Genius Recipes

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie

By • July 23, 2014 • 63 Comments

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Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: A sweet-salty twist on a North Carolina classic that's as lazy and beachy as summer should be.

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie

If lemon meringue is the poodle of pies, this one is the scraggly mutt that you didn't plan on getting. It might look rough around the edges, but that's half the charm.

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie

The crust is saltine crackers you mash with your hands; its tart custard belly is only three ingredients (sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, lemon or lime juice). Just before serving it in cold slices, you'll blob on some unsweetened whipped cream and scatter it with sea salt.

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie  Bill Smith Atlantic Beach Pie

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie  Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie

This isn't just a lazy path to pie; it's a good one. The pale comfort of saltines turns into a flaky, toasted shell (that holds together much better than you'd think), once you crunch it all up with butter and sugar and par-bake it. Unlike graham crackers, which seem designed to crumble into fine-grained crust, saltines stay true to themselves, jagged and crisp.

More: Tote all your pies safely with our bigger, better PieBox in Provisions.

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie

Each bite of pie has the sweet rush of a lemon bar, cooled with thick cream and flanked by salt and crunch. Every flavor and texture is dialed up to eleven, which somehow keeps them all in check. It tastes of summer and the beach -- like salt-rimmed margaritas and ice cream cones, sea and sun.

More: Wondering what to do with those extra sleeves of saltines? Serve them with Edna Lewis' sherried fresh shrimp paste.

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie

Bill Smith, chef at Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill, N.C., came up with this recipe after he was asked to host a Southern Foodways Alliance Summer Symposium in his native Eastern North Carolina. He remembered the lemon pies with cracker crusts (Saltines, Ritz, or Captain's Wafers) he grew up eating at seafood restaurants along the coast, then R&Ded his own, switching out the meringue top for whipped cream and salt. Smith's version was a hit. "That pie has taken on a life of its own," he wrote to me.

"The next spring the piece ran on All Things Considered. Then things went crazy," Smith said. "Atlanta Food and Wine moved us from the pork tent to the pie tent as a result. They had a kitchen for us to use but no storage, so we took them down to our hotel room and turned the AC down to 60 so they would set up."

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie

We might be in the season of perfecting our lattices and pitting sour cherries by the quart (and of poodle-like meringues), but it might be an even better time to pull out a couple sleeves of saltines.

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie

Adapted slightly from Bill Smith of Crook's Corner

Makes 1 pie

For the crust:

1 1/2 sleeves of saltine crackers (about 6 ounces or 60 crackers)
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar

For the filling:

14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup lemon or lime juice or a mix of the two
Fresh whipped cream, for garnish
Coarse sea salt, for garnish

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]

Photos by James Ransom

Jump to Comments (63)

Tags: pie, lemon, saltines, crackers, salt, how-to & diy, everyday cooking, baking, summer, entertaining

Comments (63)

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2 months ago MandiFran

This pie was amazing! I cut the amount of whipped cream and added the egg whites. I halfway whipped them into meringues, just past the foamy stage. Next I streamed in the heavy whipping cream until it was all blended. Then I just mixed until it was nice and fluffy!

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2 months ago cary Wade

would the quality of this pie suffer at all if i make and bake this a day ahead, saving the whipped cream topping til just before serving? thanks!

Miglore

2 months ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

The bottom crust will get a little softer, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, the contrast between crunchy and soft is one of my favorite things about this pie.

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3 months ago cholula

I wondered about a pretzel crust too. :)

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3 months ago MV

I think a pretzel crust would work as well. Thoughts?

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3 months ago TSmith

Has anyone tried this with Ritz-type crackers? I usually sleeves of those around the pantry.

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3 months ago Slem

Can this pie be made 2 days in advance (without the whipped cream, of course)? Would it be better to freeze or refrigerate?

