Well it’s the end of strawberry season here, so I had to do this guy while I still had the chance.
Strawberry Pie isn’t exactly one of the desserts one might consider or recognize in French cuisine; for good reason, as the strawberry doesn’t seem to have much role or presence in the culinary history. Though they may have used it as trade routes and transportation abilities grew more and more, but never has it boosted itself to the oft-reached for French loved ingredients like apples and figs.
So then what’s it doing in this selection?
Truthfully, I don’t know ALL the details. People just don’t want to think too much about this dessert it seems, which I guess fits into one of the recent origins in a unique way. For in most of my delving into recipe and history, a commonality I keep seeing is this dessert being referred to as “1970’s French Strawberry Pie.” Interesting, as I don’t remember French cuisine making any decade declarations with its food, especially the more recent ones, followed by one of the strangest things I’d never thought I’d come across in this adventure: Cream Cheese. Yes, as I was to discover, this “classic” dessert is mainly known for covering the bottom with a thick layer of sugar and mass-packaged soft curd. I must of skipped over that page when we covered French Cuisine and History in class.
Or, more likely, this leads back to the American 70’s, and earlier periods, in the time of Jello molds and TV Dinners, when cream cheese was mixed with all manner of things to create “amazing” desserts and centerpieces for the very popular dinner parties. From my recollection, it was also a habit at the time to add various descriptors, often of ‘origin,’ to impress those consuming these… ‘foods.’ (Should look some of it up, it’s amazing the things they made… not always in a good way) Thus is was likely someone attached the name “French” in a recipe book, likely mass-produced, and the dessert spread through various US households at the time.
So then, is it really a French dessert? In this version, no. But that’s not to say it wasn’t at one point inspired by traditional French tarts. Only they’ve swapped the Pastry Cream for cream cheese, the delicate glaze on top with a thick pile of jelly (practically turns it into a filling), and used a fruit more popular in the US. Oh, and likely used a different pie dough. So I think it’s only right, as a couple other online enthusiasts have done, to honor the basis of this recipe with some of the original French flairs, but shaped into the standard American shell with generous servings (seriously, I may have loaded up on a bit too much pastry cream… not that there really is a thing like that). Viva la France.
Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner
Just to get it off the bat, dough-of-choice for this round of dessert I’ve decided is Pate Brisee. Its intrigue popped up in a search for a proper “French” pie dough, being somewhat similar except for the use of Milk. That and other slight differences results in a great pre-baked crust that many equate to as “sorta like a cookie.” Sounds yummy to me.
To fill this cookie, considering how absolutely simple and berry-forward this dish is (no fruit cooking required), one can really only use the BEST strawberries ever. That means either getting your hands on the highly rare and seasonal Wild strawberry pickers or, almost as good, getting the good stuff from local farmer’s market in Mid-Summer. They’ve always been the highlight of the year when our market comes out, I couldn’t think of a better time to use this product and make this pie.
Pastry Cream Schematics are interestingly complex, highly debatable, and just plain a chore for those trying to find the “perfect” recipe. As such, like my little endeavors in using different crusts, I like trying out different recipes every now and then just for the heck of it. For this one I played with the idea of flour vs starch, the concept that each has a positive and negative aspect and that an “ideal” result comes in using a combination of both. One recipe had a 2:1 ratio of starch to flour, which I applied to a tasty, creamy looking crème patissiere I found. If you have your own favorite pastry cream recipe, or just wanna try the first one that looks tasty, go ahead with that one.
As for the Vanilla, this is one of those cases where the dish is beautifully simple but delicious enough that I find using an actual vanilla bean, if you have some and are looking for GOOD dishes to use in (without being overshadowed), worth it. The ones I have, though, are either somewhat old or are just naturally quite firm and leathery; if you have similar, I find cutting it down the middle and leaving soak with your dairy overnight softens it up to make MUCH easier handling and scraping.
Finally, to end this long-winded rant, we need to talk a bit about Glazing. As with practically any proper French Tart or similar dessert, to make it look pretty and taste not a bit sweeter, we usually have to brush on a thin coating of some sorta glaze over the fruit before serving. There are a couple kinds of glazes we can use, and I’ve found no real restriction on them for this dish, especially considering its high US twisting. Often it’ll be something where one cooks strawberries and sugar (maybe some liquid), mashes, strains them, and then thickens the resulting mix with cornstarch. But one could easily use syrups, other starch-thickened juice, or heat up your favorite jelly (which seems a very classically rustic method, even in France I believe).
For MY glaze, I decided to do something special and use one of my favorite techniques. Cut some strawberries in half, piling them in a heat-safe bowl (having a thicker, layered pile of them really helps) and let them sit on a very low-heated double-boiler for at least an hour. After some time, the berries will soften and gray but will release the most pure, simple, and fruity strawberry juice you’ll ever see. Strain this off, then reheat over the boiler with some sugar to turn into a syrup (it’s not that sweet as-is), and we’re ready to sauce, glaze, you name it. So nummy.
