As much as I love baking with ripe summer berries, I really do think strawberries are at their very best served simply. My favorite way to enjoy them is to sprinkle them with a little bit of sugar, let them macerate in their juices for an hour or so and then eat them just like that with a fork. If I’m feeling extra motivated, I’ll bake fresh shortcakes to serve as the base for the macerated berries and then top it all with a big dollop of whipped cream. Summer doesn’t get much better than that for me.
It probably won’t come as a shock, then, that this fresh strawberry pie has been on my to-do list ever since the issue of Cook’s Illustrated arrived in my mailbox. It’s not your typical fruit pie – the berries aren’t sandwiched between two crusts and baked for an hour (or more) until their juices are bubbling. Nope, this pie is all about letting the best strawberries that summer has to offer shine. The idea is really simple – a few of the strawberries are pureed and cooked on the stove top with sugar and thickeners to create a jam-like glaze that coats the remaining berries and allows them to set in the pie shell so slices can be cut. The hardest part of the recipe may well be hulling 3 pounds of strawberries It’s a gorgeous pie –whole, bright red berries mounded and glistening in a golden pie crust; it was so pretty I almost didn’t want to cut into it. I did, of course, and loved the result. The flavor wasn’t all that different from the macerated berries I enjoy so much, and the addition of flaky pie crust is never a bad thing. Shane’s dad took the pie off my hands to share with his co-workers within just a few hours of my finishing it. Probably for the best, or else I could have done some serious damage.
If you scan the ingredient list for this recipe you’ll notice that it’s pretty short, but there may be one item you’re not familiar with – Sure-Jell, which is pectin (a thickener commonly used in jams) and acts, in combination with the cornstarch, to ensure the pie sets up perfectly. I found it in my grocery store near the pudding/jello section, and fortunately it was pretty cheap (I think around $2). Be sure to grab the pink box (as opposed to the yellow – the pink is for low/no-sugar recipes); the glaze won’t set up properly if you use the yellow.
Fresh Strawberry Pie
from Cook’s Illustrated
4 pints (about 3 pounds) fresh strawberries, hulled
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons Sure-Jell (see info above)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 9-inch pie shell, baked and cooled
Choose 6 oz of berries that are underripe or misshapen. Halve them. Add the berries to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until smoothly pureed, stopping to scrape down the bowl once or twice. You’ll have about ¾ cup puree.
Add the sugar, cornstarch, Sure-Jell and salt to a medium saucepan and whisk to combine. Add the puree to the pan and stir to incorporate using a heatproof rubber spatula. Set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 2 minutes (this ensures that the cornstarch is fully cooked), continuing to stir and scrape the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching. Transfer the mixture to a large, heatproof bowl and stir in the lemon juice. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
From the remaining berries, choose 2 pounds that are the most ripe and nicely shaped (you will have some berries leftover). If any of those berries are really large, halve them, but otherwise leave them whole.
Add the berries to the bowl containing the cooled glazed, and gently stir with a rubber spatula until the berries are evenly coated. Transfer the berries into the pre-baked pie shell, mounding them in the center. Turn the berries so any cut sides face down, and rearrange as necessary to fill any gaps or holes. Refrigerate the pie until chilled, about 2 hours. The pie is best if served within 5 hours of chilling. The longer the pie is chilled, the softer and wetter the glaze gets, though the pie will still taste good!