We’re spoiled out here with the first crop of strawberries arriving around late April. I always reserve the first few weeks for just eating them straight out of the carton but that means by May I’m starting to think about what else I can do with them. And since last month we gave rhubarb its turn to shine in a pie, it seems like strawberries deserve no less. Fresh strawberries, that is. I won’t turn down the slow-cooked flavor of strawberries baked into scones or turned into jam, but fresh strawberries are the taste of summer. I dreamed up a no-bake graham cracker crust with a filling of fresh berries and then I got to work trying to make it happen. Spoiler alert: it didn’t quite happen.
The filling was the easy part. Fresh berries macerated in a small amount of sugar, juices slightly thickened with cornstarch. The first pie was delicious, but the crust crumbled when you tried to slice it. The second pie was delicious, but the crust was soggy. It was more pudding than pie. I complained about it to the friends who came to share it. “It’s not quite right,” I told them, as we shoveled big spoonfuls into our mouths, scraping the last bits from the pie pan. Everyone shrugged. After all, it’s hard to be mad while eating strawberries.
I got frustrated.
I could have just kept trying more variations on no-bake crust, eating or giving away the failures, trying again. I thought about continuing to tinker with the recipe until I got it just right. But it was less exciting to bake the third iteration of this pie than it was to bake the first. I started to dread making this pie, worrying that it wouldn’t be quite right.
Ideally, all cooking should be enjoyable, but baking especially should come from a place of fun (unless you run a bakery, in which case I suppose that it’s work, just like any other work). It wasn’t fun anymore. So, with some nudging, I changed up my expectations. No-bake pie crust will have to wait.
This is not a no-bake pie. It’s a 10-minutes-of-baking pie. But it’s also a silence-falls-on-the-first-bite pie. It’s a pie that earned an all caps text message of excitement from the friend who received a slice as a thank you. It’s a fun pie to make, and a fun one to eat, particularly if you eat in a big group of people balancing plates on their knees, with an open bottle of wine somewhere. It’s a pie for the juicy ripe strawberries of summer, or spring if you live in California. If you live somewhere with summer heat, make the crust at night, when the air is cooler, or buy a pre-made crust if you have to, but make this pie and share it. Strawberries deserve to be shared.
Also, do you have a no-bake crust recipe? Please share it if you do, since now I’m determined to conquer no-bake pie at some point, later, when it seems like fun.
- 2 lbs strawberries
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2½ tsp cornstarch
- 2½ tsp water
- 1 sleeve (5 oz) graham crackers, broken into crumbs (about 1½ cups of crumbs
- 5 tbs butter, melted
- 2 tbs sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- COMBINE the strawberries, sugar, and 1 teaspoon of salt in a bowl and toss well. Set the bowl aside and allow the berries to macerate for about an hour
- PREHEAT the oven to 350 and grease a pie pan.
- COMBINE the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, brown sugar, and remaining teaspoon of salt in a bowl and stir well until it forms a loose crumbly dough.
- PRESS the graham cracker mixture into the pie pan so that it is about ¼ inch thick all over and comes all the way up the sides of the pie pan. Bake for 10 minutes and then let it cool to room temperature
- STRAIN the macerated berries over a medium saucepan. Combine the water and cornstarch until the cornstarch dissolves and add it to the juice in the saucepan. Cook on medium heat until the mixture boils. Continue to cook for about a minute, or until the mixture is thick enough that if you scrape a spatula on the bottom of the saucepan, the line it creates holds its shape for a few seconds. Remove the syrup from the heat and let it cool for five minutes.
- COMBINE the strained berries and syrup and mix well. Pour the mixture into the baked and cooled pie shell. Refrigerate the pie for at least 30 minutes before slicing.
This is delicious as is, but also wonderful with a little whipped cream on top. The leftovers will last for a few days in the fridge, although by day three the bottom crust will be a little soggy.