My good friend Margaret turned me on to this recipe, knowing how much I love to make pies and eat pies. One of my favorite pies is Key Lime and this interesting riff on the citrus custard pie turned out to be truly phenomenal. And a breeze to make.
I’m not going to get into a long dissertation on the origins of this pie. I’ve included a link to the original recipe below. Check it out if you want a bit more backstory. But in short, apparently it’s a local specialty of the North Carolina coast. This recipe is from a restaurant called Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill. The proprietor, Bill Smith, says it takes all of four seconds to make. Although it wasn’t quite that quick, it was incredibly easy.
The most intriguing aspect of the pie is the salty-sweet crust made from crushed saltines. You pair that with a tart lemon-lime custard and pillowy whipped cream and the pie just sings.
This is Bill Smith’s recipe with my notes:
Atlantic Beach Pie
For the crust:
1 1/2 sleeves of saltine crackers
1/3 to 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
For the filling:
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup lemon or lime juice or a mix of the two
Fresh whipped cream and coarse sea salt for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Crush the crackers finely, but not to dust. You can use a food processor or your hands. Add the sugar, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough. Press into an 8 inch pie pan. Chill for 15 minutes, then bake for 18 minutes or until the crust colors a little.
While the crust is cooling (it doesn’t need to be cold), beat the egg yolks into the milk, then beat in the citrus juice. It is important to completely combine these ingredients. Pour into the shell and bake for 16 minutes until the filling has set. The pie needs to be completely cold to be sliced. Serve with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of sea salt.
I didn’t have an eight-inch pie pan. Nine-inch pans are much more common, so I extended the recipe for the crust a little to make a bit more. I used a full two sleeves of saltines, which I put into a big ziploc bag and crushed with a meat mallet. I left the cracker crumbs pretty chunky. I increased the butter to a little over a half-cup (one stick plus another tablespoon or so) of unsalted butter. I used four tablespoons of sugar in the crust and added 2 tablespoons of water to help make the crust more paste-like and easier to press into the pie pan.
For the filling I didn’t adjust the quantities at all, but I did use a mixture of fresh lemon juice and fresh key lime juice. The end result was excellent — smooth and sweet and tart all at the same time.
After I baked the pie and the filling was fully set, I set it on a cooling rack to come to room temperature. And then I chilled it for about twenty minutes in the fridge. Meanwhile I prepared some whipped cream to complete the pie.
Bill’s recipe calls for whipped cream but he doesn’t provide any measurements. I whipped two cups of heavy cream at medium speed until I got medium peaks. I then added two tablespoons of powdered sugar to the cream and beat it at medium-high until I got stiff peaks. A quick tip: when making whipped cream always chill the whisk attachment of your mixer and the mixer bowl with the cream already in it. The cream will whip up faster and fluffier if everything starts chilled.
Finally, for the finishing touch on each cut slice I sprinkled a bit of Maldon Sea Salt, that lovely large-flaked sea salt from England. It adds a bit of saline crunch on the palate that kicks up the sweetness of the pie.
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