Don't Let Another Summer Go by Without Making Atlantic Beach Pie

July 12, 2017

With Genius Recipes correspondent Kristen off in a dark, cookie-filled cave somewhere finishing up the Genius Desserts cookbook manuscript, we're re-running our best ever Genius summer desserts. Wish her luck! And make this pie.

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 the Food52 Shop.

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

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Claire H. September 9, 2018
I made this for a charity event (sold at the Pie Table) and it was a yuuuuge hit. Sold out. It's the balance of savory and sweet that make this so good. I added a touch of lemon zest to the filling, but otherwise, followed the recipe exactly. DELICIOUS.
Jajajules May 5, 2018
Made this pie twice last year - once to try it for the first time, second because I thought I somehow screwed up such a simple recipe. Not impressed with it myself, but I see how some would enjoy it. I’ll stick to my own versions of key lime and lemon meringue pie.
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 18, 2018
Hey Mike—please be respectful and constructive. I'm going to remove this comment because it's neither. Check out our Code of Conduct: https://food52.com/code_conduct
girlwithaknife August 20, 2017
It's all in the crust! The salt contrasts so well against the sweet and tart lemon filling. I made this while my kid was an infant so couldn't have been too hard! ^_^
Maribones July 20, 2017
I made this tonight for family dinner. (The lemon version). It was a huge hit! Absolutely delicious, right down to the sea salt sprinkle. It's looking like it might make the rotation for my restaurant. Thanks Food52 for another winner.
Beth July 20, 2017
Except for the crust, it's exactly the same as a key lime pie. We love Keebler's shortbread readymade crust but I can't find it anymore, they must have stopped making it. Pity, it was vastly preferable to graham cracker crust. I guess I could crush shortbread cookies with butter.
Steven W. August 19, 2017
I like to use ginger snaps...