Judith Hausman
August 17, 2011

buttermilk pie

Photo by Judith Hausman

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Buttermilk pies are easy to make, and their simple flavors are deliciously comforting.

Lisa had made a mistake in the cheese house, but like many a food mistake, a new product resulted. When her apprentice, Blair described the dense texture and tangy flavor of the goat milk, I knew I had to take home a quart to experiment with.

Although it was snowy white, we called the cultured goat milk “Oobleck,” from Dr. Seuss’ classic: Bartholomew and the Oobleck (Random House, 1949). Since it fell somewhere between yogurt and crème fraiche, it seemed just right for my milk dessert recipes.

Milk desserts are so light and cooling for balmy nights — especially when accompanied by the gorgeous fruits of summer, such as the local peaches just now coming in.

The easiest milk dessert is more about assembling than cooking. Buy some really good peaches — the best you can find — and some whole-milk ricotta and local honey. You’ll also need some chopped almonds or pine nuts, as well as some vanilla.

Split open the peaches and carefully pry out the pits. Mix a teaspoon of vanilla into a cup of ricotta. Make peach and ricotta sandwiches, and roll their edges in the nuts. Once you’ve assembled the peaches on a plate, drizzle them with the honey to taste, and you’re done. Yum!

The second milk dessert requires just a little stovetop cooking and a few hours to chill. Panna cotta means “cooked cream,” but this version has just a little cream, and the fat level of the dairy products can be dialed up and down according to taste. It’s essentially milk Jell-O, and though that sounds unappealing, it’s actually delicious with berries or figs and should be made in advance.

I like to steep herbs, such as sage or lavender, in the milk as it reaches scalding temperatures, but you can add a pinch of saffron instead. You can also substitute honey for sugar, too. The Oobleck worked perfectly in this favorite but so will any plain (cow milk) yogurt.

Flexible Panna Cotta
1 packet gelatin
1 1/4 cups milk (lower fat is fine)
1/2 cup cream (light or heavy)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange flower water or vanilla
1 cup plain yogurt (pick the fat level you like)

Whisk the gelatin into 1 1/4 cups of cold milk in a small pan. Then stir it as it softens and heat it over low heat until it dissolves. Do not boil. Stir in the rest of the milk, cream and sugar, stirring until the mix just scalds. Strain the mix into a bowl and whisk in the vanilla or orange flower water. Set aside until just warm; then stir in the yogurt. This makes one large panna cotta or six 4-ounce ramekins. Chill until it sets.

My last milk dessert, buttermilk pie, requires baking but is still very, very easy to make. Not to mention, the coconut version is spectacular.

I think of buttermilk pie as a Southern dish. Its comforting, simple flavors are the perfect underpinnings for bright blueberries or raspberries. The Oobleck had the right tang and texture for this dessert — though buttermilk or plain yogurt will work, too.

Start with your favorite homemade or store-bought pie crust, unbaked but prepped. For a deeper pie, make 1 1/2 times the recipe. I also like baking a custard-y pie by setting the pie dish in a larger pan, filled with water to halfway up the pie dish. This sets the custard more softly and tenderly.

Buttermilk Pie
1 pie crust, unbaked
1/4 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
3 tablespoon flour
1 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
1 tablespoon vanilla
Grated rind of one lemon or 1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut (both optional)
Nutmeg for garnish

Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the remaining ingredients, and pour into the unbaked pie shell. Sprinkle on the nutmeg. Set the pie dish in a larger pan filled with water up to halfway up the pie dish. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes; then turn down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 35 minutes or until just set. Do not over bake.

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