Friday, March 23, 2012

(Gluten-Free!) Banana Buckwheat Pancakes

It takes a lot for a pancake to impress me. Unless I'm at Plow, I almost never order them for breakfast or brunch. The pale griddle cakes I associate with diners are often bland and starchy, lacking in any nutritional value or staying power, and in need of a deluge of syrup and butter to make them palatable.

But these pancakes; they are a different story. These pancakes excite me. They cause me to get as close as I ever do to to leaping out of bed in the morning; i.e., I only groan and fall back to sleep once before throwing off the covers and stumbling, blinking, at 10 am, into the kitchen to pull out the mixing bowls and measuring cups.

A happy coincidence occurred the other morning when I found myself with a couple of bananas that were riper than I wished to eat plain, some buttermilk left over from making this pie, and an adorable boyfriend hopping up and down with excitement, declaring, "Oh boy! Pancakes! I can't wait!"

I opened up the book I always consult for such morning staples as poppyseed brunch cake, migas, and cornmeal pound cake: Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, a book designed to be a vegetarian version of the Joy of Cooking. Under a recipe for basic buttermilk pancakes, she lists several variations, one of which includes sliced bananas (rather than mashed, as I'm used to seeing) and toasted nuts.

Since pancakes are easy to turn gluten-free (all that egg sticks them together nicely, requiring no scary gums or weird substitutions), I mixed up a batter using oat and sticky rice flours, and a bit of buckwheat flour for its toasty, hefty flavor to which I have become an addict. I added a grating of fresh nutmeg and a splash of vanilla, and I used maple syrup in place of the sugar within the cakes, since maple and buckwheat are a match made in gastronomical heaven. I folded in chopped banana chunks and toasted pecans. The batter seemed too thick, but I went with it, sizzling scoops onto the butter-coated pan and waiting as the batter spread and puffed elegantly, and our apartment filled with an aroma that sighs, "Breakfast."

A bite of cake, oozing with maple syrup and tangy, whole-milk yogurt revealed a pancake that was greater than the sum of its parts. The outsides, crisped in the buttered pan, give way to moist middles, while chunks of banana become pockets of goo trapped within. The earthy buckwheat, nutmeg, vanilla and maple all pack the dough with flavor, and the oat and rice flours create a neutral backdrop with a tender texture that you'd never know was gluten-free. Buttermilk adds tenderness and a bit of tang, and nubs of nutty pecans add toothsome texture.

I didn't think that two foods toward which I am rather neutral – bananas and pancakes – could come together in culinary matrimony to create a breakfast that I cannot wait to share with the world, and to make and eat again and again.

But they did.

So there you have it: banana buckwheat pancake love.

Breakfast in a pan:
Plow's Ricotta Pancakes
Baked Pancake with Pear and Cardamom
Berry-Peach Oven Pancake

Buck Up:
Buckwheat Crepes, Any Which Way
(Gluten-Free) Buckwheat Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake
Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

One year ago:
Tangerine Olive-Oil Pound Cake
Irish Soda Scones
Two years ago:
Lemon-Lavender Pound Cakelets

(Gluten-Free!) Buckwheat Banana Pancakes

Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

A bonus to using gluten-free flours is that you don't have to worry about over-mixing, which activates the glutens in wheat flour and can make for gluey, tough pancakes. If gluten isn't a concern for you, you can sub all-purpose and whole wheat flours for the rice and oat; if you do, be very gentle when stirring the batter, and err on the side of under-mixing.

Since I don't like to wait too long for breakfast, I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve to make the cooking process go faster: I use a spring-loaded ice cream scoop to scoop scoops of batter in the pan, and I keep two wide frying pans going so I can cook twice as many pancakes at once. If you're lucky enough to own a griddle, all the better.

If making these for a crowd, slip them onto a plate or baking sheet in a low oven to keep them warm while you cook.

Makes 2-3 servings (ten fluffy 3" pancakes)

1/4 cup sweet (sticky) white rice flour
1/4 cup oat flour
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 large egg
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons melted butter
3/4 cup shaken buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large, ripe banana, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2" pieces
1/4 cup toasted pecans, plus extra for garnish, coarsely chopped

For serving:
maple syrup (grade B has the deepest flavor and color)
plain, whole-milk yogurt
sliced banana

In a large bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder and soda, salt and nutmeg.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg and maple syrup to combine. Whisk in the melted butter until smooth, then whisk in the buttermilk and vanilla.

Stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture until just combined, then gently fold in the banana chunks and chopped pecans. The batter will be thick.

Heat a wide skillet (or two; or a griddle, if you've got one) over medium-low heat and add about a teaspoon of butter to coat the pan. The pan is ready when a drop of batter sizzles on contact. Drop 1/4 cup scoops of batter into the hot skillet, spaced about 2" apart as the batter will spread, and cook for about 2 minutes on each side, until well browned and cooked throughout (though the bananas will be soft and gooey, and make it a bit tricky to tell.)

Serve the pancakes with maple syrup, yogurt, sliced banana and pecans. Extras can be kept in the fridge and reheated in a skillet.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Chocolate Bourbon Bread Pudding

Reasons to fire up the oven and bake a batch of Chocolate Things:

Exhibit A: California is finally having a winter and it is freezing cold (at least, for California)
Exhibit B: Very little is in season to provide culinary inspiration
Exhibit C: You can turn leftovers into a bourbon-spiked bread pudding
Exhibit D: Did I mention it's winter?

Though bread pudding is usually the solution to the problem of stale, leftover bread, I'd argue that this particular bread pudding should be the cause to bake a batch of Chocolate Things, rather than merely a happy effect.

Thus any erstwhile chocolate things that escape your hungry maw within the first day or two of baking, which is when they are best, should be torn up and put in a baking dish. Sprinkle them with more chocolate chunks. Soak them with a boozy, crème fraîche custard. Wait for an agonizing half-hour while your home fills with a scent that makes you want to eat your own hand, i.e., yeasty butter and chocolate heating in the oven.

A sprinkle of coarse sugar and toasty bread create a crunchy crust. Break through it and delve into soft custard oozing with pockets of melted chocolate chunks. A top note of tart bourbon paves the way to the bittersweet bite of deeply dark chocolate, while the mild tang of crème fraîche keeps things lively.

The texture of this dessert is similar to a croissant bread pudding, due to the slightly flaky nature of the chocolate things, whose dough contains ample amounts of butter, buttermilk and heavy cream. But if you are without chocolate things and need to put chocolate bourbon bread pudding in your face NOW (and you don't live in Berkeley near The Cheese Board), you can try using store-bought chocolate croissants, or a soft white bread, such as brioche or challah, topped with extra chocolate.

If you do bake your own chocolate things, an added bonus is that you'll also have the ingredients to make crème fraîche – cream thickened with the help of buttermilk and a bit of time – which is vastly cheaper than buying the stuff pre-made.

And if you need further reason to bake up a batch of chocolate things, well, you can top a dish of warm, gooey pudding with a scoop of Irish Coffee Ice Cream.

I rest my case.

Pudding on the Ritz:
(Vegan) Chocolate Coconut Milk Tapioca Pudding
(Raw, Vegan) Chocolate Pudding
Caramelized Apple Bread Pudding

One year ago:
(Gluten-Free) Bittersweet Whiskey Brownies
Green Garlic and Chive Potato Cakes
Two years ago:
Berry Fig Financiers
Almond Pulp Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Things Bread Pudding

I made this pudding from leftover Chocolate Things, but if you lack them (and don't have 4 hours to spend baking them or live near The Cheese Board), you can try using chocolate croissants instead, or substitute 8 ounces of buttery white bread (like brioche or challah) and double the amount of chocolate. Though the chocolate things take a bit of time to rise and bake, the actual pudding comes together in minutes.

If you do make chocolate things, you'll also have ingredients left over to make crème fraîche: buttermilk and heavy cream. Simply stir 1 tablespoon of buttermilk into 1 cup of heavy cream. Cover and let sit in a warm-ish spot (like on top of the fridge) for 24 hours, until thickened, giving it a stir once or twice during that time.

As for the chocolate things, I used Scarffen Berger's bittersweet (70% cacao mass) chocolate for the chunks.

For a baking dish, I used this cutie that I picked up from Crate and Barrel, which measures 9x6x2.25" tall. I'd wager you could use a loaf pan, pie pan or small gratin dish instead. Or bake the puddings in 6 individual ramekins. The pudding stands on its own, but you can top it with caramel sauce, whipped cream and/or Irish Coffee Ice Cream.

