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Strawberry Shortcake Pie

Strawberries are cheap and plentiful right now, so I am taking advantage of the Florida berries while I can. I was very pleased with my Baked Strawberry Pie, but wanted to put my own twist on Martha Stewart’s Strawberry Icebox Pie. I also wanted cream cheese in the pie, because it is so darn tasty. I was going to use shortbread cookies for the crust, hence the shortcake inspiration, but then I found Golden Oreo cookies on sale at Publix. Yum.

This pie is simple to prepare, and you can easily substitute different berries for the filling or other cookies for the crust. The sweet cream cheese complements the ripe berries so nicely, but feel free to omit it if you are crazy and don’t like cream cheese.

Strawberry Shortcake Pie

Cookie Crust
24 Golden Oreo Cookies
3 tbs butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla

Place cookies in a single layer in a Ziploc bag. Crush cookies with a rolling pin. (You could also pulse the cookies in a food processor, but smashing them is more fun.) Pour cookie crumbs in a bowl. Stir in melted butter and vanilla until combined. Press into 9-inch pie plate Bake at 350°for 10-12 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

Pie Filling
4 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
½ cup sugar
2 tbs cornstarch
½ cup water
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
½ cup confectioner’s sugar

Mash 2 cups strawberries in a small bowl. In a small saucepan, mix sugar and cornstarch. Add ½ cup water and mashed strawberries. Cook over medium heat until thick and boiling. Boil about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese, vanilla, and confectioner’s sugar until fluffy. Spread evenly into cooled pie crust. Top with sliced strawberries and pour cooled strawberry mixture on top. Refrigerate for 3 hours, or until set.

The ingredient lineup

I must admit my addiction to Golden Oreos

For a good time, put cookies in a Ziploc bag and smash them with a rolling pin

You should really smash them better than I did

Press cookie crumbs into a pie plate

Now smash half of the sliced berries

Show the sliced berries what will happen to them if they don't behave

Mix the sugar and cornstarch together, then add the water and berries

Let the berries boil about 1 minute, until mixture is thick and glossy

While berry mixture cools, whip up the cream cheese, vanilla, and powdered sugar

That cream cheese is totally whipped

Spread the cream cheese mixture into the cooled cookie crust

Mmm.... Cream cheese

Pile on the sliced berries. Don't worry, it will all fit

Carefully pour the cooled berry mixture over the sliced berries and stick it in the fridge to chill

The perfect slice

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Late to the Pi Party

Those who live in colder climes tend to think of strawberries as a sign of summer. Living in Florida means finding local strawberries from December to April, and we are peaking right about now. Oh, yeah. Spring is in the air and strawberries are everywhere. Aren’t we lucky?

One of the first pies I made when I started this project was a Strawberry Icebox Pie. It was delicious. As of late, I’ve been itching to make a baked strawberry pie. I thought it would be the perfect pie for Pi Day, which was March 14. As you can see, I am late to the Pi party. All I can say is that it’s not easy to bake a pie after work in the middle of the week. Pies take time. No one likes to feel rushed. Pie should not make you cry.

I can say that it was worth the delay. This is one of my favorite pies I’ve made. My best pastry, yet, no doubt. The key to a tasty and flaky pastry is letting the dough rest for at least an hour before rolling and keeping it cool while working it. Don’t rush it and never let it get too soft. I put it in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes after rolling, after pressing it into the pan, and after crimping. After finishing the top crust, I put the pie in the freezer for a few minutes to let it firm up before sticking it in the hot oven. It’s the little things that make a difference.

I just used a standard fruit pie recipe. You can use any berries, stone, or hard fruit, really. A little lemon juice and nutmeg really bring out the flavor of the fruit without overpowering. Use more or less fruit depending if you want a smaller or taller pie. Feel free to add another ¼-½ cup of sugar, or brown sugar, if you like it sweeter or if the berries are too tart. If the filling looks too juicy after stirring, add 1-2 tbs cornstarch to thicken it a bit. I also recommend placing a cookie sheet or a spill-mat beneath the pie to catch any drips.

Baked Strawberry Pie

4-6 cups (2-3 quarts) fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
½ cup sugar
¼ cup tapioca or flour
pinch salt
1 tbs lemon juice
1 tsp grated nutmeg
3 tbs cold butter, cut into bits

2 9-inch prepared pie pastries

Preheat oven to 425°.

