You know, I've never actually understood the phrase "easy as pie." Making pies has never been particularly easy for me, because making pie involves making crust, and if you're like me, the crust is everything. So if the crust comes out mediocre, or worse, actually bad, it ruins the entire pie. Yet for a pie crust to come out well, it's a rather careful and involved process, as least for those of us who only make it every so often. Cold fat (butter and/or lard) is necessary for that flaky texture that makes eating pie crust such an unforgettable experience when it's done well.
Over the years, I've made my share of pie crusts, more than some, far less than others. After nearly every effort, I came away with the frustrated thought that it simply wasn't worth the time and effort. I just couldn't seem to keep the dough cold enough, or roll it out thin enough, or whatever the problem might be. Or if it came out well, the stress and energy I'd put into it just didn't seem worth it when I could buy perfectly acceptable (if not mouth-wateringly delicious), time friendly, ready-made pie crusts. Then my tastes became more sophisticated, and the store-bought ones stopped being acceptable. That fact, plus my lack of skill at making a good pie crust, combined to equal no homemade pies for me for a loooong time.
Those days may be over. Okay, I still haven't perfected making pie crusts. But now I've found a pie crust recipe that at least makes the effort worthwhile, it's so good. What is this amazing recipe that has changed my outlook on homemade pie crusts? It's none other than Rose Levy Berenbaum's own favorite, her flaky and tender cream cheese pie crust. It's delicious -- just as sinful tasting as something called "flaky and tender cream cheese pie crust" would taste -- and, while a bit involved to make, is quite doable by the home baker.
This wonderful pie crust in combination with the incredibly easy-to-make creamy strawberry filling, results in a superb pie. You don't need to prebake the crust. You simply mix up the filling, roll out the pie crust, fill it, and bake it. In the last few minutes you broil the pie for a few minutes to caramelize the top -- as you can tell from the photos, I'm still trying to get used to the broiler function on my oven. Unfortunately it was a bit too hot or I put the rack up one level too high, and it ended up making the top look rather more burnt than golden, but that flaw is mine and not the recipe's. The top of the pie should be as golden as the crust.
Another reason this pie is great to take to a gathering is because unlike many other pies, a single slice holds together very well, making for an attractive helping. Unfortunately I don't have photos of this, as single slices were devoured too quickly to photograph, but you can see for yourself.
Strawberry Sour Cream Pie (crust by Rose Levy Berenbaum, filling by Worth the Whisk)
- 8 tbsp unsalted butter, frozen and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 1/3 cups + 4 tsp pastry flour
- 3oz cream cheese
- 2 tbsp heavy cream
- 2 tsp cider vinegar
- 1/8 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
- 1/8 tsp sea salt
- In a food processor, pulse flour, salt and baking powder to blend.
- Add the cream cheese and process until coarse, resembling corn meal.
- Add the frozen butter cubes and pulse until the mixture is roughly peanut sized.
- Add the cream and vinegar and pulse until mixture is the size of small peas.
- Scrape dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Use latex gloves or cover hands with plastic bags and press dough until it holds together in one smooth flat disc.
- Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate at least 45 minutes, preferably overnight, before rolling out.
- 1qt fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and sliced
- 1 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tbsp reserved
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup sour cream (any kind but nonfat)
- dash of salt
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- Into a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, sugar and salt. Add sour cream and blend just until creamy (it will look like wallpaper paste).
- Gently fold in the berries; don’t overmix.
- Pour the filling into your unbaked pie shell. Using a spatula, gently spread to edges but do not pack down; there should be some air holes throughout.
- Sprinkle the top with reserved 1 tbsp of sugar.
- Bake the pie for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F and bake an additional 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
- The center of the pie may still look undercooked. Broil the pie for a few minutes, until the sugar on top has caramelized and the top is as golden brown as the crust.