Makes about 6 servings

4 chocolate things (about 10 ounces), torn into 1-2” chunks
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks

2 eggs
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup crème fraîche or heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sugar (such as turbinado or "Sugar in the Raw") for sprinkling

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325º.

Place the broken chocolate things in a baking dish (see headnote) - they should come almost to the top of the pan. Scatter the chocolate chunks over the top.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar and salt until combined. Whisk in the bourbon and vanilla, then slowly add the crème fraîche and whole milk.

Pour the custard over the bread and chocolate (it should almost cover the bread), and sprinkle with the coarse sugar.

Bake the pudding until puffed, golden on top, and when you peek into the center with a sharp knife, there is no watery filling, 35-40 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes.

Serve warm, with or without other decadent toppings. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge, and reheated in a 300º oven for about 10 minutes.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chocolate Things

For exactly 6 1/2 days during my freshman year of high school, I was vegan. Then I broke down and ate a ceasar salad. So imagine my delight, many years later, when I read in Eat Right for Your Type that I, blood type B, was categorized as "The Dairy Eater."

Though I have little recollection of which foods I'm supposed to avoid (though I suspect that wheat and sugar are both in there), I've taken this as a free pass to indulge in all the dairy I like. And I like a lot. I love cheese, butter and ice cream to the extent that I now consider veganism, though admirably kind to animals, to be a personal affront.

So when I saw that this recipe for Chocolate Things, from The Cheeseboard Cookbook, contained heavy cream, buttermilk, and butter (not to mention nearly half a pound of chocolate), I immediately pulled out a mixing bowl and set to work.

About a year ago, I had an adventure with chocolate babka. The recipe came from a much raved-about book with stunning photographs and intriguing recipes. The photograph of the chocolate babka made me want to lick the page – or at least, make a batch of it – so I did. The recipe was quite involved, and took around 24 hours to complete. The dough began with a sponge, an initial mixture of flour, water and yeast that gives doughs a chance to develop flavor and rising power before the rest of the ingredients are added. I mixed the final dough, containing a touch of honey and three types of flour, added copious amounts of butter, and left the dough to rise overnight in the fridge.

The next day, I rolled out the dough and sprinkled it with sugar, cinnamon, chopped chocolate and nuts as directed, rolled it, sliced it, layered it in a bundt pan, baked it, and waited patiently for it to cool. While it looked tall and magnificent when turned out, I found the dough overly salty and lacking in sweetness, and the nuts chewy from the steam of the dough. Chocolate from the cut ends seeped out and burned onto the pan, becoming unpleasantly bitter. Rather than the pillowy texture I had hoped for, the dough felt heavy and dense. After all that time, work, and expense of ingredients, I was pretty disappointed.

I began to think about chocolate babka again the other day, and, on a whim, glanced through The Cheeseboard Cookbook, where I happened upon a recipe for "Chocolate Things." The ingredient list was half the length of the babka's, and the directions took up one page rather than four.

I warmed the cream and buttermilk (doing so destroys potentially yeast-inhibiting enzymes), let it cool to tepid, whisked in the yeast, and added all the ingredients, save the chocolate. After kneading the dough in the mixer, the chocolate (I used large chunks of Scharffen Berger's bittersweet 70%) went straight in, and the whole, gooey mess was left to rise for about 2 hours in a warm spot, until it puffed into a fluffy pillow of chocolate doughy love. I patted the dough into a rectangle, rolled it into a spiral, and cut the log into 12 pieces. After a second rise of about an hour, I brushed the rounds with egg wash and added a sprinkling of coarse sugar. The buns baked for about half an hour, until golden-brown, filling our apartment with that irresistible scent of freshly baked bread.

When I pulled apart a warm bun, the texture surprised me. The dough was almost flaky, like a chocolate croissant crossed with brioche. The crunch of the coarse sugar and crisp crust gave way to a sigh of warm, buttery dough, slightly tangy from the buttermilk, and rich with cream. Gooey pockets of bitter chocolate punctuate the just-sweet-enough dough, calling out for a cup of coffee.

