(Freshly Picked!) Strawberry Cream Pie

by Julie Ruble on May 24, 2011 · 97 comments

Before we get to the pie: prayers go out for those of you in any of the areas affected by tornadoes this year — you are on our hearts and minds daily.

I just made perhaps the prettiest, most scrumptious pie I’ve had the privilege of shoveling into my mouth. Encased in a flaky, tender pie crust are billowy mounds of pastry cream, toasted almonds, and fresh glazed strawberry slices. Making it even sweeter (not as if it needed it or anything) is the source of the recipe. It comes from this lovely lady, my Aunt Pat, who’s also responsible for this lovely flower garden. Just call her a domestic genius:

My cousin sent me this recipe mounted on a gorgeous wooden plaque and it now sits by my computer desk as a reminder of my sweet family and all of the food memories that bind us — grandma’s homemade sausage gravy and biscuits, all the potluck Thanksgiving treats, and now, thankfully, this Strawberry Cream Pie.

Another sweet thing about this pie is that it comes to you during May, which is National Strawberry Month! The Charlotte Food Bloggers celebrated by going strawberry pickin’ at Miller’s Farm in South Carolina.

freshly picked strawberries!

I’d never been strawberry picking, but the thought of dancing around the kitchen whipping up this pie spurred me along row by row, bush by bush. Along my journey, I realized that one could glean many a life lesson from the berry-picking process. Here are just a few:

Life Lessons from Strawberry Pickin':

1. The best berries are in the middle of the bush. Sometimes the things in life that are worthwhile also require more effort. Sitting in the sunshine and playing in the sand is worth the hassle of loading the beach chairs into the car and slathering on sunscreen. Showing love to a friend is worth the time it takes to create a special dessert for them. Seeing your family is worth enduring an hours-long road trip and a few embarrassing childhood anecdotes. Go for what’s worthwhile, even if it’s hard.

2. There will be bugs. They’ll even, like, bite you and stuff. But the hard and annoying parts of your life are still parts of your life — not just times to get through, but times to experience! Every hardship is an opportunity to react with grace and integrity, and to grow as a person. And, in the case of bugs, to itch.

3. Don’t be afraid to get a little muddy. Life’s more relaxing when you stop trying to keep things perfect.

4. Pet the pig . . . You know, like “smell the roses,” except cuter. There were a few random animals at the farm that we decided to love on after our berry baskets were full: a porker aptly named Juicy, a goat, a duck, and a donkey. Don’t hurry past the fun parts of life.

5. . . . But watch out for the donkey, because he flippin’ bites, especially if you have strawberry juice on your fingers. This probably has no life application. But really, watch out for that beast.

6. Being “hot, sticky, sweet” is not all that Def Leppard made it out to be, but it does make you thankful for showers.

7. Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. Everything’s more fun when you’re purposeful about enjoying yourself. Optimism and positivity come naturally for some people — and some of us have to make it happen.

8. Sweet experiences are best enjoyed with people you love. And even the not-so-sweet experiences can be helped along by great company. Like these crazies:

Charlotte bloggers Crosby, Diana, Katie, and Erin pick berries (not pictured: Vanessa, Taylor, and Julia)

9. The early picker gets the berry. Plan ahead and keep your life organized according to the systems that work best for you. We went picking when the strawberries were just past their peak, so others nabbed the better berries. Next time, we’ll be proactive!

10. Use your strawberries before they go all mushy. Don’t wait for great things to happen, and don’t let your talents and energy be wasted on sitting around, fearing failure. If you think an endeavor is worthwhile, give it your all and make it happen.

This life lesson can also be translated as: get in the kitchen this instant make a Strawberry Cream Pie!

Have you ever been strawberry picking? What’s your favorite use for delectable strawbs?

Strawberry Cream Pie

Recipe by: Pat Howard
Yields: about 10 servings

Crust Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoons salt
3/8 cup cold shortening or lard
3/8 cup cold butter, chopped
3-4 tablespoons cold water

Cream Ingredients:
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Other Ingredients:
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
red food coloring (optional; I skipped this)
mint leaves or whole strawberries for garnish (optional)

Note on timing: There are several components of this pie, but their preparation fits together nicely. You can make the crust dough and while it’s chilling, toast your almonds and set them out to cool. While the crust is baking and cooling, make and refrigerate the cream and slice your strawberries. Assemble these things once the crust is cool, and chill your almost-completed pie while you whip up the glaze. Chill the whole concoction for a few hours before slicing for best results.

Make the crust dough: Pulse flour and salt together to combine. Add scoops of lard and pulse into the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Add in chunks of butter and pulse until butter pieces are no larger than small peas, about 10 pulses. Add minimum amount of water and pulse on low. If dough remains crumbly and doesn’t come together, add another 2 tablespoons of water. Add as little as is required to enable the dough to be rolled into a ball. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.

Toast your almonds: While the crust dough is chilling, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and spread your sliced almonds out on a baking sheet. Toast for about 4-6 minutes, using a spatula to gently flip and stir the almonds ever 2 minutes. They burn quickly, so keep a close watch on the nuts and remove them when they just start to get some color and are fragrant. Mine took about 5 minutes.

Finish making your crust: Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Roll disk of dough out to around 2 inches larger than your (9-inch) pie plate and transfer it, situating it in the plate. Fold the excess dough around the edges and crimp, trimming where necessary. Cover the dough with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans, pressing to the edges. Bake for around 20 minutes. Remove weights and paper, egg wash crust, and bake 5-10 minutes more, until golden brown (you won’t be baking it again, so make sure it has good color — shielding edges with foil if they begin getting too dark). Let crust cool completely.

Make cream filling: While the crust bakes, prepare your cream filling. Prepare an ice water bath in a bowl big enough to accommodate your saucepan. Mix sugar, cornstarch, flour, and salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and cook until thickened, still stirring constantly. Spoon out about 1/4 cup of your hot mixture and gradually drizzle it into your beaten egg, whisking constantly. This will temper the egg so that when you add it back into the hot mixture, it won’t cook. Add the egg into the hot mixture, continuing to stir constantly. Bring this just to boiling.

Set the saucepan in the ice water bath and stir it periodically as it cools. Once cool enough, chill the mixture in the refrigerator. During this time, whip the cream and vanilla together to stiff peaks. Take the chilled mixture from the fridge and beat it to break it up. Stir in about 1/3 of the cream to lighten it, and then gently fold in the rest of the cream until well combined. Chill until ready to use.

Assemble the pie: Cover bottom of crust with toasted almonds, and then dollop in chilled cream mixture, spreading it smooth with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Slice about a cup of fresh strawberries and layer them in overlapping concentric circles on the top of your pie. Chill this while you make your glaze.

Make the glaze: Crush remaining 1/2 cup of strawberries and cook with water in a saucepan over medium-high heat for two minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and discard the pulp. Add the juice back to the saucepan over medium-high heat and gradually stir in sugar and cornstarch. Cook until thickened. If you want, you can tint this glaze with food coloring to desired hue, but mine was plenty bright enough! Cool the glaze slightly (I transferred mine to a heat-proof measuring cup with a pour spout to cool for a bit) and then pour over top of strawberry slices on your pie. Garnish with big mint leaves, if you’d like, or whole strawberries. Chill entire pie for at least a few hours for best results; cut with a knife held under hot water and then dried.

life’s too short — eat strawberries!

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