Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sours So Sweet

Like riddles?  Well, I've got a doozy for you. 
When can 2 sours make one powerful sweet?

In order to solve the first half of this puzzle, you're going to have to think outside the cow – make that WHEY outside the cow.  Still guessing??

Well, one of the players is something that suffers from a bad case of misnomeritis, or to put it more simply, mistaken identity.  It's kind of like a historical case of identity theft.

All right.  I prefer not to spoil it, but if I must – BUTTERMILK.

There, I’ve said it.  BUTTERMILK. I feel better already.  And like many innocent victims who have had their identities stolen, buttermilk's developed a complex.  A really bad complex.  And from what I hear, is afraid to be seen most anywhere.  But who’s to blame here?  These days, most people crinkle up their noses just at the thought of a nice, cold glass.  Oh, buttermilk's around, but usually you have to ask.  And when you do, you’ll be led down a long, dark hallway to a room accessed with a secret knock.

It's all really a shame since it once was a staple in many American households and so prevalent throughout the South, that folks called milk, "sweet milk" just to differentiate it. 

However, if you travel abroad, it's a different story.  Countries from India to the Middle East still serve it as a drink with meals, while in Muslim countries, it’s buttermilk that’s the preferred drink for breaking the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

But here, for us in the U.S., I guess you could say that our whole, sad story began with the name.  Buttermilk.  Not butter, and not buttery milk either.  In fact, many believe that it'll make them fat, while actually, nothing could be further from the truth. 

Despite its fatty sounding name, buttermilk is actually the slimmer side of milk that’s created when milk is churned into butter.  During that churning process, the yellow butterfat clumps together to form butter, while the naturally defatted liquid that's left behind is called buttermilk.  Low in calories and with the same amount of protein and vitamins as the milk it's been made from, I'd say it was milk with benefits.

But, hey, about that tang.  I just can't deny it.  But even that tang has benefits.  The tang, or lactic acid in buttermilk, when combined with baking soda, makes more tender cakes (because it softens the gluten in flour), taller rising biscuits (since the acid kicks baking soda and baking powder into overdrive) and the creamiest dressings (buttermilk curdles proteins gently into a smooth and rich mass). Hungry yet?  And that acid also makes it an excellent tenderizing marinade for many meats.

Now, truth be told, there is a difference between the commercial buttermilk sold in stores today (that’s known as "cultured buttermilk") and the "churn buttermilk" of yesteryear. "Cultured buttermilk" is no longer a byproduct of butter making, but is made from pasteurized low-fat or skim milk to which strains of benign bacteria are added.  And once these little guys get working, the milk begins to thicken as they convert the milk's lactose (or milk sugar) into lactic acid – and in the process, create our friendly tang.

And for those who feel that the unique flavor of "churn buttermilk" has been lost in its modern translation, the good news is that they can now look to the increasing number of smaller dairies bringing to market this rediscovered taste of the past.

And in that spirit, I bring you now what I promised when we started.  Two luscious sours making one powerful sweet –

My, oh my. It’s Lemon Buttermilk Pecan Pie.


Serves 6 – 8

2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon lemon zest (finely chopped)
1 stick salted butter (cold, cubed)
1 large egg (beaten)
1 teaspoon lemon juice (fresh squeezed)
4 tablespoons ice water

½ cup white sugar
¼ cup raw turbinado sugar
3 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon lemon zest (finely chopped)
4 tablespoons salted butter (melted)
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

¼ cup whole pecans
½ teaspoon raw turbinado sugar

To create the crust, combine the flour and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor. 
Pulse briefly to combine.  Add the cubed butter, then pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Add the beaten egg, lemon juice and ice water and continue pulsing until dough forms a rough ball (or to create by hand, whisk together the dry ingredients, cut in the butter with 2 knives, then knead in the egg, lemon juice & water). 

Empty the dough onto a sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap, press quickly into a flat disk, then wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

Once dough is chilled, roll it out between two sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap to fit a 9-inch deep dish pie plate.  Then once transferred, set the pie plate atop a sheet pan.

Set rack to mid-oven and preheat to 375° F.

To create the filling, whisk together the sugars, flour and lemon zest.
Whisk in the melted butter, followed by the eggs, vanilla extract and buttermilk.
Pour the filling into the pie shell, then arrange the pecans evenly over the top of the pie.

Sprinkle the pie with the remaining ½ teaspoon turbinado sugar before sliding pie and sheet pan into the preheated oven.

Bake 30-35 minutes until filling is just set, then transfer pie to a rack to cool.

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