I have eaten a strawberry pie exactly once in my life, and it did not resemble this pie in the slightest. It was at my favorite local pizza place, where they serve a pie du jour for dessert. When I ordered a slice of the strawberry pie, my mother grimaced, saying she didn’t care for strawberry pie. Since I’d never had it, I decided to make up my own mind. It was a double crust pie, with the strawberries cooked inside it, and too much thickening agent, which I’d guess was either cornstarch or flour, because the flavor was a bit muddied. I wasn’t feeling it. Maybe strawberries just shouldn’t go in pie, I thought.
But that’s obviously blasphemy. It’s an insult to both strawberries and pie. They deserve better than that. I decided to experiment with tapioca, because I had heard that it would give a cleaner flavor than cornstarch and also make things glossy.
I pureed about a pound of strawberries with granulated tapioca, sugar, and a splash of vanilla extract, then cooked it over the stove to thicken it. I hulled and arranged the remaining strawberries (about 1½ pounds more) and arranged them, bottoms up, in my pre-baked pie crust. I then poured the hot strawberry puree over the fresh berries and let it set up and cool in the fridge. I was really excited at how strongly my kitchen smelled of strawberries. I never knew that I could get that intense of a strawberry scent without using artificial flavoring. It smelled a Cupcake Doll up in there. (Please tell me you remember Cupcake Dolls or I will be really sad.)
So while I was waiting for the pie to cool, I was wondering how I wanted to top it. The traditional route is to go with whipped cream, but since I had just made Strawberry Shortcake Éclairs, I wanted to do something different. I thought of a meringue, because I love how you can design the peaks and then toast them, but I’ve honestly never been a huge fan of straight-up meringue. That reminded me of my Smokey S’mores Tart (still one of my fave recipes), and how the top was basically a slab of marshmallow. I thought that would be a bit hefty for strawberries, so I did a little poking around and found David Lebovitz’s Lime Marshmallow Pie, where the topping is kind of a blend between a meringue and a marshmallow. Perfect!
I whipped that up on the stove and used my cake turntable to run a small offset spatula in a spiral toward the center, then torched it with my handy-dandy kitchen torch. Again, I let things set up in the fridge for a bit, then off to the garden I went for photos, because when is it not a good idea to take photos in 90-degree weather? The good news is, the pie held up tremendously well in the hot conditions, so I think it’s safe to say you can bring this pie with you to your next picnic.
- 2½ teaspoons (¼ ounce or 7 grams) unflavored powdered gelatin
- ¼ cup plus ⅓ cup cold water, divided
- ⅓ cup (105 grams) light corn syrup
- ½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
- 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Roll your pie crust into a 13-inch round and fit into a 9- or 10-inch pie pan. Trim the edges so there is a ½-inch overhang, fold the dough under itself between the crust and pie dish, and crimp the edges. Poke the crust's bottom and sides with a fork. Place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400°F. Line the pie crust with foil, pressing the foil tightly against its surface. Fill the pie crust with dried beans or pie weights. Use enough to press against the sides of the crust, so that it doesn't shrink. Bake for 25 minutes, then carefully remove the foil and pie weights. Bake the uncovered crust an additional 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Arrange hulled strawberries, cut side down, in concentric circles inside the cooled pie crust. This will take about two-thirds of the berries you have. In a blender, process the granulated tapioca so that it becomes a bit more powdery. Add the remaining strawberries (about 1 pound/½ kilogram) to the blender, and add the vanilla extract and sugar. Blend until fully pureed. Transfer the strawberry puree to a large saucepan.
- Heat the strawberry puree over medium heat until the mixture begins to simmer, stirring often. Simmer for 3-4 minutes, until the mixture deepens in color and thickens slightly. Pour the mixture into the pie crust over the fresh berries. The tips of the strawberries will stick out from the filling. Chill the pie in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour while you make the topping.
- In a small bowl, mix the gelatin and ¼ cup cold water. Let rest for at least 5 minutes so the gelatin blooms and absorbs the water.
- Combine remaining ⅓ cup of water, corn syrup, and sugar in a small saucepan. Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Check the temperature of the syrup as it cooks. When it reaches 210°F, turn the mixer on low speed and beat the eggs until they are frothy and the temperature of the syrup has climbed to 245°F. (If the eggs get frothy before the syrup reaches 245°F, just turn the mixer off.)
- When the sugar syrup hits 245°F, remove the bowl from the stand mixer and whisk the sugar syrup into the egg whites by hand, whisking as quickly as you can. Try to avoid getting the sugar syrup on the whisk wires or the sides of the bowl, because it will solidify. When all the sugar syrup has been incorporated, return the bowl to the stand mixer and turn the mixer speed to high.
- Scrape the gelatin into the warm sugar-saucepan (no need to clean it out first) and melt the gelatin. Slowly pour the melted gelatin into the egg white mixture. Add the vanilla extract and continue beating on high speed until the mixture is cooled to room temperature and holds its shape a bit, about 5-10 minutes.
- Use a rubber spatula to dollop the marshmallow-meringue on top of the chilled pie filling (stay within the confines of the crust). Use a small offset spatula to swirl the meringue around as you like. I put my pie pan on a cake turntable and spun it while holding the offset spatula lightly against the meringue to create a spiral effect. When you have the design you want, chill the pie, uncovered, for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator before serving. (If you put plastic wrap on top, it will stick to your topping and destroy it and you will be sad.) Before serving, lightly char the topping with a kitchen torch, which will emphasize your design and also make it taste like toasted marshmallows.