How to Make Honey Vinegar Pie
A descendant of Depression-era vinegar pie, this cult hit recipe from Cincinnati is a slice of pure perfection—and anything but humble.
It’s all in a name, right? That’s what Lou Ginocchio of Cincinnati’s O Pie O discovered when Honey Vinegar Pie sent customers’ heads spinning. “No one was expecting a pie with vinegar in its name to be this luxurious,” Lou says. But curiosity is a powerful sales tool. Introduced in 2014, the sweet-not-sour pie remains a menu fixture. Lou describes it as “a flavor cross between crème brûlée and chess pie, with the consistency of a very light cheesecake.”
The recipe was inspired by “desperation pies”—desserts popular before World War II, made with thrifty fillings of sugar, cream, cornmeal and vinegar (ideal when fruit or nuts are out of season or too expensive). To modern palates, desperation pies sometimes taste cloying, so this version uses honey instead of plain sugar. The splash of cider vinegar is barely discernible, but it balances the sweetness. A heavy dose of vanilla and a fat pinch of sea salt round out the flavor. End result: If there’s any desperation left in this pie, it’s in how you’ll feel about getting to the next bite.
Step One: Steep
Preheat oven to 450°. Prick a 9-inch unbaked pie shell. Line pastry with a double thickness of foil. Bake 8 minutes; remove foil. Bake until golden, 6 to 8 minutes more. Place on a baking sheet; set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 365°. Slice one vanilla bean lengthwise; scrape out seeds with knife. Place bean, seeds and ½ cup heavy cream in the top of a double boiler. Steep over low heat 20 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl; discard vanilla bean.
Tip: Beans give the fullest vanilla flavor—but a jarred product called vanilla bean paste is a close second (and saves you the step of straining).
Step Two: Mix
Place 1/2 cup butter in the double boiler and melt over medium heat; set aside to cool 5 minutes. In a large bowl, combine ¾ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons white cornmeal and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Stir in melted butter. Whisking rapidly, slowly pour in 3 lightly beaten eggs, followed by the vanilla cream, scraping bowl to get all the vanilla specks. Finally, add 3/4 cup honey and 2 teaspoons cider vinegar.
Tip: For max flavor and creaminess, Lou prefers European-style butter, which contains less water and more fat than a standard stick. Irish Kerrygold is one common brand.
Step Three: Bake
Place pan with pie shell on center oven rack. While continuing to whisk, slowly pour filling into pie shell. Bake 40 to 50 minutes, rotating pan twice. The pie is done when the middle is golden brown, puffed and springy; the edges are set; and the pie has a firm jiggle when gently shaken. Let cool 3 hours on a wire rack. Serve with flaky sea salt and unsweetened whipped cream.
Tip: “You have to really keep stirring right up until filling the shell so the cornmeal doesn’t settle, then get it in the oven right away,” Lou says.
Get to Know: Lou Ginocchio
Holds a Ph.D. in philosophy. Originally sold pies at Cincinnati’s Findlay Market. Has a weakness for cheap beer (on hot beaches).
Get a printable version of this recipe here.