The best pie of the summer is even better with one more ingredient

It tastes this good too.
It tastes this good too.
Image: Food52/James Ransom
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Who knew a pie could be beachy? Chef Bill Smith’s Atlantic Beach Pie—a magical layering of crumbly crust, lemon custard filling, and frothy whipped cream—achieves this wonderful feat. The crust, made from saltine crackers, is buttery, sandy and, of course, salty. The citrus filling is bright and sunny, and has enough acid to cut through the cool froth of fresh whipped cream on top.

The pie, which was born at Smith’s North Carolina restaurant, has become a bit of a Thing online. We discovered it via Food52’s Genius Recipes collection, where it was published in 2014. This week the New York Times has resurfaced the recipe alongside an interview with Smith himself, and noted that “every cooking website worth its flaky sea salt added it to its recipes.”

Part of this recipe’s genius—and beachiness—is that the whole thing requires only seven supermarket staple ingredients, making it a great one if you’re actually in a beach-town where the provisions are basic. It takes under an hour to make, and requires little more prep than crushing a sleeve of Saltines, which is a wonderfully satisfying task. (And nowhere near as anxiety-provoking as rolling out pie crust.)

But with the addition of just one more ingredient, this pie becomes somehow even easier-going than it already is. When I wanted to bring an Atlantic Beach Pie to a recent barbecue and had to make it several hours in advance, I fretted at the thought of fresh whipped cream drooping and weeping while we lolled through the evening. But I also didn’t want to be the high-maintenance party guest who turns up with a carton of cream, requesting counter space and equipment mid-party.

So, on the advice of Quartz culture editor Indrani Sen, I plopped a dollop of cream cheese into the cream before I whipped it—about two ounces of cream cheese per cup of whipping cream—and brought it in a separate bowl. The cream cheese (mascarpone works too)  stabilized the topping so I could easily and heroically swath it lightly over the pie come serving time. If you think you’ll have leftover pie (unlikely!) top each slice with whipped cream rather than the whole thing, so you can keep the cream separately and keep repeating this ritual in the days to come.

Do yourself a favor and try this pie before the summer is over—and if you’re bringing it to a party, try the cream cheese trick. Plus, if you need a late-night snack when you get home, there will be leftover Saltines and a box of cream cheese in the fridge.