Our friend Don introduced us to the North Carolina Lemon Pie (also known as Atlantic Beach Pie). Sweet, tart, salty, and light it hits all the right notes when it comes to a great dessert. An added plus is that it is super easy to make and has a surprise ingredient that gives it unique twist. It’s a modern revival of a vintage recipe that was updated by Chef Bill Smith at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill. (You can read Bill’s story and memories of the pie here.)
Step 1: Ingredients
- 1 to 1-1/2 sleeves saltine crackers (6 ounces)
- 1 stick and 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
- 1/2 cup lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
Topping (optional but recommended):
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Step 2: The Crust
Preheat oven to 350°F. You can crush the crackers with a food processor, blender or even just your hands. You want them to be finely crushed – not dust. Stir in the sugar and salt. Pour in the syrup and then the melted butter and mix until the crumbs hold together. Using a spatula or spoon, press into an 8-inch pie pan. Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes then bake for 15 – 20 minutes (until the crust is a light golden brown).
Step 3: Prepare for the Filling
We use a microplane to zest our lemons. You don't want to grate down too far. The pith (the white sponge-y stuff under the yellow) is very bitter.
For juicing, we prefer to use the jaw-style juicer. Ours is vintage aluminum and works great!
You'll need just the yolks from your eggs. A separator really helps with this. You can also just juggle them back and forth in the shells. We use our chicken's eggs, so the separator makes it a lot easier. We crack into a separate bowl just in case the yolk breaks.
Step 4: The Filling
To make the filling, mix the sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, heavy cream, and lemon zest together in a bowl. You want to make sure these are well mixed. Then, stir in the lemon juice and continue to mix until well combined. You want a nice even light yellow color.
Pour the filling into the pie crust and bake at 350°F for 15 to 17 minutes. You want the edges of the pie to be firm, but the center still a little soft.
Cool and then refrigerate until cold (the pie needs to be cold to slice well).
Step 6: Topping (Optional)
Using a hand mixer (or a stand mixer) whip the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla on medium until just foamy. Continue to whip on high until stiff peaks form.
You can spread the whipped topping on or serve it on individual pieces in dollops.
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