Friday, May 29, 2009

Skipping and whistling

It’s hot and cloudy and breezy, and I’m lethargic. I need to pick the strawberries, but somehow I think it would be good for Mr. Handsome to take a turn picking them. By letting him take a turn, I would be blessing him with the opportunity to see firsthand how our garden grows. No matter how many times I tell him that we have enough strawberries he still thinks that we don’t have an adequate crop. Spending a couple hours bent double in the patch might serve him well.

Or I could be nice and just do it myself. It’s not like I’m doing anything direly important. (Though writing is one of my saving graces—when I don’t have time to write, my mind shrivels and I start mumbling and drooling.)

Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll write out the recipe for strawberry pie. If I finish writing in time, I’ll go pick berries. If not, I’ll let Mr. Handsome do it. And I will be drool-free for the rest of the day.

The rest of you, however, might take up residency in Drool City once you see this pie. (Sorry. Though true, that wasn’t a very appetizing thing to say.)


I made two strawberry pies yesterday. I’m working to master that recipe that I twittered about. I first made the pie a couple days ago, right after tasting the pies that my sister-in-law made for us to feast on after we finished butchering our chickens. (I’m really striking out, aren’t I—bringing up drool and butchering in a post about pie. I hope this isn’t a bad omen.)

There are several things that make this pie stand out among all the other strawberry pies. First, the crust is a cinch to make and tastes like buttery shortbread. You press it into the pan with your fingers so there is no rolling involved, and it does not shrink at all. I have tried Deb’s no-shrink tart crust; it shrunk. I tried David’s melted butter pie crust; it did not taste good. I have tried lard crusts, cream cheese crusts, butter crusts, and basic oil crusts, and while they all have a place in my crust repertoire, this pastry has earned the staring position as The Perfect Recipe for Pre-Baked Pastry for a Fruit Tart. It is an oil-based crust (don’t be snobby), and Mr. Handsome, who is not a fan of pie crusts, raved—I am not exaggerating—about this one.


Second, the recipe calls for a mixture of cream cheese, whipped cream, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla to be spread on the pre-baked crust and up the sides. Besides tasting delicious, this cream filling serves to insulate the crust, protecting it from the juicy strawberries; the crust is still good as new on the second day (no strawberry pie ever lived longer than two days in our house, so I can’t tell you how the crust holds up after three or more days).


Third, the strawberry filling uses a juice from crushed, simmered berries that, once thickened, is stirred into the remaining sliced strawberries to create a juicy red strawberry filling. No food coloring, plus an intensified strawberry flavor.


Fourth, whipped cream is mounded on top. You can’t go wrong where whipped cream is involved. Period.

This is not a simple pie to make. It’s easy, yes, but as you can see it has numerous different steps (and dirties quite a few bowls, though they are quite easy to wash), but once you get a feel for the different components, you can skip through the steps, whistling merrily as you measure and pour and beat and fold. Furthermore, all the different parts of the pie can be made in advance and assembled last minute. Case in point: a couple days ago I made the strawberry filling and yesterday I made the crust, whipped cream, and cream cheese filling. I stored everything in the fridge (the crust in the jelly cupboard) and this morning I slapped it all together, Miss Becca Boo running out to the garden to pluck me one fat strawberry for the garnish.

Doubling the recipe is smart because once you taste the pie you’ll wish you had more.

Fresh Strawberry Cream Pie
Slightly adapted from my sister-in-law’s recipe.

4 ½ cups fresh strawberries, divided
1 cup water
½ cup, plus 2-4 tablespoons, sugar, divided
3 tablespoons Clear Gel (the cook-type)
4 ounces cream cheese
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla, divided
1 9-inch no-shrink, pre-baked pastry crust (recipe follows)
1 1/2 cups whipping cream (you'll need 2 ample cups of whipped cream)

For the strawberry filling:
Wash, cap, and slice the strawberries. Mash one cup of the strawberries and place in a small saucepan along with the cup of water. Bring the berry mash to a boil and simmer, with the lid off, for two minutes. Strain the berries, saving the liquid and discarding the strawberry pulp. Put the juice back in the small saucepan.

In a small bowl combine the sugar and Clear Gel. Add a little of the strawberry juice till you have a smooth paste. Stir the paste into the pan of juice (this process of pre-mixing the sugar and Clear Gel and “tempering” the dry ingredients helps to prevent clumping). Cook the juice, stirring constantly, till clear and thick. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Add the cooled, thickened juice to the remainder of the sliced strawberries and stir to coat well. Put the berries in an airtight container and chill in the fridge. (It is best to use these the same day you make them, but I have made them as many as two days in advance and they still tasted fine.)

For the whipped cream:
Place the heavy cream in a large mixing bowl, along with 2-4 tablespoons of sugar and ½ teaspoon of vanilla. Whip until stiff peaks have formed. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the cream cheese filling:
In a mixing bowl, cream together the cream cheese, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla. Add one half of the whipped cream: beat in a little using the electric mixer, and then fold in the rest. Refrigerate until ready to use (will keep for several days in the refrigerator).

To assemble:
Spread the cream cheese filling evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pie crust. Spread the strawberry filling over cream cheese filling, but not over the top edge of the cream cheese filling. Spread the whipped cream over the strawberry filling, leaving a quarter-inch of the strawberry filling visible. Garnish with fresh strawberries, if desired.

Store, uncovered, in the refrigerator.

No-Shrink Tart Crust

1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup oil, such as canola
2 tablespoons milk

Combine the dry ingredients and stir. Add the wet ingredients and stir till combined.

Press the dough into a 9-inch pie plate, working it up the sides with your fingers and forming a ridge at the top. When the dough is spread evenly over the plate and there are no cracks or holes, crimp the edge. Prick the sides and bottom of the crust with a fork, about twenty jabs.

Bake the crust at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Watch it carefully once the crust starts to brown—it can go from golden brown to scorched in the wink of an eye. Allow the crust to cool to room temperature before filling. You can store it, uncovered in a cupboard, at room temperature for a day, or wrap it well and store it in the freezer for several months.

3 comments:

  1. if you have too many berries you should put up a sign "pick your own" and charge people for them!!!:) you're killing me with these pies! and desserts.. and all that DAIRY!!!! aggggg! Your kids must LOVE you:)

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  2. May I suggest that instead of most of the first two paragraphs of instruction about the strawberry filling, you could simply (after washing, capping and slicing) put the 1 cup each berries & water, 1/2 cup sugar, 3 T. Clear Jel right into the blender, puree and then pour into pot to thicken. This makes a delicious and intensely flavored sauce for your filling. Doesn't probably save any dishwashing, but definitely saves time.

    I made a strawberry sauce (for topping vanilla pudding and chocolate cake) using this method and it was marvelous and beautiful as well.

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  3. Kris, I tried your strawberry sauce adaptation. I found it gives the pie a little more of a "cooked strawberry" flavor, and is less clear and light. While my first choice is the strained strawberry sauce, the other option is still quite good. Thanks!

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