I love the straightforward technique of the these chocolate things, and I love the way the various dairy products create a soft, rich dough. I love that the chocolate gets trapped in the matrix of dough, rather than leaking out and burning. And I love the simple, almost austere flavor of bitter chocolate against sweet bread.

The one caveat here is that these must be eaten while warm; when cooled to room temperature, all that butter makes the dough overly firm. But the buns keep well for a couple of days, and re-heat beautifully in a 350º oven or toaster oven. I'm guessing that any extras would make the most to-die-for bread pudding, soaked in a custard of milk, cream, eggs, bourbon and sugar and layered with some more chunks of chocolate. (Update: they do!)

If the thought of baking yeasted breads give you the heebee jeebees, this simple and versatile recipe would be a great way to oust your phobia. At The Cheese Board, they roll the same dough, sans chocolate, with a mixture of butter, sugar, cinnamon and pecans for pecan rolls, or stuff it with raisins or dried cranberries and sprinkle the knots with cinnamon sugar.

I'm all for the happy treatment of animals, humans included. So make a human happy, and bake up a batch of chocolate things today.

Bread heads:
Pumpkin Cinnamon Buns
Rum and Sweet Potato Cinnamon Buns
Multi-Grain Sandwich Bread

Chocolate things:
Chocolate Pistachio Rugelach
(Gluten-Free) Über Chocolate Cookies
Chocolate Bouchons

One year ago:
Blood Orange Tart
Flourless Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
Two years ago:
(Gluten-Free) Meyer Lemon Almond Cake
DIY Almond Milk, and a smoothie

Chocolate Things

Adapted from The Cheese Board Collective Works

These little buns are all about the chocolate, so get the good stuff; I used Scharffen Berger's bittersweet, which clocks in at 70% and results in a not-so-sweet pastry; chocolate with a 50-60% cacao mass would probably be more kid friendly. As much as possible, you want big chunks of chocolate here with minimal chocolate dust, which discolors the dough. A serrated knife works well for chopping up large blocks of chocolate.

The buttermilk mixture may look slightly curdled when heated, but that won't affect the final dough; just be careful not to boil it. I'd imagine that you could use milk and sour cream in place of the buttermilk and heavy cream if that was what you had instead, since I've seen brioche recipes that call for those ingredients.

These buns must be eaten warm (or at the very least, alongside a hot beverage); at room temperature, they just don't compare. Leftovers make killer bread pudding, though.

Makes twelve 4" buns

Time: about 4 hours

The dough:
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup heavy cream

1 package (1/4 ounce / 2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 egg
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

6-8 ounces (about 2 cups) dark chocolate, in 1/2-1" chunks (see headnote)

To finish:
1 egg
about 1 tablespoon coarse sugar

Make the dough:
In a small saucepan, heat the buttermilk and cream together oven a medium-low flame, swirling occasionally, until steaming and small bubbles form around the sides of the pan; be careful not to let the mixture boil, or the buttermilk may curdle. Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer and let cool to just warmer than body temperature.

Whisk the yeast into the warm dairy and let stand 5 minutes. (Mine didn't foam up, I think because the acidity and fat prevent it from doing so, but the final dough still rose.)

Add the 2 1/2 cups flour, and the egg, butter, sugar and salt. Place the bowl on the stand mixer fitted with the dough hook (or mix in a large bowl with a wooden spoon) and mix on low speed for a couple of minutes until the dough comes together, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice. Increase the speed to medium, and mix for 7 minutes, adding flour by the tablespoon within the first couple of minutes until the dough mostly pulls away from the sides of the bowl. You'll know you've added enough flour when you can touch the dough briefly with clean, dry fingers and it does not stick. The finished dough will be somewhat soft and sticky.

Add the chocolate chunks and knead briefly on low speed just to incorporate.

Scrape the dough into a lightly oiled bowl at least double the size of the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a heavy plate, and let the dough rise in a warm spot until doubled or tripled in bulk, about 2 hours. (An oven with a pilot light is a good spot.) Alternately, leave the dough in the fridge overnight, then bring to room temperature the next day and proceed with the recipe, making sure the dough has doubled in bulk.

Roll and bake the buns:
Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll it into a 10x12" rectangle with a long side facing you, dusting the dough, your hands, and the rolling pin with just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking.

Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl until completely smooth, then paint a strip of egg wash along the top, long side of dough. Roll the dough up into a log, pinch the seam to seal, and squish in the ends to make them even. Use a sharp chef's knife to cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. (I cut the dough in half, then each half into halves, then each quarter into thirds.)

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the dough rounds, cut-side-down, on the sheet pan, spacing them at least 2" apart. Cover the baking sheet either with another inverted, rimmed baking sheet, or slide it into a clean, plastic garbage bag. Let the buns rise until increased in size by a third, about an hour.

Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º. When the buns have risen, brush the tops and sides with the egg wash, and sprinkle each one with a big pinch of coarse sugar.

Bake the buns until golden-brown on top, 25-35 minutes. Serve warm. Extras can be cooled and stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Re-heat in a 350º oven or toaster oven until warm, about 5 minutes.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Meyer Lemon Buttermilk Pie

Full disclosure: I have never tasted a buttermilk pie other than this one (well, this one and the three incarnations that led up to it). Buttermilk pies are apparently a southern thing, and I've never been to the south (unless you count southern California, which you oughtn't). I had a chance recently at Chili Pies; but, typically, I went for the mexican chocolate pecan instead. But I couldn't get the notion of lemon buttermilk pie out of my head. It seemed like just the dessert to transition from winter to spring. And while the pecan pie was good, I found it a bit sweet and bland when compared to my maple bourbon pecan pie (though, of course, I'm biased). So I wasn't about to shell out another five bucks for a piece of potentially mediocre pie when I could make one myself for little more.

Opportunity arrived when some friends gave me a large bag of meyer lemons from their tree. I read through a dozen or more recipes, but didn't find anything that sounded definitive. I usually turn to Cook's for pie advice, as pies can be finicky and time consuming and pose myriad problems (soggy crust, wet filling) and after all that work, who wants something less than practically perfect? But it appears that Cook's cooks have yet to brave the buttermilk pie.

So it seemed I would have to be my own recipe tester. But the recipes that I researched varied so widely, I wasn't sure where to start. All asked for buttermilk and sugar, and either whole eggs or egg yolks. Most used a bit of flour, though amounts ranged from 1-4 tablespoons, and many called for butter, ranging from 0 - 8 tablespoons. Buttermilk ranged from 1/2 cup - 2 cups, and ditto for the sugar. Most asked for the zest of just one lemon, and some contained lemon juice as well, but only a tablespoon or two.

Despite not knowing how a buttermilk pie should taste, I did know how I wished it to taste. I wanted a substantial amount of buttermilk, more so than any other ingredient - it is a buttermilk pie, afterall - and I wanted the bright, floral flavor of the meyers to come through boldly. I wanted enough sugar for good flavor and to counter the tartness of buttermilk and lemon, but not too much as to be cloying, and I wanted just enough egg to set the pie without giving it an eggy flavor or texture. The addition of butter mystified me, and though I, clearly, love butter, I wondered if swapping it for heavy cream would result in a creamier, more custardy pie. I also love fresh vanilla beans with meyer lemons – the sweet, floral complexity of each heightens the other – so I wanted to add some vanilla seeds.

I took a stab at an initial recipe, using Heidi Swanson's maple buttermilk pie, and Cook's custard pie, as rough guides. I used the zest and juice of 2 lemons, two whole eggs plus 2 yolks for richness, 1 cup of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 cup flour, 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk and 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Most recipes I read called for adding the custard to an unbaked pie crust, but the photos of these showed a pale crust that probably didn't stay crisp for long, if at all. Heidi and Cook's both called for pre-baking the crust, which seemed like a no-brainer if other custard-based pies, and pies with wet, fruity fillings, were any indication.

I whisked together the custard, poured it into a hot, pre-baked crust and baked the pie at 350º until it was puffed but still wobbled slightly when jiggled, about 45 minutes; or at least, I tried. When I checked the pie halfway through the baking time, I saw that my poor, old oven had shot up to almost 400º. I waited for the pie to cool, then I chilled it as well. As it cooled, large, chasm-sized cracks formed in the face, I assumed, from overbaking. When I cut into the pie, however, the filling was barely set. The soft custard stuck to the knife, and though it tasted like a luscious pastry cream bursting with lemon flavor, it was just too soft to be a pie. (Not that that stopped myself or anyone else from devouring the whole thing in a day.)

