Summer on a plate strawberry pie

So it’s still not particularly warm out.

But when I stand in my kitchen, the sunlight streaming through the window, it at least looks like summer today.

And if you make this pie, your kitchen will smell like summer.

Look. Smell. We’re two senses of the way there!

Seriously, this pie will make your kitchen smell like strawberry fields.

I know we made cookies yesterday. And yes, we still have cookies left. But it’s a holiday weekend. So let there be gluttony!

Though, this pie is loaded with fruit, so it’s really good for you.

Before I get into the strawberry, summery goodness of this pie, I need to talk to you about the crust.

I know.

There are so many pre-made crust options at the store.

And I know, who has time to make pie crust?

1. It’s a holiday weekend, so you have the time.

2. This crust is faster than you think.

3. You will make this and you will understand. There is no store bought crust that compares.

This is my Grandma Helen’s pie crust.

I first learned to make this when I was trying to recreate her famous banana cream pie.

That’s right. Famous.

You never heard of Grandma Helen’s banana cream pie?

Go to Delaware. Ask anyone from my dad’s neighborhood. Ask anyone from our family. Ask any kid who grew up with any one of my Grandma Helen’s 6 kids.

That’s right. 6 kids.

My dad is the oldest boy and the second oldest kid of 6.

My grandmother had 6 children. And no dishwasher.

God bless her.

Her banana cream pie is probably her most-loved recipe. With her cinnamon rolls the probable second. I’ve never tackled those though. I read the recipe once and realized that it’d make like 4 dozen. Makes sense, considering her family of 8 often brought friends over. But I don’t think my itty bitty city kitchen can handle 48 cinnamon rolls. So until I have the whole family coming over for brunch, or until I figure out how to cut down the recipe, I will leave those to my aunt.

The reason the pie is so good (besides the butter, egg and vanilla filled homemade pudding) is very simple.

The crust.

A good pie crust is hard to come by. You may think you had a slice of pie with a good crust at a diner, but most of the time it’s a little too underdone, or a little too dry or a little to bland.

This is good pie crust.

I actually have the recipe for it hanging on the wall.

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For the crust you will need

  • 1 stick butter, cold and cubes
  • 1.5 cups flour
  • .5 tsp. salt
  • 4-6 tablespoons ice cold water

The key to the crust is cold butter and cold water.

Now, a note on the water.

The women in my family, on all sides of my family, are bossy and stubborn.

My grandmother is no exception. The recipe reads, and I quote “4-6 tablespoons cold water (always use 4)”

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I laugh every time I read it.

4-6 but always use 4. Also known as, grandma knows best, or do it my way or else.

(My grandmother passed away 3 years ago. And every time I make this recipe I pray she isn’t looking. I have to use 6 tablespoons. It must be drier in the city than it is in Delaware.)

Preheat oven to 400.

Combine the flour, butter and salt. You can use a pastry cutter or your hands. Or you can use yia-yia’s ancient cuisinart. I went with this option so I could have a grandma from each side in the kitchen with me. There’s no way this pie could be bad with two grandmas helping. (There’s also no way anything that starts with a stick of butter could be bad.)

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Pulse or combine until butter forms pea-sized clumps.

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Add the cold water (start with 4 tablespoons, stir then add more if necessary) and combine until the dough forms a ball.

Turn out the dough onto a well-floured counter. Divide the dough in half and roll each half into a ball.

This recipe will give you two 9 inch pie crusts, so enough for 2 open-faced pies or one pie with a top. The beauty of this crust is its versatility, Pies and tarts of course. But since there’s no sugar, it easily goes savory for quiche.

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You can wrap one ball in plastic and refrigerate for 2 days or freeze up to 3 months.

Roll out one of the dough balls.

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Be patient with the dough. Don’t fight it. Just take your time and don’t be too concerned with making a perfect circle. Homemade pies never look perfect. They look rustic, and homemade and delicious.

Now. You may be thinking, patient? I thought you don’t have patience?

I don’t.

But my boyfriend does.

So he rolled out the dough and put it into the pie pan.

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Bake for 10-12 minutes. Grandma says 10-12. She doesn’t give an exact time on this one.

While the crust bakes, it’s time to get started on the filling. I promise I will share the banana cream pie secret filling recipe to you, but not right now. Right now, it’s all about the strawberries.

For the filling you will need:

  • 1 pint + 1 handful of strawberries washed and hulled
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Slice the strawberries. The pint will go into the pie sliced. The handful will be used to make a strawberry jam-like sauce. Most recipes call for strawberry jello or a packet of gelatin, but I wanted a more natural alternative.

Set aside the sliced strawberries until the crust is cooled.

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Take the remaining handful of strawberries and toss in a blender or food processor and blend.

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Pour this vibrant strawberry sauce into a small pot along with the water, sugar and cornstarch.

Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly until the sauce bubbles and thickens.

This is where your kitchen will smell like a strawberry field.

Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Toss the strawberry slices into the cooled crust.

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Then pour the sauce over, shaking the pan to get the sauce into all the nooks and crannies.

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Pop the pie in the fridge. You’re going to want to refrigerate this pie for a good 4-5 hours before serving. Trust me. This is one of those pies you want to be icy cold.

You can stop here. But who would want to?

