Strawberries may grace the supermarket produce aisle all year round, but the juicy, brightly colored varieties that come around in late May and June are almost a different species, altogether soft and delicate and needing to be devoured as quickly as possible. You can smell their floral, candylike aroma at the market before even laying eyes on them.
Still, all strawberries have a place in the kitchen. The key is to know which to use when. Out-of-season berries are great for baked pies and cakes, since cooking or macerating them concentrates their flavor. But those in-season beauties are best used gently, in applications that accentuate their essence with as little heat and manipulation as possible.
That's why, when strawberries are at their peak, it's time to make a fresh strawberry pie.
This one starts with an easy, press-in cookie crust. Using store-bought shortbread minimizes the amount of time the oven has to be on in the summer, and the buttery cookies create a pairing reminiscent of strawberry shortcake. Keep in mind that some brands of shortbread have more sugar than others and may require a little less sweetener in the crust mixture. Graham crackers or chocolate wafers would be nice, too.
Inside is simply a mixture of fresh, quartered strawberries and a quick jam of cooked strawberries, strawberry preserves and cornstarch. Some recipes rely on strawberry gelatin to hold it all together, but, here, real strawberry is the star: The preserves help bind the filling, while adding even more fruit flavor. A quarter-cup of cornstarch may seem like a lot, but you'll need it with those height-of-season gushers to ensure that the final dessert is sliceable. (Deep-dish fruit pies made with strawberries may taste good, but they can cascade like a burst dam when sliced.)
Finished with a cloud of lightly sweetened, freshly whipped cream, this pie is a sight to behold. All in all, its simplicity makes fresh strawberry pie so special. The fruit has been gussied up, but only enough to allow it to shine.
Fresh Strawberry Pie
This pie is a celebration of perfectly ripe, summertime strawberries. Only two cups of the berries are cooked down into a quick jam, which holds the rest of the fruit together for a delightfully fresh pie. With a crunchy shortbread crust and a cloud of freshly whipped cream, it's reminiscent of strawberry shortcake — but maybe even better.
Total time: 45 minutes, plus chilling
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
For the crust:
10 2/3 ounces shortbread cookies (two 5 1/3-ounce packages)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
2 1/2 pounds strawberries (8 to 10 cups), hulled
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons strawberry preserves
1/4 cup cornstarch
Pinch of kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
For the topping:
1 cup cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)
Prepare crust: Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, combine shortbread cookies, sugar, flour and salt, and blend until you have fine crumbs. Transfer crumbs to a medium mixing bowl. Add butter, and mix with a fork until crumbs are evenly moistened. Tip crumbs into a standard 9-inch pie plate, and press them in an even layer on the bottom and up the sides of the plate. Bake until golden brown and set, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
Prepare filling: Cut each of the strawberries in quarters or eighths, if they are large. Transfer 2 cups berries to a small saucepan, and crush completely with a potato masher. Set aside the remaining berries in a large bowl. Add the sugar, preserves, cornstarch, 1 tablespoon water and salt to the saucepan.
Bring strawberry mixture to a boil over medium heat, and then cook it an additional 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add strawberry mixture and lemon juice to the strawberries in the bowl, and stir to combine. Transfer to the prepared crust, and gently tap it down into an even layer. Transfer to the fridge to set for at least 4 hours.
Just before serving, whip cream, powdered sugar and vanilla, if using, to soft peaks. Top pie with whipped cream.