I turned back to Cook's custard pie recipe, which involves cooking the custard on the stove as though making a crème anglaise or pastry cream, then baking the filling briefly. This has proved a brilliant method in pumpkin and pecan pies, but I wasn't sure how the buttermilk would react when cooked like this: would it break or curdle the custard? I gave it a shot anyway, hoping that warming the custard first would lessen the baking time, keep the crust crisper, and prevent the cracking problem. I decided to try cornstarch as a thickener, as per the custard pie recipe and because I prefer the lighter texture of pastry creams thickened with cornstarch to heavier flour. As I stirred the custard on the stove, instead of thickening, it became thinner and thinner until it showed little flecks of white where the buttermilk solids had separated, not what I was going for. I poured the filling into the crust anyway, and it still needed 45 minutes in the oven to set. This pie was still tasty, but the texture, though firm enough to slice, carried the graininess of the cooked custard.

For trial 3, I began wondering about the butter. Maybe its purpose in this pie was to help it firm up when cool, so that the custard could be softly set, as in trial 1, but would become firm enough to slice. I tried substituting 6 tablespoons of butter for the heavy cream, and I warmed the eggs, lemon, sugar and flour on the stovetop, then whisked in the butter to melt it, then the buttermilk, in a similar method to making this blood orange tart. But this filling, though sliceably firm when chilled, tasted too much like lemon curd to me. It was still tasty, but not the creamy custard I was going for.

So for trial 4, I began wondering if the problem with trial 1, which was thus far my favorite pie in both texture and flavor, wasn't the method or the ingredient list, but merely the oven temperature and baking time. I decided to decrease the liquid in the recipe just a smidge: 1/4 cup less buttermilk and only 1/4 cup of lemon juice instead of the full 2 lemons' worth. This time I dialed down the oven temperature to 325º after pouring in the custard and kept a vigilant watch on the oven to make sure it never went higher than that. I baked the pie longer, for exactly 1 hour, until the pie puffed all over and was set when wiggled.

For trial 4, I also tweaked the crust. Inspired by Joy the Baker, I added a bit of buttermilk to the dough since I had it on hand, and, inspired by Heidi Swanson, gave the dough a fold as though making puff pastry. This yielded possibly the flakiest pie crust I had ever made, the dough supple and smooth to work with, the crust puffing high above the lip of the pan.

I cut into the cooled-to-room-temperature pie, and the filling held its shape beautifully. Shards of flaky crust shattered everywhere. The custard, laced with lemony threads of zest and dark flecks of vanilla bean, played against the salty crunch of crust, exuding flavors of sunshine and flowers. I fell in love with lemon buttermilk pie.

No dainty tart, this pie is thick and substantial, reminiscent of a flaky croissant slathered with lemon cream. It's the sort of dessert I want to both hoard for myself and make for everyone in the world, to spread the gospel of the luscious, rich, refreshing wonder that is meyer lemon buttermilk pie. We've almost made our way through 4 pies, and Jay is already requesting a fifth(!).

I can't believe it took me this long to bake/eat a lemon buttermilk pie; I'd recommend that you don't make the same mistake.

If you find yourself a) craving pie, b) impatiently awaiting the rhubarb and berries of spring, c) wondering how to make use of the meyer lemons on your/a friend's tree, or d) all of the above, bake up one of these pies. It's perfect plain, but it also makes a lovely foil for the berries of spring and summer. Or you could make a lovely plated affair with blood orange reduction and segments and a dollop of softly whipped cream.

Though I admit that my favorite way to eat this pie is standing over the pan, cutting slender slices with a knife and eschewing fork and plate in favor of my fingers.

Savvy citrus:
Lemon Mascarpone Tart
Tangerine Olive Oil Pound Cake
Blood Orange Tart

One year ago:
Potato, Leek and Celeriac Soup
Two years ago:
(Vegan) Chocolate Coconut Milk Tapioca Pudding

Meyer Lemon Buttermilk Pie

This pie is at its peak the day it is baked, when served at a cool room temperature. The crust needs several bouts of chilling, and one of par-baking, but any or all of these steps can be done ahead. Once the crust is ready, the filling takes just a few minutes to whisk together, an hour to bake, and about 2 hours to cool fully. Chilling the pie will give you cleaner slices, but I like the flavors and textures best at room temperature. This pie is excellent on its own, but you can dress up plates with berries, whipped cream, slices of blood orange and/or a drizzle of blood orange reduction.

You can make the pie dough in a stand mixer, with a paddle attachment, on low speed if you prefer. If you go to the trouble of giving the dough the fraisage and extra folds, which make it flaky almost to the point of puff pastry, I would recommend making a double batch. (See this post on making puff pastry for photos of the fraisage/rolling/folding process.) The extra portion of dough can be kept, double-wrapped, in the freezer for up to a couple of months. (Defrost in the fridge overnight, then roll it out and proceed with any single-crust pie recipe.)

Save your vanilla pod to stick in a jar of sugar, or to add to an ice cream or pudding recipe. If you lack vanilla bean, whisk in a teaspoon or so of vanilla extract with the lemon juice.

The baking instructions here are different than that of most custards. The acids in the buttermilk seem to prevent the custard from setting the way others do, so you must bake this pie longer, until puffed all over and just set when you give it a shake.

Flakiest, all-butter pie crust:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 ounces (8 tablespoons/1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, in 1/2" dice
2 tablespoons buttermilk
2 tablespoons ice water, more as needed

Lemon Buttermilk Filling:
1 cup sugar
zest from 2 medium meyer lemons
seeds from 1 vanilla bean

1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs
2 egg yolks

1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup meyer lemon juice, from 1-2 lemons

Make the crust:
In a large bowl, stir together the flours, sugar and salt. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour, and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles sand with lots of pea-sized butter chunks. Stir together the buttermilk and ice water. Drizzle this mixture over the flour mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a rubber spatula, until the dough will hold together when you give it a squeeze, adding more ice water by the teaspoon directly to the dry bits as needed.

You can call it here, or you can do either or both of the steps below for extra flake:

Option 1 - fraisage:
Dump the dough out onto a counter, divide it roughly into 6 portions, and fraisage by dragging a portion of dough across the counter using the heel of your hand. Scrape up the dough (a metal bench scraper works well here), gently press it into a ball and flatten into a disc. Slip it into a plastic bag, and chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.

Option 2 - roll, fold, roll:
On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough out into a rough square that is about 1/4" thick. Fold it in thirds like you're folding a letter, then roll up from a skinny end into a loose spiral. Gently press to flatten it slightly, and chill for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap, and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough into a 12" circle, dusting the dough lightly with flour as needed, rotating and flipping it to prevent it from sticking. Ease the dough into a 9" glass pie plate, fit it into the corners, and trim it to a 1" overhang. Fold the overhang under, and flute the crust by pressing it between the thumb of one hand and the index finger and thumb of the other hand.

Chill the crust for 20 minutes, then freeze it for at least 20 minutes, until solid.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 400º. Remove all other racks from the oven.

Place the frozen crust on a rimmed baking sheet. Line it with a piece of parchment paper, and fill with pie weights, dry beans, or clean pennies, pressing the weights into the sides and corners of the crust.

Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, until the dough will hold its shape when you lift off the parchment, then remove the weights and parchment and bake until the bottom is dry and lightly golden, about 5 minutes longer. Keep the oven at 400º.

Meanwhile, make the filling:
Place the sugar in a medium bowl. Zest the yellow part of the lemons' peel directly into the sugar to catch all the oils. Slit the vanilla bean down the center and use the back of the knife to scrape out the seeds, and add them to the sugar. Rub the sugar with your fingertips until it feels damp and slightly clumpy.

Whisk the flour and salt into the sugar until no floury lumps remain, then whisk in the eggs and yolks until smooth; whisk gently to avoid incorporating excess air into the batter.

Slowly whisk in the buttermilk, then the cream and lemon juice until smooth.

If your pie crust has cooled, return it to the oven for about 5 minutes to get it hot. With the par-baked crust still in the oven, carefully but quickly pour the filling into the crust. Close the oven door and decrease the oven temperature to 325º.

Bake the pie at 325º until just set, about 55 minutes. It will be puffed all over, and will barely wiggle when you give it a shake. Cool the pie completely, about 2 hours, then serve at room temperature or chill (chilling will give you cleaner slices).

The pie is best at room temperature shortly after cooling, but store extras in the fridge; they will keep well for up to 3 days.