This pie is begging for whipped cream.

Pour some powdered sugar and some heavy cream in a bowl.

Tip: stick the bowl and the whisk or beaters in the freezer for a couple minutes.

I know I just said pour some sugar and some cream in a bowl. I didn’t give you measurements.

Whipped cream is a matter of personal taste. We like it more on the cream side with just a hint of sweetness. You may want it really sweet. You might just have to pour and whip and taste and repeat to get the ratio you want.

Whip the mixture into stiff peaks.

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Spread the whipped cream over the pie. Make sure the pie is cooled down before you add the whipped cream, otherwise it will all just melt together.

Add a few sliced strawberries on top so everyone knows what’s inside.

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Slice.

Eat.

Enjoy.

Summer on a plate.

The Essentials: Part 1, Mission Dessert – pantry staples and shortbread

Yesterday’s emergency made me realize something. I had been so excited to start telling you about the wonderful and delicious food you can make in your tiny kitchen, that I forgot to go over some basics.

We covered kitchen equipment, but I completely left out pantry staples.

If I didn’t have a well-stocked cabinet and fridge, I would have had to make a stop at the store (which I didn’t have time to do) or, worse, a stop at the bakery. Now, we have a fantastic bakery near our apartment. But 1. I couldn’t bare the thought of ordering takeout pizza AND giving ┬ámy guests store bought baked goods, no matter how homemade they may taste and 2. while our bakery is probably one of the cheapest in Manhattan and the occasional cupcake or banana pudding for two doesn’t break the bank, the cost adds up when you’re getting into the dozen zone.

I break my pantry into two categories, dessert staples and quick dinner staples. I’m going to start with dessert staples for now and then cover dinner in another post. But some of these things, like butter, eggs, vegetable oil and heavy cream really live in both worlds.

So, here are the things I keep on hand so I can always whip up some sort of a dessert.

  • Box cake mix
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Baking Soda
  • Baking Powder
  • vanilla
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Heavy cream
  • Chocolate (I prefer bar over chips because bars melt more easily due to stabilizers in chips and you can easily chop up the bar to use as chunks in cookies. I like to get one item that can do double duty instead of two when I can.)
  • vegetable oil

I know eggs, heavy cream and butter have shorter shelf lives than the other items. But, if you’re like us, you always have eggs on hand. I make egg sandwiches to take for lunch, he makes eggs on Sunday mornings and eggs find their way into dinner at least once during the week. Butter lasts in the fridge for a while. Or can be frozen.

I go for unsalted butter always. It’s better for baking and if I am going to use it in my cooking, I’d prefer to have complete control over the salt content. Only child. Control issues.

Heavy cream may seem like the only odd ball thing to have. But I end up using it more than you’d think. Adding creaminess to soup, a splash to a smoothie for some richness, and who doesn’t love some homemade whipped cream on ice cream or cake or a brownie?

It may seem like a lot to buy flour and baking soda and baking powder, but it will just be the initial stock up purchase that will hit your wallet hard. Baking soda and powder last me a good six month or more. Flour can go for a few months before needing a restock.

Chocolate never lasts. Ever.

It may seem like a pain to buy all of this stuff, but I promise you, it’s worth it.

With the above ingredients, you can whip up cupcakes or a cake with homemade butter cream frosting, cupcakes or a cake with a homemade and oh-so-fancy-shmancy-but-secretly-super-easy chocolate ganache, shortbread cookies, shortbread cookies dunked in chocolate ganache, chocolate chip shortbread cookies, ┬ásugar cookies, glazed sugar cookies, chocolate dipped sugar cookies, a cake or cupcakes with a glaze… oh, and of course, yesterday’s emergency whoopie pies!

Yup. All that. From those 11 ingredients.

There’s more too, but that’s what comes to mind because those are the things in my arsenal.

The easiest one really, and the one I’ve found to be the biggest crowd-pleaser, is shortbread.

It is so deceptively simple.

It tastes like you’ve spent hours slaving away.

It also tastes like you will need to spend hours slaving away in the gym.

Only the latter is true.

Ready?

  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 4 oz sugar
  • 10 oz flour
  • (1 oz corn starch- the recipe calls for it, but I’ve left it out and they taste fine. I have it on hand for thickening soups or for making puddings, but don’t panic if you don’t and if you know you will never use it again)

Preheat oven to 300

Cream together the sugar and the butter.

When smooth, stir in the flour.

Press into a round or square greased baking tin. I use my square pan I use for brownies.

Prick holes in the top with a fork.

Bake for one hour.

Cut into squares upon removal from oven, when shortbread is still soft.

Place the bars on a plate to cool.

Your kitchen will smell like butter. And warm sugar.

Your defenses will be down.

You will be worried about whether your aunt will notice the dust on the TV, or if your boyfriend’s grandma will judge you for ordering mezze from the middle eastern restaurant down the street instead of spending the day in the kitchen making hummus and babaganoush and lamb kebabs (you had to work!) or if you can crack open the bottle of wine and pour yourself a glass without anyone noticing how much liquid has gone missing….

But then you will look at your shortbread squares arranged daintily on the plate.

And you will realize that no one will notice if one of those has gone missing.

Butter and sugar will dissolve in your mouth.

And all will be right with the world.