Fresh strawberry pie is a dessert you will make again and again. Once you’ve made one, you will have the most exhilarating sense of accomplishment, because it’s a gorgeous, shiny pie and so delicious. Even if you don’t bake often, this recipe will make you feel like you have serious kitchen chops– the word ‘prowess’ comes to mind– because it is straightforward and has very few, fairly basic steps. A child can help you place the whole berry layer or crush the berries for sauce. And, if your pie comes out a little extra-saucy (please refer to the picture at the very bottom of this post), it doesn’t matter one bit. In fact, I kind of like it soupy/saucy. I have nothing against baked strawberry pie, but I will choose a slice of this ten times out of ten if given a choice between the two. It’s bright, sweet and silky and the simple preparation makes an already wonderful fruit shine. In the summer, when berries are plentiful but the idea of running the oven for an hour or more is less than desirable, this is your answer.
To make a fresh strawberry pie, you will need very fresh, flavorful fruit. With no baking to caramelize sugars and a simple, spice- and fuss-free ingredient list, if the berries don’t taste good, neither will your pie. Pass up the fruit that’s white inside and hard enough to bounce off the grocery store floor, and don’t wait for the seedier, slightly winy fruit common at the end of the season– they don’t work here. When you find good berries in the local market, farmstand, u-pick field or, if you’re lucky, backyard patch, set aside a few pounds for your pie. The crust can be a traditional flaky one, baked ahead and cooled, or made with graham crackers or cookies. The rest of the ingredients are probably in your pantry now: sugar, water, cornstarch and salt. Normally I offer suggestions of spices, herbs or other fruits you might add, but here I will encourage you to stay simple, at least for your first pie. It is so perfectly good without additions.
If you’re patient with the cooking and chilling steps, your fresh strawberry pie will set up beautifully and stand clean and tall on the serving plate. I am not always patient, but the pie always tastes so good I don’t mind. I’ll eat my piece with a spoon and smile anyway. Perhaps the only drawback is that this pie doesn’t keep long; you can usually get away with one overnight in the fridge, well-wrapped with plastic or in a pie keeper, but it’s definitely one to make the day you intend to serve. Otherwise, you may have to eat more than one piece of fresh strawberry pie, to ensure none goes to waste.
Fresh Strawberry Pie
- 1 9″ pie crust, traditional flaky or cookie or graham cracker, baked and cooled*
- about 2 lbs. fresh, hulled strawberries
- 1 c. sugar
- pinch of kosher salt
- 1/2 c. cold water
- 3 T. cornstarch
- whipped cream to serve (optional)
First, sort out your pie crust. You can’t do anything without it ready. When it’s cool (or unwrapped), you can begin building your pie.
Next, a note on strawberries. When I most recently made this pie, I measured strawberries carefully so I could give a precise idea of how many to use, and found that 2 lbs. was pretty accurate, and that I used exactly half in the base layer and half in the sauce. Two pounds is approximately 4 c., just shy of two quarts or four pints. (Depending where you buy it, if the fruit is even with the top of the box or rounded, a quart box holds 1 to 1 1/2 lbs. of strawberries; a pint box is half a quart.) The beauty of a fresh strawberry pie is that it can use a little more or a little less depending on the berries you have. Be flexible and don’t worry about exact numbers, at least with the berries.
For the base layer, you need fresh, hulled, whole berries, about a pound. Wash them only if they are muddy; you don’t want the excess moisture to sog up your crust. Begin placing the fruit in rings, looking for similar-sized berries; I prefer medium-sized berries for this purpose. They don’t have to be packed in, but should be placed closely. You can cut larger berries in half if you want, to help fill gaps. You can make a second layer in the middle, kind of a pyramid, but I usually keep my pie flat. Here’s how my base layer looked:
Now it’s time to make the sauce. In a medium saucepan, add the remaining berries, about a pound (slightly more or less is fine), and use a potato masher or fork to crush them. You want to leave some larger chunks but achieve the consistency of a thick puree. Stir in the sugar and salt. In a small bowl, stir the cornstarch into cold water until you have a white slurry; add to the berry puree and mix. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens, turns from cloudy pink to shiny red, and comes to a boil. (Be careful– the sauce can get messy as it bubbles, and it burns if it splashes your hand.) Lower the heat slightly and cook, continuing to stir, for two full minutes; this activates the thickening properties of the cornstarch. Remove from the heat and immediately pour or ladle the hot sauce over the whole berry layer. Work carefully but deliberately to cover the whole berries evenly with sauce. Move your fresh strawberry pie to the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. Remove about thirty minutes before serving; garnish with whipped cream if you like. This pie is best the day you make it but will keep for a day or so tightly-wrapped or in a pie keeper.
*Use a crust you like to eat. It does not have to be homemade; you can buy a frozen pie crust and bake according to package directions or find a pre-made cookie or graham crust in the baking aisle. If you are making from scratch, follow your recipe’s instructions for blind-baking, making sure the crust is cooked thoroughly, and then cool completely. For me, for a traditional pastry crust, that means 20 mins. at 425 degrees with pie weights (dry beans) and then an additional 5 mins., without the weights, to brown. I cool for 30 mins. at room temperature before continuing. Click here for more information on blind-baking from The Kitchn.