A Minor Dessert Disaster

As I closed the oven door on the pie I’d been planning for this week’s recipe, I had a strange premonition that things in the dessert realm were about to go very, very wrong.

Maybe it was the foreboding way that stray crumbs had immediately begun to float to the surface when I poured in the custard. Maybe it was the fact that I was fasting and therefore unable to taste the strength of the coffee I’d used as the base of the filling.

Maybe it was just the fact that four years of studying literature taught me that hubris — in this case, me, blatantly ignoring the patterns that showed up across the recipes of Martha Stewart, Dorie Greenspan, and countless food bloggers — always precedes a reversal of fortunes for the hero — in this case, our would-be coffee cream pie, emerging from the oven as an over-sweet, totally-lacking-in-coffee-flavor-but-vaguely-burnt-smelling baked custard with its erstwhile graham cracker crust now baked into an even, crisp topping.

I’ll spare you any actual pictures and just say that for now, it’s back to the drawing board for coffee cream pie. In the meantime, this week I’m leaving you with a pie recipe that has never once failed me, but tastes so good that I’d be willing to forgive it if it did.

IMG_3590The pictures in this post are a year old and definitely not shot for food blog appeal. They’re from the first time I ever attempted this recipe, back when I was still living in London. The pie turned out so well on that first try that I baked it again whenever I got the chance, and the results are so consistent that the simple act of baking it is enough to make a bad day better.

It’s a good thing I always keep the ingredients on hand, because today is definitely one of those days.


Bill Smith’s Atlantic Beach Pie
barely adapted from Bill Smith via Food52’s Kristen Miglore

6 ounces Ritz crackers (outside the US, Tuc biscuits work beautifully)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
zest of 1 lemon
4 egg yolks
1 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
14 cup lemon juice
14 cup lime juice
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 teaspoons granulated sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F (175° C).
  2. Crush the crackers into a fine crumb using a large ziploc bag and a rolling pin. A food processor will do the job, but be careful not to completely pulverize the crackers — a little texture will just make the crust taste better.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the sugar into the cracker crumbs and drizzle over the melted butter, stirring with a fork or your hands until the mixture has the texture of wet sand and there are no dry patches.
  4. Press the crumb mixture evenly into a 9-inch pie pan, then chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  5. Bake the crust for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool while you prepare the filling. It shouldn’t puff up if it was chilled before baking, but if it has, press those areas down with the back of a spoon so that the crust is even and flat.
  6. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks to break them up, then add the condensed milk and whisk again until the mixture is uniform.
  7. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and lime juice to the filling and whisk until combined. The mixture will thicken slightly.
  8. Once the crust is no longer hot (warm is fine, as long as the pan has cooled enough that you can touch it), pour in the filling and return to the oven to bake for 15 minutes or until the filling is set.
  9. Remove the pie from the oven and allow to cool completely on the countertop (about 1 hour) before covering with plastic wrap and placing it in the fridge to set (4 hours to overnight).
  10. Once the pie has finished setting in the fridge, whip the heavy cream with two teaspoons of sugar until it reaches medium peaks. Before serving, spread the top of the pie with a thick layer of whipped cream, leaving the crust and a tiny border of filling to peek out at the edges. Slice and serve cold.


  1. […] go out of my way to make a little extra pastry to bake alongside any pie I make or, in the case of last week’s pie, make an extra half-recipe of the crushed cracker dough to create the thickest crust possible. My […]


  2. So disappointing when you find a great recipe, get really excited about it and then it just doesn’t work out…


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