- Cut steams from Strawberries and reserve some on the side, if desired, to make your preferred glaze.
- When ready, move to assemble pie. Cover bottom of the pre-baked Pate Brisee with Pastry Cream, about an inch thick or however much desired.
- Arrange whole berries, end up, on top, covering as much of the custard from sight as possible (best done with a second berry layer).
- Heat up glaze as needed and carefully brush over tops of the fruit. Move to fridge for everything to fully set, at least fifteen minutes.
- Remove, garnish with any desired meringue or whipped cream (great for filling in gaps), slice and serve.
1 Vanilla Bean
1 cup Cream
1 ½ cup Milk
1/3 cup Sugar
6 Egg Yolks
4 Tb Corn Starch
2 Tb Flour
2 oz/ ½ stick Cold Butter, chopped
- Slice Vanilla bean down the middle and scrape completely with back of knife to get as many seeds out as possible.
- Combine seeds, pod, Cream, and Milk in large sauce pan on stove, heating on Medium until Scalded, or about simmering (or hot to touch but not yet boiled).
- In bowl on side, thoroughly mix together the Yolks, Sugar, Corn Starch, Flour, and Salt, beating until pale yellow, smooth, and ribbony.
- Once hot, remove cream from stove, slowly pouring into the yolk mixture while whisking constantly to Temper. Remove leftover bean pods that have stayed on bottom of pan.
- Scrape custard back into pan and move to hot stove.
- Whisking constantly (or else it WILL burn and curdle), increasing speed the more it heats and thickens up, cook the custard until it has turned to a consistency somewhat softer than what you’re looking for.
- Take off heat, toss in Butter and continue whisking until melted.
- Quickly scrape custard into long and wide pan (loaf, brownie, etc). Cover with parchment paper and transfer to fridge to cool.
- Reserve for later use or spoon on top of fruit with whipped cream for simple and delicious instant dessert.
1 ¾ cup Flour
2/3 cup/5.3 oz/a bit over 1 1/8 stick Diced, Chilled Butter
2 tsp Sugar
1 Tb Cold Milk
- Combine Flour, Butter, Salt, Sugar, and Egg in bowl (or on countertop, however)
- Work butter into ingredients thoroughly with fingertips, pastry cutter, or done in a food processor, until ‘sandy’ in texture.
- Add Milk, mixing until everything comes together, adding more milk a tsp at a time if needed.
- Knead about 4-5 times, in hands or on surface. Flatten, wrap in plastic and chill in fridge until required.
- Turn oven to 400F.
- Cover counter and dough in flour, carefully rolling into a circle to fit the desired pie pan.
- Fold, transfer and tuck in. Cover with parchment and weigh down with beans or other pie weights.
- Move to oven and bake about 20 minutes, until edges are lightly golden (as they will likely cook and color faster than bottom, I suggest leaving the dough there thicker).
- Remove, let cool, and reserve for filling.
Oh wow, the Pate Brisee actually does taste like a cookie! Sorta sugar-cookie-ish, with a nice butter richness. I’m so keeping the recipe for future pre-baked dough requirements (it doesn’t work so well when baking with fillings, apparently, unless it’s able to go for a long time without too much liquid insides).
I think the pastry cream recipe I had used a LOT more starch than was really needed, also I probably should have reduced the amount of flour in the conversion, if not nixed it altogether, since it tasted a touch starchy for my liking (still omnomnom pastry cream, as it always is, but school made me finicky about it, damn them!). All together though, it tasted absolutely delicious, with rich custard and crunchy crust supporting our favorite farmer’s market product. The only way it could have been more perfect is if I could have piled even more berries on top for generous servings.
I might normally start off with Strawberry Wines and Liqueurs, but those are generally just so rich, dense, syrupy, fruit-forward, or otherwise overpowering for a dish which is actually very mellow, though fresh and bright, in flavors. If one had a strawberry Eau-de-Vie (distilled strawberries), on the other hand, that could work well; or any berry-based brandy. Then again, a young Apple Brandy (not Calvados, too barrel-y) could also serve quite well. Who doesn’t love apples and strawberries?
When I think berries nowadays, I think Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, and I think we can find some super fun drinkables there for something like this. For wine there are Mosel Rieslings, super sharp but still sweet Spatlese and Auslese where the Botrytis hasn’t shown yet (have to pick carefully though). A super-chilled glass of crystalline Aquavit with its refreshing caraway aromas. Then again, following the apple logic as before, a good, bubbly glass of Cider could do wonders when enjoying on the deck.