Monday, April 29

Give Me Some Sugar: Dolester Miles

Photo courtesy of Bottega restaurant.

In "Give Me Some Sugar," Emily Hilliard introduces us to some of the South's most talented female pastry chefs. They do right by the classics while developing a new canon of their own. Check back every Monday to meet a reason to save room for dessert. 

Who: Dolester Miles
Where: Highlands Bar and Grill; Bottega, Birmingham, Alabama

One of my favorite themes to explore in my research and writing is the idea of women’s domestic creativity, acknowledging the home as a place of empowerment for creative pursuits. In the days when fewer women held “public work,” the home provided a non-commercial space for practice and experimentation, where women could hone a variety of skills—from cooking to quilting—and share them in a supportive environment. Domestic creativity is alive and well today, too: It could mean making a pie with the ingredients in your pantry, holding a community dinner out of your kitchen to raise money for a cause, or hosting a creative writing group in your living room.

Pastry chef Dolester Miles remembers her mother as a beacon of domestic creativity in their family’s Bessemer, Alabama, home. “She used to make us pecan pies, lemon meringue pies, and peach cobblers, with fresh homemade ice cream and fresh fruit from local farmers,” recalls Miles.

Miles has taken the skills her mother taught her and turned them into a career. For thirty-one years, Miles has been a pastry chef for Frank Stitt’s Birmingham restaurants, starting at Highlands Bar and Grill. She, too, enjoys being in the kitchen for the creativity it allows. “I go in early in the morning when it’s quiet, and I have my own space and time to concentrate and create,” says Miles. “I just love it.”

Sometimes Miles brings a reminder of her mother ‘s kitchen with her to work. “My prized kitchen tool is a wooden lemon juicer my mother passed down to me,” she says. “She used it to make her lemon meringue pie, lemon cakes, and lemonade. Now I use it to make those, too.”

Though Miles makes a variety of desserts for the three restaurants—including strawberry semifreddo, Bailey’s chocolate cake, and raspberry-white chocolate bread pudding—the desserts she makes with her mother’s lemon juicer are her personal favorites. “I love lemon pie. Lemon meringue, lemon cream cakes—lemon anything; you got me!”

Photo courtesy of Southern Living

Lemon Meringue Tart
recipe courtesy of Dolester Miles and Bottega Restaurant
Serves 10 to 12

For the crust:
2 1/2 cups flour
Pinch of salt
2 sticks of butter (cut into cubes)
3 egg yolks
1 cup powder sugar

For the filling:
Finely grated zest and juice of 7 lemons
1 ¾ cups sugar
6 whole eggs
9 egg yolks
1 ¼ cups (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened

Combine flour, salt, butter in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Add sugar and egg yolks and pulse until the mixture combines and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Spray the tart pan with a pan release. Pat dough into a tart pan in an even, thin layer and place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Remove from freezer and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Meanwhile, put all filling ingredients except the butter in a large saucepan over very low heat, and whisk until the eggs have broken up and the sugar has dissolved.

Add half the butter and continue to whisk. At this point the eggs will start to cook and the mixture will coat the back of a spoon. Add the remaining butter and continue stirring until the mixture becomes very thick. It is important to continue whisking throughout the cooking process to prevent the mixture from curdling. Remove from the heat, place on a cool surface, and continue to whisk until lukewarm. Refrigerate mixture until cold (about 1 hour). Spoon the cool mixture into the pastry shell and add meringue.

For the meringue:

8 large egg whites
2 cups sugar
A pinch of salt

In the heat proof bowl of an electric mixer combine egg whites, sugar and salt. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly until the sugar has dissolved and whites are hot to the touch (3 or 5 minutes). Attach bowl to electric mixer and mix on medium-high for about 2 minutes.  Increase speed to high and beat until stiff glossy peaks form (for about 6 minutes). Use immediately.

Spoon the meringue over the filling decoratively, mounding it in the center and spreading it all the way to the outer edge so it touches the crust.

Bake the pie in the center of the oven until the meringue is lightly browned on the edges, about 5 to 7 minutes. Do not allow the meringue to over color. Cool the pie on a rack. Refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving.