Thanksgiving Dessert: Buttermilk Pie

By Thomas Madrecki

I’ll confess: I don’t have much affection for the traditional Thanksgiving desserts.

Pumpkin pie? Homemade with real pumpkin, it frequently lacks punch and vigor. From the can? Too sweet and akin to puree. From a bakery? The crust is never right, most likely because so many bakeries substitute ingredients for expensive real butter. From a restaurant that sells pies? Close, but often artificial — it’s no longer pumpkin pie, just some weird orange custard that tastes like cinnamon and cloves.

For dessert, I want something creamy, sweet, comforting and yet still very flavorful. I adore “in your face” flavors. Pumpkin pie doesn’t cut it.

But you know what does? Good ol’-fashioned Southern buttermilk pie. It’s cheap to make but it packs a wallop of sweetness and acidity that’ll send you over the edge and into a coma of deliciousness. And we all know there’s nothing better than a dish mostly composed of fat and sugar.

In favor of lightening things up? I’ve added a second recipe for a super simple, almost spicy ginger sorbet. It’ll enliven the richness of the pie and cut through the fatty, acidic buttermilk.

Buttermilk Pie

You can use a homemade pie crust from your favorite recipe or an unbaked store-bought shell if in a pinch. To be honest, because the pie is baked in the shell, if your crust of choice isn’t thick and sturdy enough, it may just be easier to go the store-bought route. The pie is so sweet and acidic that you won’t lose much in the way of flavor and you can rest assured that the crust won’t be too soggy.

Start by preheating your oven to 315 degrees. If using a homemade crust, roll out the dough and place it in a pan. If using a store-bought crust, let it come to room temperature.

Now make the pie filling:

2 cups sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1 stick of butter (4 ounces) at room temperature
6 egg yolks
3-4 tablespoons flour
1 tsp of vanilla extract

Beat the sugar, room temperature butter, egg yolks and vanilla. Add the flour, beat, then add the buttermilk.

Fill the pie shell and bake for about 50 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes. The pie is done when the filling is somewhat firm to touch and it jiggles just a bit when you shake the pan. Leave to cool on the counter. A gourmet touch would be to dust the top with sugar and brulee with a kitchen torch!

Ginger Sorbet

In the spirit of making everything as easy and simple as possible…

3 cups of REAL ginger beer (available at most Whole Foods, Caribbean markets, etc.)
1 piece of very fresh young ginger (still yellow and juicy)
1 cup of sugar
Half cup of brown sugar

Combine the ginger beer and sugars in a pot. Grate the young ginger root into it and bring to a high simmer, stirring to make sure the sugar is incorporated. Turn the heat down and let the syrup steep for 30 minutes. Strain and cool overnight.

Churn in an ice cream machine a few hours before service.

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