Can we ever get enough pies? Don't answer that. (One might ask the same thing about cupcakes, and there is no good answer to that question either.) Anyway, with spring coming to Southern California, our local strawberry fields — which produce year-round, thank you very much — are fast approaching their sweet spot. And although you can happily eat strawberries straight out of the flat, a nicely orchestrated strawberry pie is a thing of beauty. Ammo pastry chef Roxana Jullapat makes a pretty swell vintage strawberry pie and agreed to give us the recipe.
Jullapat says that the origins of her pie recipe date back to her misspent youth, when she had a summer job at the production bakery of Universal Studios. Turn the page for her account of the pie's provenance, and her recipe.
“Every single item in that kitchen was prepared in the most gigantic batches you could imagine, except for a few items that were made expressively for the VIP tours of the studios. Among those VIP items was a nostalgic fresh strawberry pie, reminiscent of the Betty Crocker cookbooks published in the 1950s. To make the pies, we used to fill prefabricated pie shells with a large mountain of halved strawberries tossed in warm strawberry gelatin. Once the pies had been refrigerated the gelatin would set and the pies were stiff like a rubber ball. For the sake of presentation, we were encouraged to pile the strawberries really high. I would put a lot of effort into making the highest of pies, so much so that at one point my supervisor had to point out that my pies were, 'well, perhaps a little bit too high.' I'm quite certain that the fresh strawberry pies at Universal Studios were nothing to write home about, but maybe my own rendition, made with organic Gaviota strawberries from the Farmer's Market and a lot less gelatin, really is.”
Vintage Strawberry Pie
From: Ammo pastry chef Roxana Jullapat.
Note: Jullapat recommends organic strawberries widely available this time of year at local farmers markets, specifically sweeter varieties such as Gaviotas. Choose berries that are smaller in size.
Makes: one nine-inch pie or six individual four-inch pies.
Another note: Jullapat says: “I prefer to make individual pies because the larger version doesn't 'slice' very nice — given that the recipe calls for the minimum amount of gelatin to hold the strawberries together. If appearances are not that important to you, you may choose to make the larger version.”
For the crust:
4 ounces cream cheese, cold, cut into one-inch chunks
4 ounces unsalted butter, cold, cut into one-inch chunks
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the strawberry sauce:
2 cups strawberries, stems off and halved
2 tablespoons port wine (for a non-alcohol version, use blood orange juice)
1 ½ teaspoons gelatin powder
Pinch of kosher salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
To assemble the pies:
6 cups fresh strawberries, stems off and halved
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons strawberry jam (preferably homemade)
1 cup strawberry sauce
To make the crust:
1. In the electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, flour, powdered sugar, baking powder and salt, and mix at low speed until a shaggy and sticky dough forms. Be careful not to over mix. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and flatten into a disc. Wrap with plastic film and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
2. When ready to shape the pie shells, flour a working surface generously and stretch the dough using a rolling pin until it's very thin -a bit less than a 1/4-inch thick. Cut six dough circles big enough to fit into the individual pie tins (or alternatively a dough circle large enough to fit into a nine-inch pie pan -don't forget to account for an extra half inch of dough to crimp a decorative edge. Lightly coat the pie tins with non-stick spray and lay the dough circles inside each tin. Gather the excess dough around the edges and crimp as desired. To save on time and labor, you may choose to trim off the excess dough with kitchen shears and skip crimping the edges altogether. Refrigerate the pie shell for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.
3. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
4. To pre-bake the pie shells, coat them lightly with non-stick spray, line each one with a square of parchment paper and fill with dried beans or rice to weight down the dough and prevent it from puffing while in the oven. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Take out of the oven and cool completely before removing the beans. Set aside.
To make the strawberry sauce:
1. While the pie shells are baking, start working on the strawberry sauce.
2. Purée the strawberries in a blender until completely liquefied. Add the sugar, port or juice, gelatin powder, salt and cornstarch and blend for another minute.
3. Transfer the purée to a small, heavy-bottomed, non-reactive pot. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a pairing knife, scrape out the pulp with the back of the knife, and put the pulp and the pod into the pot. Cook over medium heat until the mixture comes up to a boil, reduce the heat and cook the sauce until it thickens, about 5 minutes, stirring continuously to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and let cool until it's room temperature, stirring it from time to time. Do not refrigerate or the sauce will set making it difficult to assemble the pies.
To assemble the pies:
1. With a pastry brush, paint the bottoms of the pie shells with some of the strawberry jam -this will prevent the shells from getting soggy. In a mixing bowl, toss the halved strawberries with the remaining jam and the strawberry sauce. Pile equal amounts of this filling inside each pie shell, arranging them decoratively into little mounds. Refrigerate for 2 hours before serving. The pies are best when enjoyed the day they are made but they will still be very good the next day.