Buttermilk Pie is my nominee for this year’s perfect party dessert awards. It’s outrageously easy to make, the filling is luxuriously sweet and creamy on the inside with a lightly crackled sugar top, and despite being an old-fashioned, classic Southern recipe, it doesn’t receive the notoriety it deserves.
I owe my appreciation for classic Southern desserts like buttermilk pie, last week’s Old-Fashioned Sweet Potato Pie, and this famous Lemon Cream Pie to my grammy, who often made them growing up. Chess pie (a close relative of buttermilk pie) was one of her signatures.
If you’ve never had a classic southern buttermilk pie, please run to your kitchen and bake this recipe immediately. It looks unassuming, but every bite is positively luscious. The filling is velvety smooth and delicate with a rich, buttery flavor, which, as you might imagine, is dynamite when eaten from a buttery, flaky pie crust.
What is Buttermilk Pie?
Buttermilk pie is a classic, old fashioned southern dessert that tastes like a custard pie but is SO. MUCH. EASIER. to make.
Buttermilk pie tastes similar to crème brûlée. It’s creamy, buttery, and delicate. In fact, fans of the shiny “lid” on top of crème brûlée (and the lids on pans of brownies) will be delighted to see that buttermilk pie forms a crackly top too. As with crème brûlée, one of life’s great small pleasures is to crack your fork through the top of a buttermilk pie and into the creamy custard below.
Buttermilk pie is made of simple pantry ingredients (we’re talking eggs, butter, sugar, flour), you beat up the filling in one bowl, and in one of baking’s best magic acts, the filling transforms into a custard while the pie bakes in the oven, without the fuss of tempering egg yolks, heating milk, or any of the other unpleasant tasks typically associated with a custard pie.
The Difference Between Buttermilk Pie and Chess Pie
Buttermilk pie is sometimes confused with chess pie, but there are two major differences.
- Buttermilk pie is the only one of the two that uses buttermilk. Chess pie uses evaporated milk.
- Chess pie uses cornmeal for the thickener, while classic buttermilk pie uses flour.
Both are rich and delicious, but if I had to pick one for the rest of my life, it would be buttermilk pie. I like the smooth tanginess from the buttermilk and find the flavor a bit more interesting.
Where Did Buttermilk Pie Originate?
It is believed that buttermilk pie got its start in England and was brought to America by settlers. The pie quickly became popular in the South, where buttermilk was plentiful. Texas residents in particular had ample access buttermilk; it was affordable and easy to obtain. Residents began to turn to Texas Buttermilk Pie when fruit was out of season.
As others became familiar with this easy and delicious pie recipe, it spread across the country. Restaurants even began to offer it on their menus (Cracker Barrel buttermilk pie is still a favorite of many).
Today, this pie may not have the prom queen power of pecan or pumpkin pie at the holidays, but I believe it’s equally as good and just as deserving of a spot at your table!
How to Make the Best Buttermilk Pie Recipe
I cannot overstate how simple buttermilk pie is to make, and the results are superb. The next time you need a standout dessert for a party but want to keep your prep as stress-free as possible, bake this pie.
The one fault I find with buttermilk pie is that it can be overly sweet, so I reduced the sugar in this recipe just a bit, placing it squarely in the dessert danger zone—sweet enough to make you crave more, but not sweet enough to force you to stop.
- Pastry Crust. A flaky, buttery crust is critical for this recipe. I love using my Darn Good Whole Wheat Pie Crust. Scared to death of pie crust? If you opt for store bought (which would officially make buttermilk pie THE easiest pie ever), I will not judge.
- Eggs + Sugar + Butter. Once mixed and baked, these three ingredients form an impossibly creamy and delicious filling.
- Lemon Zest + Juice. For fresh, zippy flavor. My grammy always adds it to her chess pie, and I love it in buttermilk pie too.
- Bourbon Whiskey. OK, this is admittedly not a classic buttermilk pie ingredient, but it’s sooooo tasty in pie. Also, anytime I have the chance to spike the dessert, I take it. I used bourbon, which is a specific type of whiskey (I find it the most smooth and buttery), though any whiskey you enjoy will work nicely. Some readers have reported using rum with success too. If you prefer not to use alcohol, you can use additional vanilla extract and lemon juice instead.
- Vanilla. The perfect match for bourbon (or any dessert!). Use real vanilla for the best flavor.
- Nutmeg. Warm flavors and just a touch of spice. You can make buttermilk pie recipe without nutmeg in a pinch, but I do think it’s worth including. It’s a wonderful pairing with creamy flavors.
