Thursday, May 5, 2011

PIE #23 - Fresh Strawberry Pie

Ah, strawberries! Their seasonal debut on produce shelves is a sure harbinger of spring. After a long winter of heavy comfort foods, my palate craves light fruity flavors. A fresh strawberry pie will surely rustle my taste buds out of their long winter hibernation.

After enjoying the ease of crumb crust recipes for the past three pies, I once again tackle the rolled pastry crust, this time with an unusual added ingredient - vodka. Apparently alcohol adds moistness to pie dough without aiding in gluten formation, since gluten doesn't form in alcohol. I was impressed with such a scientific explanation but even more impressed with the end result. The crust was super flaky and flavorful and held up beautifully against the moist berry filling. Don't be alarmed that the dough seems too sticky. It rolls out easily between sheets of wax paper if you dust it well with flour.

When researching strawberry pies, I discovered that the filling runs the risk of being too soupy or too stiff. I imagine Goldilocks sampling various strawberry pies and proclaiming, "This pie is TOO goopy! This pie is TOO spongy!" I happened upon the perfect filling recipe that Goldilocks would deem "just right".

Instead of using gelatin or cornstarch exclusively which is to blame for the goopy and soupy texture extremes, this recipe uses cornstarch and pectin together resulting in the perfect consistency.

Make sure to avoid underripe strawberries and try to find berries uniform in size. I kept most of the berries whole and halved only the larger ones. Neatly slicing a pie filled with whole berries, however, is challenging. No need to fret, even if you're serving the pie to a fussy Goldilocks. Just camouflage the imperfections with globs of freshly whipped cream. Taste buds won't care if the pie doesn't slice up into a picture perfect wedge!

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 slices
1/4 cup chilled vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
2 tablespoons ice cold vodka
2 tablespoons ice water

Process 3/4 cup flour, salt, and sugar together in food processor until combined. Add butter and shortening and process until dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 10 seconds. Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add 1/2 cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl. Empty mixture into a medium bowl.

Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Flatten dough into a 4-inch disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out to a 12-inch circle between two sheets of wax paper. Place dough onto 9-inch pie pan, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Gently press dough into pan and fold overhang under itself, flush with the pie pan edge. Crimp the dough edge to flatten against rim of pie pan. Refrigerate crust until firm, about 15 minutes.

Remove pie crust from refrigerator, line with foil, and fill with pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights, reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees, prick crust with tines of fork, and bake for 10-15 minutes longer until crust is golden brown and crisp. Cool to room temperature.

4 pints (about 3 pounds) fresh strawberries, rinsed, dried and hulled
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons Sure-Jell fruit pectin for low sugar recipes
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 cup heavy whipped cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Select 1 1/2 cups berries and process in food processor to a smooth puree. You should have about 3/4 cup puree. Whisk sugar, cornstarch, Sure-Jell, and salt in medium saucepan. Stir in berry puree, making sure to scrape corners of pan. Cook over medium-heat, stirring constantly. Bring to a full boil and continuing cooking for 2 more minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in lemon juice. Cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, add remaining berries to cooled puree mixture. Make sure to halve large berries. Gently fold with rubber spatula until berries are evenly coated. Scoop berries into pie shell. If any cut sides of berries face up, turn them face down. Arrange berries into an even mound. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 3 hours.

When ready to serve, whip heavy cream until soft peaks form. Add sugar and almond extract and whip until stiff peaks form. Spread whipped cream on top of pie.

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