A couple of years ago, when we went strawberry picking, we were dreaming of all of the things that we would make with them. Oscar was very specific about wanting strawberry pie. I had made cherry pie, blueberry pie, peach pie, lots and lots of other pies. But never strawberry pie.
"Um, Oscar, how about a nice strawberry tart?"
"No, it should be a pie."
"Well, a pie is like a tart, just no top."
"No, it should be a pie, just like a blueberry pie, with a top."
Okay, then, pie. I gave it a go. I have lost track of how many strawberry pies I have now made. I tried several with two crusts, some with ground nuts, some with ricotta. But I wasn't happy with the color, texture, flavor. There was always something. I finally decided that the top crust just wasn't going to work. The steaming of the strawberries just made them lose their vibrant color and cooked them too much.
So this year when we gave it a try, I decided to leave off the top. I still made it like a pie, deep, in a pie plate, but left off the top. I kept some of the berries uncooked and made others into a syrup. Again, we've given it a few tries. Our last attempt, the pie still didn't set as firmly as I would have liked.
But here's the thing. Oscar loved it. And it was delicious. Just not perfectly set. In fact, I think Oscar loved all of these pies, and we have had a great time making them together. The last pie we made, Oscar helped me every step of the way, and even took over the naming. "I'm going to say 'tasty'. You've got to make it sound good!"
So, even though it's not perfect, I'm going to share this recipe with you. Because sometimes, the planning and the making are more important than the end result. And perfection isn't the point. Getting into the kitchen, spending time with one (or more!) of my children, that's what I love and what I want to remember.
We'll keep at it, though, until strawberry season is over, and I'd love to hear your ideas for tweaking this recipe. I promise I'll come back and update the recipe when I get it perfect. If we ever do.
And just in case you were keeping track of the pie versus tart conversation, Oscar was not fooled by this recipe. I thought maybe he'd forget about that conversation we had a couple of years ago about the top of the pie, but when he realized that we weren't going to cook it after we poured in the berries in syrup, he hesitated. "But I wanted a pie, not a tart!"
Then he remembered that there was a bit of dough left from the bottom crust, and pulled it out of the refrigerator. We decided to shape it and place it on the top. Not quite a double crust pie, but enough to make him happy. And, really, that's what I'm after.
Oscar's Tasty and Juicy Strawberry Pie
45 minutes preparation time
35 minutes baking time, plus a few hours for chilling
for the crust:
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 stick cold, unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
2-4 tablespoons cold water
for the filling:
10 cups whole strawberries, stems removed, divided
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
If you are making the dough by hand, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, and lemon zest. Add the butter and mix it into the flour mixture quickly with your fingers until it ranges in size from tiny pebbles to cornmeal.
If you prefer to use a food processor, add all the ingredients except the butter and water into the food processor bowl and pulse a few times. Add the butter and pulse a few more times until the butter is broken into small pieces, ranging in size from cornmeal to tiny pebbles. Turn the flour mixture into a large bowl.
Add 2 tablespoons of cold water and mix with a fork or your hands. If the dough does not hold together after you have mixed in the water, add one additional tablespoon of water at a time until it does. Form the dough into a ball with your hands. Flatten the dough into a disk and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap.
Chill the dough for at least 15 minutes and up to a couple of days.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll it out on lightly floured plastic wrap or parchment paper. Roll the dough until it is about 2 inches larger than the diameter of the pie plate. Drape the dough over the rolling pin and transfer it to the pie plate. Push the dough down into the sides of the pie plate until it fits snugly. Trim any dough that hangs over the edge with scissors. Remove any excess dough. Pop any excess into the refrigerator to make a shape for the top, if you like.
Place a piece of foil over the dough in the tart pan. Press the foil into the pan so that it sits tightly on top of the dough. Fill the pie plate with pie weights or dried beans. Bake the crust for 25 minutes. Remove the weights and the foil and bake until the crust is lightly brown, about another 7 minutes.
While the crust is cooking, make the filling. Reserve about two dozen perfect berries for the top. Halve or quarter the remaining berries, depending on their size. In a small pot, gently mash 2 cups of the berries with the lemon juice, sugar, and cornstarch. Simmer over medium heat until the mixture thickens and the cornstarch is clear, about 5 minutes. Set it aside (in the refrigerator or freezer) to cool to room temperature.
With the exception of the two dozen perfect berries, spread the remaining berries into the pie crust. Pour the cooled strawberry mixture over the top. Slice the remaining two dozen berries in half lengthwise and arrange them over the top of the pie in a circular pattern. Chill for at least two hours until firm.