In our house, the berry is the king. Desi loves blueberries, I love raspberries, and we both adore strawberries. We blitz them into smoothies, add them to our breakfast oatmeal, and brown-bag them to work for a great after-lunch treat.
But despite our deep love for berries-- and for fruit pies-- I had never before baked up a berry pie (unless you count this Peach and Berry Cobbler). This weekend, with Thanksgiving just days away, I decided to remedy that.
My recipe for Strawberry Pie is a very simple one. I don't fuss around with mashing and macerating the berries first, as some recipes do, or with cooking all or some of the berries separately, as most recipes do. Instead, the procedure I follow is not unlike the one I use when I make my Apple Pie where I just put the fruit in the crust and bake it all up.
A few readers have recently asked me about using just Earth Balance or just shortening in pie crust recipes, instead of the 50-50 mix I usually use, and the answer is, yes, you can use only one or the other.
But do keep a few things in mind when you make an all-Earth Balance pie crust. The reason shortening is added to crusts is because it remains solid at room temperature even as you break it into small pieces and mix and disperse it within the dough. When you cook the crust in the oven, the small bits of shortening melt, creating air pockets in the dough that give you a flaky crust.
Butter substitutes like Earth Balance add great flavor to a crust but they melt at room temperature, so unless you work really fast and at really cold temperatures, the butter can melt into your dough as you are kneading it, not allowing for those little air pockets. There are some ways you can avoid this from happening: make sure you keep the butter substitute really, really cold all the way up until you add it to the flour. I cut up the sticks into small pieces and refrigerate them for about 15 minutes before adding them to the flour.
Also be sure to allow the dough to sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour before baking so the butter substitute has a chance to resolidify. Try to keep all your work surfaces as cold as possible, including the rolling pin (if you own a marble pin and had no idea what to do with it, this is the time to put it to work, because marble remains really cool).
If you happen to use Earth Balance, also remember not to add any more salt to the crust, because the Earth Balance sticks tend to be rather salty.
The crust for today's pie is made entirely with Earth Balance and as you can see it is very flaky and quite beautiful. Use any butter substitute you can find that has a butter-like consistency. Because I like a spice in my pie, I added some cardamom to this Strawberry Pie. Cardamom goes beautifully with the tart-sweetness of strawberries, and it rounds out the flavor of this pie really nicely without being too heavy.
I made the crust rather decorative by cutting little star shapes with a cookie cutter and arranging them on top of the strawberries. This is a fun crust to make and you can even customize it to your favorite shapes or for the seasons or, if you have kids, you can cut it into their favorite animal shapes. If you'd rather not, just roll out the dough, place it over the strawberries and crimp the edges. Remember to cut some slits on the upper crust before you bake it.
Or make a lattice top, like this Apple Tart.
For the crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks (16 tbsp) Earth Balance, cut into 1/4-inch cubes and refrigerated, about 15 minutes.
2 tbsp powdered sugar
Place all the ingredients except the water in a glass or steel bowl. Using a fork, mix the ingredients.
Then slowly drizzle the cold water, a tablespoon at a time, over the flour, mixing with the fork quickly until the dough starts to clear the sides of the bowl and comes together.
Divide the dough into half and place each half in cling wrap, shaping into a disc as you wrap.
Place both dough discs in the refrigerator for an hour at least or longer.
For the strawberry filling:
4 cups frozen strawberries (it's hard to measure strawberries into cups because of their shapes, but I'd say you should have about 9 medium-large strawberries in each cup)
1/4 cup sugar (use more if your strawberries are very tart, or if you like a sweeter pie)
1/2 tsp powdered green cardamom
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp lemon juice
Let the strawberries thaw to the point where they are no longer icy but can be cut into halves.
Cut into halves and place in a bowl. Mix in all the other ingredients and stir thoroughly.
Set aside for 15 minutes.
Putting your pie together:
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
Take one of the discs of dough and roll it out to about 12 inches, using as much flour as you need to keep it from sticking to the surface. Keep moving the dough as you roll it to ensure it does not stick.
Fold into half and lift into a 9-inch pie pan (regular, not deep-dish).
Unfold the dough and fit it into the pie pan. Fold any overhanging dough under itself so you have a neat-looking crust.
Pour the filling into the crust. Place the pie pan into the refrigerator while you prepare the top crust using the second disc of dough.
If you are making just a regular, covered pie, roll the disc out so it is slightly bigger than the diameter of the dish. Place on top of the pie dish and with your fingers or with a fork crimp the edges to seal them. Cut four slits at the top of the pie, preferably in a cross pattern.
If you are making a lattice crust, cut the dough into strips and then weave them into a lattice top following these instructions.
If you want to make a crust like the one I did, use a small cookie cutter in any shape (you can even use fun animal shapes if you have kids) to cut out little pieces of the dough. Keep them on a cold baking sheet while you cut out the others. Gather the scraps, roll out the dough, and cut more shapes until you have exhausted the dough.
Arrange the shapes on top of the strawberries in a decorative pattern-- I arranged them in concentric circles.
Sprinkle 1 tbsp of sugar on the crust. This gives some additional sweetness and helps the crust brown.
Place the pie pan on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Then lower the heat to 400 degrees and bake another 30 minutes. Once more lower the heat to 350 degrees and cook 20 more minutes or until the juices have thickened and are bubbling.