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Early American Buttermilk Pie

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Recipe from "James McNair's Pie Cookbook" by James K. McNair

Recipe is on Page 67 of book.

This comforting old favorite is a perfect light ending to a heavy meal. I especially enjoy it with a sprinkling of just-warmed blueberries.

As directed, prepare the pastry, roll it out, line a 9-inch pie pan, and partially bake. Cool the pie shell about 15 minutes before filling.

1/2 recipe Basic Pie Crust (see recipe below)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour, preferaby unbleached
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Basic Pie Crust Recipe: (Basic Pie Crust recipe is on page 10 of book)
3 cups all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks/8 oz/226g) cold unsalted butter or other fat, alone or in combination, cut into small pieces (if mixing in a food precessor the fats should be frozen)
1/2 cup or more ice water

Tips for Perfect Pastry

1. All fat and liquid ingredients must be very cold; if using a food processor for mixing, freeze the fats before using.

2. When mixing butter and solid shortening or any two types of fat together in a crust, it is best to soften the fats, blend them, and chill before using.

3. Mix the ingredients as quickly as possible. Flaky pastry results from pockets of shortening left to melt in between flour paste layers; over mixing results in a tough crust.

4. Chill the pastry before rolling out and again before baking.

5. When touching dough, be sure your hands are cold; an occasional rinse in cold water keeps them the right temperature.

6. When rolling out and assembling crusts, handle the pastry as quickly and as little as possible. If the butter or other fats get to soft, it will be absorbed by the flour, resulting in a crust that is heavy and tough.

This pie crust recipe yields enough flaky pastry for two single crusts pies or a double crust pie with enough left over for cut-out garnishes. If you're making only one pie without a top crust (as in above Early American Buttermilk Pie recipe), either cut the recipe in half or go ahead and roll out two crusts. Place the extra one either flat or pressed into a pie pan in a large self-sealing bag and freeze for up to several weeks.

Preparing Pastry by Hand:
To mix the pastry by hand, combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl and mix well. Using a pastry blender, two dinner knives or your fingertips, cut the butter or other fat into the dry ingredients as quickly as possible until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the ice water over the mixture and combine with a fork or your fingertips just until the dough holds together. If the dough is too crumbly, add more ice water, one tablespoon at a time.

Preparing the Pastry with a Food Processor: To mix the pastry in a food processor, combine the flour, salt, and sugar in the work bowl. Using the steel blade, process for one or two seconds to mix the dry ingredients. Add the butter or other fat and cut into the dry ingredients by turning the processor on and off with quick pulses just until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the ice water over the mixture and turn the motor on and off with quick pulses just until the mixture begins to mass together. The dough should be crumbly but not dry. If the mixture seems too crumbly, add more ice water, one tablespoon at a time.

Whether mixing dough by hand or in a food processor, turn half of the mixture onto a sheet of waxed paper, gather into a ball, and press into a thick flat disk about 5 inches in diameter. Bring the paper around to enclose the dough and chill in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to (relax) the dough for more tender crusts.

Forming Pie Crust

To roll out the dough, remove one piece of the chilled pastry (prepared from the preceding recipe) from the refrigerator and place it in the middle of a piece of wax paper about 12 inches square. Cover the pastry with a second wax paper sheet. Allow to soften for about 5 minutes. Roll dough out from the center toward the edges, reducing the pressure as you near the edges, to form a circle about 1/8 of an inch thick. Use an empty pie pan as a guide; the piece of dough should be 1 to 2 inches larger than the top of the pan. Replace wax paper when it wrinkles.

Alternatively, place the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle the top with a little flour and dust the rolling pin with flour. Roll out the dough, lifting dough and giving it a quarter of a turn after each roll. Add a bit more flour as necessary.

If dough breaks during rolling, brush the tear with a bit of cold water and cover with a piece of rolled dough cut from the edge of the circle. Avoid rerolling, as it toughens dough.

To line a pie pan, discard the top layer of wax paper. Invert the dough into the pan and peel away the wax paper. Beginning at the center of the pan and working toward the edges and up the sides, press the dough lightly into the pan with your fingertips. Flute the edges.

Pre-baking the Pie Crust

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).

Cut a piece of baking parchment of aluminum foil about 2 inches larger than the diameter of the pie. Press it into the pastry shell and fill it with pie weights, dried beans, or uncooked rice. Bake until the rim of the crust feels just set to the touch, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully lift the parchment or foil and the weights from the crust.

Prick the bottom and sides of the pie crust in several places with the tines of a fork. Return the shell to the oven. Check the crust several times during baking and prick again with a fork if the crust puffs up. For a shell that will be filled and baked further, cook until the crust is almost done but not completely browned, about 5 to 10 minutes longer. For a shell that will be filled with ready-to-eat fillling, cook until golden brown, about 15 minutes more after returning to oven. Position strips of aluminum foil around the edge of crust, if it begins to get too brown.

Remove the crust from the oven and cool completely before filling; cooling prevents soggy crusts.

Single-crust pies may be filled after both the shell and the filling are cooled for about 15 minutes or as directed in recipe. For a crisper crust, fill as close to the time the pie will be eaten as possible.

Filling and Baking the Pie

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

In a large bowl, stir the sugar, flour, salt and nutmeg together. Using a wire whisk or wooden spoon, blend in the eggs. Add the buttermilk and vanilla and beat until smooth. Pour mixture into the cooled pie shell and cover the rim of the pastry with aluminum foil strips to prevent overbrowning.

Bake until a knife inserted into the center comes out barely clean, about 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer pie to a wire rack and cool to room temperature.

Makes one (9-inch) pie, serves 6 to 8.

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