Strawberries were in season when I made this pie, but even more important than my strawberry obsession, I had a need to make a pie crust so I could get a photo of it (more on that a little further down). Given that rhubarb wasn’t gracing the grocery store shelves just yet and I couldn’t make my absolute favorite pie, strawberry cream pie seemed like a natural alternate choice.
Not wanting to be too boring, I had a few ideas to dress things up a bit. For instance, I’d recently read of an odd flavor combo that I was eager to try: strawberries and thyme. So I decided to incorporate both thyme and almonds into the pie crust and I’m very glad I did. The flavor was fantastic–buttery, rich, almondy, and the thyme was very distinct. I was honestly surprised by how nicely the almond and thyme enhanced one another and made the crust a force to be reckoned with. And the best part: how nicely it complimented the strawberries.
Since I wanted the pie to be light, I decided to make a strawberry pastry cream as the pie filling, decorated with more strawberries. At this time of year in Florida, its easy to find yourself with way too many strawberries in the fridge…or maybe its just me since I buy about 3 lbs at a time, lol. This was just the right lightness and delicate texture I was hoping for although I would probably add a bit more strawberry to the pastry cream (maybe macerated in balsamic) next go around to make the strawberry flavor a bit more pronounced. Also, check out how cleanly this pie slices. I tend to be a klutz in the pie slicing department, pulling out a slice as shapely as this brought a smile to my face.
- 1 all butter pie crust with some alterations
- 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup almonds
- 1.5 sticks butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
- 2-5 Tbsp ice water
- Strawberry Cream Filling
- Strawberry Compote
- 1/2 lb strawberries
- 1/8 cup sugar
- 6 egg yolks
- 1/2 cups sugar
- 4 Tbsp flour
- 4 Tbsp cornstarch
- 2.5 cups whole milk
- Optional: 1 vanilla bean
- Strawberry Compote
- 1/2 lb strawberries
- Optional: small dab of simple syrup or jelly (strawberry, orange, whatever) to glaze the top of the pie
There’s a possibility that I’ll be a (very small) part of a cookbook in the coming year (and yes, of course I will keep you posted!), and as a part of that, I was asked for an action photo of me baking. If that photo doesn’t look natural, I don’t really know what does. I mean don’t you just stare off smiling into space when you’re rolling out dough? No? Just me?
Anyways, my short lived cookbook/modeling career aside, begin by making the pie crust. The technique here is very much the same as making pate brisee (so for the exhaustive details if you’re a first timer, check out that link!).
Begin by cutting the butter into small chunks. Put this in the freezer for at least an hour to firm it up a bit.
Meanwhile, toast the almonds (free of shells, paper, etc) in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes. Grind them up with the fresh thyme leaves in your food processor. Add the sugar, salt, and flour. Pulse this until these are all well mixed. Since the almonds are hot, let this cool for a bit before you proceed.
With the butter hard and the flour cooled back down, get some ice water. Add the butter to the food processor and pulse briefly a few times to mix it, but not to make it a homogenous mixture. You want unevenly distributed butter. You want coarse, crumbly pea-sized dough. Now, one tablespoon at a time, add the ice cold water, pulsing briefly as you add it. Feel the dough between each addition. You want to be able to shape it without it just crumbling and falling apart in a dry, powdery mess, but you also want to add as little water as possible. You can always add more water later with ease. Taking it out isn’t so easy, so be conservative.
With the dough mixed, dump it out of the food processor and form a ball. Wrap this in plastic wrap and give it 30 minutes in the fridge to firm up a bit. Then, roll it out with a rolling pin (staring off into space, smiling…) out to roughly 1/8-1/4 inch thickness. Lay your pie plate over the dough, cut the dough roughly 1 inch larger than your plate and then drape this piece of dough over and into your pie plate. To do this so it looks nice and sexy, I like to put my pie plate on the dough upside-down (with a sheet of plastic wrap underneath the dough. Then, I pick the whole thing up using the plastic wrap from four corners, and in one quick confident flip, things are right-side up and I peel the plastic-wrap away, gently letting the dough settle into the pie plate.
Reform the leftover dough, roll it out, and repeat (or just wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and throw it in the freezer for another day). Yes, you have enough dough for two pie crusts (pies without a top layer of dough, that is).
Finally, for this recipe, you need to bake the crust blind. I personally never bother with baking beans and never seem to have much trouble. I like to let the crust rest in the fridge for at least another 30 minutes once I’ve gotten it into the plate, and then it goes straight into a 375°F oven for roughly 10 minutes. Once time is up, just let it cool down while you go about the rest of your business.
So with the crust out of the way, onto the pie filling. First, prepare the strawberry compote. This is very simple: hull and dice up the strawberries (don’t worry about them being pretty). Toss these with the sugar in a saucepan and set aside for 15 minutes. They’ll release a good bit of juice, at which point, you should simmer them over medium heat for 10-15 minutes to thicken things up a bit. Set this aside.
With that going on, prepare the pastry cream. This is something I’ve covered before and its a great thing to have in your arsenal since its delicious and simple to make (and easy to tweak for whatever your purpose…like a strawberry pie!).
In a saucepan, add the milk as well as a slit and scraped vanilla bean. Scald this and let it steep for an hour to infuse the milk with vanilla. Once time is up, remove the used vanilla bean and reheat the milk mixture over medium heat.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until lightened in color. Add the sugar and beat until ribbony, followed by the flour and cornstarch, working until well mixed.
Now, temper the egg yolk mixture with a bit of the hot milk, stirring constantly. Then transfer all of the yolk mix into the milk pan and whisk constantly over medium heat. Within a few minutes, the mixture should thicken up considerably. You’ll know the pastry cream is done cooking when you can stop stirring, wait ~5-10 seconds, and see large bubbles just begin to come up and breach the surface. Once you do, remove from heat and pour in the strawberry compote. Beat this well until evenly mixed into the pastry cream.
Pour this into your pie crust and smooth it out immediately (it will set somewhat quickly, so if it is unsightly and lumpy, it’ll stay that way).
Before the pastry cream totally sets, you’ll want to decorate with strawberries (so you can press them into the cream a little bit so they stay put). Simply hull the remaining 1/2 lb of strawberries and slice them up, arranging however looks attractive to you. There’s no rhyme or reason to this step and I am no authority on what looks good.
Finally, the last decorative flourish: glaze the strawberries. This step is kind of optional, but its so ridiculously easy, you shouldn’t skip it. All you do is warm up some syrup or jelly (anything that goes reasonably well with strawberries will do) and then lightly brush it over the strawberries on top. This gives the berries a nice sheen (important if you’re say, photographing them for a food blog you happen to run…in theory) and it keeps them looking fresh if you happen to have leftovers in the fridge for a little while.
With everything put together, you’ll probably want to give the pie a few hours in the fridge so the pastry cream can chill and totally firm up. Once it has, cut yourself a slice, and enjoy!