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3 months ago Gwen


I don't often comment on recipes but this one begs for attention. This is one fabulous desert. I added zest to the filling (we like it tart) and it was over the top. That crust!! Wouldn't it be great on a bitter/sweet chocolate pie. Bill Smith - recipe for that?

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3 months ago DanaERT

I made this for a work event and it was absolutely inhaled. The unsweetened whipped cream was a hit too (though I forgot to pack the sea salt from home - oops!). Will make again for sure!! And glad to know he's a teacher at Southern Season - we are getting one in Richmond (opens tomorrow!!) and maybe he could be convinced to do a class up here. :)

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3 months ago Lisa Moore

Bill made this pie at his class at Southern Season in Charleston. It's delicious! His cookbook is full of wonderful simple recipes, and he is just a delightful down to earth guy!

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3 months ago Jim

Made this over the weekend. Super easy and it tastes AMAZING! Got raves from everyone.

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3 months ago Laura415

This crust sounds like an awesome change of pace. I have to make it gluten free, but making gluten free crackers isn't that hard. Roll them out into one gigantic cracker, bake and then break apart and crush. Or I might just use my GF shortbread cookies with a bit of salt added.

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3 months ago Cottie

Instead of using chicken eggs try Coturnix quail eggs. Most asian super markets have them or try look on CL. They have many health benefits and help alleviate allergy symptoms. Look up Benefits of Quail Eggs. Just a suggestion.

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3 months ago Lin

Thanks for the recipe for condensed milk substitute, Renee. I am anxious to try the pie using your hints. I love to cook and bake but am new to this diabetic thing so this is a challenge.

Stringio

3 months ago Lynn T Ziglar

No sugar in the whipped cream ...not needed

Stringio

3 months ago Shaun D

Is the whipped cream sweetened at all?

Stringio

3 months ago Lynn T Ziglar

This is a treat like any dessert. Keep in the freezer for a frozen asset. This recipe has enough sugar, the salt in saltines????????????? Try another recipe if salt is your demon.

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3 months ago Lin

Is there any way to make this pie diabetic friendly? It sounds divine!

Miglore

3 months ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Divine is a good word for it! You should follow your doctor or nutritionist's recommendations on the ingredients, but if you have a preferred sugar substitute, it should work here.

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3 months ago Renée (RJ Flamingo) Joslyn

I'm sorry Kristen, but it won't work with simply a sugar substitute because of the sweetened condensed milk.
Lin - I found this recipe for a sugar-free sweetened condensed milk:
1 (12 oz) can evaporated skim milk
1 1/2 c nonfat dry milk powder
1/2 c Splenda

In large bowl, combine all ingredients throroughly. Refrigerate. Will keep for up to one week. Yield: 3.5 cups.
Suggestion: Splenda will give it a funky artificial sweetener aftertaste. I strongly suggest using Xylitol (all natural birch bark) instead, for both this and the crust. Also, the sweetened condensed milk is 14 oz by weight, not volume, so you will have to weigh out 14 oz of this sugar-free version to get the proper amount for the pie filling. Let us all know how it works out, if you try it!

Miglore

3 months ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Thanks so much for the clarification, Renée.

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3 months ago Irenehope

There are "saltine" crackers in Asian Markets that are sprinkled with sugar instead of salt. For those of us who are salt conscious, it's a help. And a new taste.
How tart is this? I love really tart lemon desserts.

Miglore

3 months ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Yes, it's nice and tart.

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3 months ago Sandra Mcculloch

Do you have any recipes that are gluten free? I can't have any gluten in my diet.

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3 months ago Sandra Mcculloch

That lemon pie sounds great!

Miglore

3 months ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Sandra, check out our gluten-free recipes here: https://food52.com/recipes...

Stringio

3 months ago Lynn T Ziglar

Just measured and my pie tin is 9-10" and filling fills in saltine crust. Saltines do not get soggy as it is baked and filling is put into cooked baked saltine pie shell. Then placed in freezer.