Pie of the Week: Cottage Cheese Pie

Sarah Baird

You'd be hard pressed to find a bigger champion of cottage cheese than yours truly. The bad wrap this dairy aisle staple has gotten over the years as a texturally unappealing, slimy, antiquated diet food ensures that most folks shun it at diners and wouldn't dare dream of putting it in a dessert. My memories of cottage cheese, though, are rather delightful: dressed up with homegrown tomatoes and Italian dressing in the summertime, or serving as the tangy addition to my grandmother's congealed "orange salad" on the Thanksgiving table. Say what you will, but cottage cheese is a real unsung hero of classic Middle American cuisine.

Since those who share my sentiment are few and far between, it's time to breathe new life into the black sheep of the dairy family. The German classic recipe for cottage cheese pie elevates the once lowly ingredient to an almost cheesecake-like status, with a homey, heirloom taste that is pleasing for even the most diehard cottage cheese detractors.

This pie recipe seems to be a staple of grandmothers across the Midwest, though its real origin as Hungarian, Czech, Croatian, or German is the stuff of culinary lore. While I typically prefer a large curd cottage cheese, it's important that the pie is made with small curd to add a more consistent, manageable amount of textural curd. Selecting the appropriate milk fat is almost key—going full fat is best, but in a pinch 2% can work.

Some recipes call for letting the cottage cheese to drain prior to baking to keep excess liquid from the pie. However, I found that it made the pie less creamy and reduced the custard-like quality of the dessert. If you decide to drain, add back in an extra 1/ 4 cup of cream to balance out the reduced liquid.

The real beauty of this recipe is its ease and versatility: it's simple to whip up, and can be eaten as a celebratory dessert, a breakfast snack, or a teatime treat. There are also as many variations and additions to the recipe as there are people who swear by it: raisins added in prior to baking, a whipped sour cream topping, blueberries and raspberries scattered as a fruity treat. The topping that can't be missed, though, is a healthy sprinkle of nutmeg, which adds an extra dimension to the rich pie.

While this version uses a cream cheese pastry crust, a graham cracker crust is another standby favorite and easily enhances the aromatic flavors throughout the pie.