In a state where ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’, where the Saturn V Rocket was built and where Space Camps may be producing future aeronautical engineers and astronauts for Moon Shots, where NASCAR drivers sprung out of grease pits and musicians like Hank Williams, Jimmy Buffett and Lionel Richey became Stars- it’s not unusual for a Star to reside among us. For over 100 years the Historic Bright Star Restaurant has been earth bound in Bessemer, Alabama. Designated in 2010 as An American Classic Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation, The Bright Star is an institution in the Alabama restaurant scene. Opened by Greek immigrants in the early 1900’s not long after Philadelphia started making the iconic Cream Cheese- we Southerners embraced them both.
The Bright Star serves some of the finest food in the South- perfectly grilled steaks, delicious seafood including Greek Style Snapper, Grouper Almandine and Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp and Remoulade Sauce. By day, the Star produces vegetable plates and meat and three platters that Alabama Food Historian- John T. Edge dubbed a ‘Working Man’s Cathedral’. The main course food is so good, it’s easy to overlook the amazing pies they churn out every day. The Bright Star serves-
- Lemon Icebox,
- Chocolate and Coconut Ice Box Pies made in house and-
- a stellar Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie which isn’t chilled- it’s baked! It’s always called- Bright Star’s Famous Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie.
I know of no other restaurant that makes this particular pie- I love it. On my last few visits there- I tried to weasel the recipe from a few servers- ‘Well, you boil down the pineapple with some sugar…and other things’ and- ‘Oh honey I don’t know exactly, they blend cream cheese with eggs and sugar and pineapple..’ All vague, even mysterious.
Well, I knew I’d have to research it; turns out Johnny Cash’s mother baked a pineapple pie which had a double crust, and others made pineapple pies which were sort of like Chess pies with pineapple added. However, there are old southern recipes for Baked Pineapple Pies which include pineapple, cream cheese and pecans. The Bright Star’s Pineapple Pie doesn’t use pecans- it’s always had slivered almonds on top- they use these same almonds generously on their famous seafood entrees. Come to think of it- Almonds would make it more ‘Greek’ than Southern Pecans- so maybe it’s an adaptation one way or another; I simply cannot find the origin of it. I do think Bright Star uses the slivered almonds to great advantage of the overall taste of this pie. I thought I’d give the old recipes a whirl and see if I could re-create it, using almonds and adding almond extract. I’d never be so bold to call it the famous Bright Star’s Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie…. My version is open to interpretation. Here’s how I made:
Camellia’s Stellar Pineapple Pie
- Bake, according to directions- one Deep Dish Pie Crust. (I pressed 1/8 cup of slivered almonds into the bottom of pie crust before baking in a nine inch cake pan- which is how I prefer to make pie crust for single crust pies. ) Do not overbake. Cool.
- In a medium saucepan- heat 2 (8oz. cans of Crushed Pineapple with Juice I used Dole® Crushed Pineapple) and 1 1/2 cups of Sugar; bring to a simmer over medium high heat.
- Stir 1/4 cup of Cornstarch and 1 cup of Water in a small bowl, until well combined. Stir into pineapple/ sugar mixture. Stir constantly until mixture is at a low boil. Stirring constantly until very thick- do not scorch.
- Remove Pineapple Mixture from heat and allow to stand until cooled to room temperature (barely warm).
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- In a separate mixing bowl, at medium/low speed- mix 4 oz. room temperature Cream Cheese (one half of an 8 oz. package, I used Philadelphia® Brand) with 3/4 cup of Sugar and 1/4 cup of all purpose Flour. Mix until fully combined. Add by hand, one large Egg, 1 teaspoon pure Vanilla Extract and 1 teaspoon of pure Almond Extract. Stir until completely combined and has a smooth creamy texture.
- Fold cooled and thickened pineapple mixture into cream cheese/sugar and egg mixture. Gently combine and pour into cooled pie crust. *Some recipes called for putting the pineapple/sugar mixture on the bottom of the pie crust, one called for combining the two- I believe it is best to combine them- but it’s your call.
- Top with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of Slivered Almonds.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes. Test with a toothpick in the center of pie- if it comes out clean- pie is ready- if not bake an additional 5 minutes or so.
- Allow Pineapple Pie to cool fully. I put mine on a wire rack and then chilled for ease of slicing. This is a rich pie. Needs no embellishment. Serves 8. Enjoy!
Despite the amount of sugar in this pie, it is not overly sweet, but it is unique in texture and taste. Again, this is an adaptation of the famous Bright Star’s Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie. Two Crust Pineapple Pies use a filling almost exactly like the first step of this pie but are doubled- the bottom crust is partially baked, then filled and the second layer is put on top or made into a lattice pattern. Other Pineapple Pies are like Ice Box Pies and are generally no- bake mixtures. Pineapple Pies strike me as the type of dessert that would be a refreshing compliment to almost any meal but particularly good after a seafood entrée.
Pineapple is used extensively in Southern Cooking- Upside Down Cakes, Congealed Salads, Decorating Glistening Baked Hams and a mixture of cream cheese, crushed pineapple and a bit of mayonnaise, as a filling in delicate Tea Sandwiches. Any way you slice it or crush it- Pineapple is one of my favorites! A true Star. If you haven’t been to the Bright Star in Bessemer, Alabama, I would encourage you to go! You will find them at http://www.brightstar.com Check out the menu and history!
Love y’all, Camellia
*Quote by John T. Edge Alabama Food Historian on page 30 of ‘Alabama Food- Classic Dishes, Restaurants and Chefs’ – copyright 2012 Alabama Media Group
*All photographs are obviously mine. Good food, Good fun at Bright Star!