- Toppings. I’m all about adding homemade whipped cream! See below for additional ideas.
- Roll out the prepared pie crust, and place it in your pie dish. Trim and fold the edges as needed, then place in the refrigerator. The biggest rule of flaky pie crust is to keep it COLD.
- Beat the eggs until mixed, then add in the dry ingredients. As soon as they are combined, add the wet ingredients. Filling, DONE.
- Carefully pour the filling into the crust. Place the pie dish on a baking sheet to protect from any stray filling bubbles.
- Bake the buttermilk pie at 325 degrees F for 20 minutes on the lower rack. Then, transfer to center of the oven, and bake 40 minutes more. Shield pie crust with foil or add a pie crust shield as needed if the crust browns too quickly before the filling is set. Serve with desired toppings, and ENJOY!
Serving Buttermilk Pie
- Buttermilk pie can be served warm, cold, or at room temperature. I recommend trying all three ways to see which you prefer. I’m partial to just a bit cooler than room temperature.
- Toppings: While homemade whipped cream is my preference because it lets the flavor of the custard shine above all, you could also top your buttermilk pie with raspberry or blackberry sauce, fresh fruit, or a drizzle of chocolate.
Storing Buttermilk Pie
- To Store. Cover leftover pie and place in the refrigerator.
- To Reheat. If you prefer to eat your leftover pie warm, gently reheat in the oven at 325 degrees F until warmed through.
- Can you freeze buttermilk pie? YES!
- To Freeze. Cover pie very tightly and store in the freezer. Thaw in the refrigerator the day before you want to serve it.
- How long does buttermilk pie last? Buttermilk pie will last for up to 3 days in the refrigerator and up to 2 months in the freezer.
Buttermilk Pie – Recipe Tips and Troubleshooting
If you follow this recipe, I have complete confidence that your buttermilk pie will turn out perfectly. In general, if there are troubles with buttermilk pie, it is caused by one of two things.
- If Your Buttermilk Pie is Runny: It may not be fully cooked OR it may be fully cooked but not fully cooled. You want to make sure to fully let the pie cool at room temperature (at least 2 hours) before you slice it to avoid it being runny.
- If Your Buttermilk Pie Separates While You Mix the Filling: most likely you added the buttermilk (an acidic ingredient) at the same time as the other ingredients. To avoid this, add the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt) to the eggs first and then add the buttermilk. This is how the recipe is written, so as long as you follow it, you will bake the best buttermilk pie.
Whether you’ve been baking buttermilk pie for years, or it’s a new dessert for you, I hope you’ll add it to your holiday table this year. It’s unassuming and tastes outstanding. My kind of leading (dessert) lady!
- 1 unbaked whole wheat pastry crust - or 9-inch pie crust of choice
- 3 large eggs - at room temperature
- 1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter - melted and cooled
- 3/4 cup low fat buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons whiskey - such as bourbon, or rum, or additional 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest - (from about 1 small lemon)
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg - freshly grated if possible
- Homemade whipped cream - optional, for serving
- Prepare and roll out the pie crust. Transfer it to a standard 9-inch pie dish.
- Trim the edge almost even with the edge of the pan Fold the edges under and crimp with your fingers or a fork. Refrigerate until you are ready to bake.
- Position one rack in the center of the oven and one in the lower third. Preheat to 325 degrees F.
- In the bowl of a standard mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs on low speed just until mixed.
- To the bowl, add the sugar, flour, and salt. Mix again on low speed, just until the ingredients are evenly incorporated.
- Add the melted butter and mix once more.
- Add the buttermilk, whiskey, lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla extract, and nutmeg. Gently stir until combined.
- Remove the pie crust from the refrigerator. Slowly pour in the filling. Pour into prepared pie shell. Gently place the pie dish on a rimmed baking sheet.
- Carefully place the pie on its baking sheet onto the bottom third rack. Bake for 20 minutes.
- Slowly and gently transfer the baking sheet with the pie to the oven's center rack. Continue baking for 40 more minutes. You will know the pie is done when the center is set and a thin, crackly crust forms on top. Check the pie a few times as it bakes to make sure the crust isn't browning too fast. If the crust starts to become darker than you'd like, use a pie shield or strips of aluminum foil to cover and protect it. Continue baking as directed.
- Transfer the pie to a wire rack to cool. You can serve it warm, chilled, or at room temperature. Top with lots of whipped cream and enjoy!
- TO STORE: Cover leftover pie and place in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- TO FREEZE: Cover pie very tightly and store in freezer for up to 2 months.
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