipe is very intriguing! I have never heard of using vodka (or any booze, for that matter) in a pie crust, though I do trust Cooks Illustrated. Very interesting about the interaction of vodka and gluten. Does it have a vodka taste at all? Ditto for vinegar– what does it do? I love the history of recipes– that always fascinates me. But then, I guess that’s the whole point of the Baked Explorations book, isn’t it! 🙂

  2. VICTORY! Isn’t that the best feeling when you try and try at something and finally get it, congrats! The Baked pie recipe is great, I love it. Super cute idea with the little autumn cut outs, bravo! Now I feel like a slacker because everyone loved this pie it seems like…can’t win them all I suppose. Hopefully I will get to it someday. Nice job lady!

    Oh – in my experience overworking the dough and/or not having it super duper cold (almost frozen) is what causes the crust to shrink. Maybe that will help for the future? 🙂

    1. YES, yes it is! 😀 I was just so pleased with this crust– I shall henceforth no longer dread making pie. It’s funny how many times I’ve overcome baking fears/failures through success with BAKED recipes. (Although certainly I’ve had plenty of failures with them too…) It sounds like you’ve used this crust recipe in the past and have had consistent success– that’s good to know. Great tip about the dough temperature too. Thanks for your sweet compliments– I would share my pie with you if I could!!

      I know what you mean, I skipped Joe Froggers a few weeks ago, and I felt guilty. We can’t make them all, and we need to give ourselves permission to take a break when needed, especially with the baking schedule being weekly now! 🙂

  3. Your pie looks awesome. Love the autumn cut outs for the edges. I too am not on friendly terms with pie dough. But if you’ve been able to make a flaky crust with this pie dough recipe, I’ll keep trying! You’ve given me hope. Great post too!!

  4. I just love your crust. I need to remember to use cutouts more often!

    I agree with you on the Baked crust – it’s wonderful. Very buttery, but I’m afraid to mess with the recipe. Although I do have some leaf lard on hand, maybe I’ll sub that in for half the butter next time.

    Your pie is absolutely gorgeous.

    1. I know what you mean, I always forget about those little cutters, so I was pleased with myself for remembering to use them this time. 🙂 I didn’t think the crust was too buttery, just the filling actually. I would probably cut down by 1-2 tablespoons next time. Thank you for your lovely compliments!!

  5. Thanks, Margot! I like your attitude regarding the butter– LOL! You can get a similar set of cutters at Williams-Sonoma right now. Mine is from a few years ago, but I’m considering picking up the current edition because it includes a little turkey cutter! 🙂 I just think they dress things up, and well, that makes me happy!

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