Press one pie pastry into 9-inch pie plate. Place pastry in freezer while you prepare the filling.

In a large bowl, toss sliced strawberries with sugar, tapioca or flour, salt, lemon juice, and nutmeg. If strawberry mixture is too juicy, add 1-2 tbs cornstarch.

Spoon into prepared pie pastry. Pour juice over top and dot with butter. Top with remaining pie pastry. Crimp edges and vent as desired.

Bake on lowest rack for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°, move pie to middle rack and bake for an additional 30-40 minutes, until filling is bubbling and crust is golden brown. (I used a pie crust shield for the last 10 minutes to keep the edges from becoming too brown.)

Cool on wire rack. Serve warm with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Time for pretty pie pictures.

Florida strawberries pose for a still life

The ingredient lineup

Hull and slice 2-3 quarts of fresh strawberries

Pour some sugar on those berries

Now pour some tapioca on there

A little freshly grated nutmeg mingles nicely with the fruit

Freshly squeezed lemon juice complements the sweet berries

Gently spoon the berries into the prepared pie pastry

Dot with butter before adding your top crust

My pie talks nerdy to me

Pretty and delicious. The baked strawberry pie is a new favorite

Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie

Life sometimes hands you lemons, it’s true, but you have to make the best with what you’ve got. When life handed me lemons and limes, I decided to make a refreshingly tart pie. Limon!

First, a few tips. You could get away with using four, or even three, eggs for this recipe, but I happen to like the custard consistency and massive meringue I get with five eggs. Next, be sure to roll the lemons and limes between your palm and the counter to release the juices before slicing and squeezing. Finally, with any custard pie, timing is key. Over- or under-cooking will leave you with a runny filling and that’s not going to make anyone happy. Just make sure you have all of your ingredients measured and ready to go before you start cooking. Pie should not make you cry.

Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie

1¼ cup sugar
⅓ cup cornstarch
¼ tsp salt
1¾ cup cold water
5 egg yolks (save whites for meringue)
6 tbs fresh lemon juice
3 tbs fresh lime juice
1½ tsp grated lemon zest
1½ tsp grated lime zest
3 tbs butter, cut into thirds
1 9-inch pre-baked pie crust

Preheat oven to 325°. Whisk sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan. Slowly whisk in cold water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until simmering. Whisk in yolks, juice, and zest. Whisk in butter, one tablespoon at a time, until melted. Bring to boil and simmer for one minute. Filling should be thick, like pudding. Remove from heat and place plastic wrap over surface to avoid the dreaded pudding skin. Set aside and prepare meringue.

Meringue
5 egg whites
¼ tsp cream of tartar
½ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Slowly add sugar, one tablespoon at a time, then add vanilla. Beat until glossy and stiff peaks form.

Remove plastic wrap from filling and pour into pre-baked pie crust. Using a spatula or the back of a wooden spoon, carefully spread meringue on top of filling, being sure to seal meringue to the edge of the crust to avoid shrinkage.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until meringue is golden. Cool on a wire rack for at least 4 hours before serving.

Lemons are pretty, so I made them pose

I love how cheerful lemons look

Zest first, then juice the lemons and limes

Juicing by hand will give your arms a workout

Slowly pour cold water into the dry ingredients

After adding the egg yolks, you'll have a glorious yellow filling

Seriously high and marvelous meringue

Peanut Butter Pie

Peanut Butter is a popular pie for potlucks. It is a pretty simple icebox pie that even non-bakers can whip up in no time. I have never been a fan of peanut butter pies (or potlucks, for that matter) because they are usually cloyingly sweet or too salty. I blame the cloyingly sweet part on the usage of Cool Whip. I just don’t get Cool Whip. (I don’t get Miracle Whip, either, but that’s another story.)

Homemade whipped cream is simple: heavy cream, sugar, a little vanilla. When you make your own, you can control the sweetness. You just have to be careful to stop mixing when you reach soft peaks, because it will go from whipped cream to butter in the blink of an eye. Although, making butter is fun, too. I used to do this activity with the kids when I was an after-school group leader. (Kids love craft projects they can eat.)

Back to the pie. The whipped cream I make for this pie contains no sugar because there is already sugar in the pie. I do not add salt because peanut butter is already salty enough. Of course, using some kind of hippie health food, no-salt, no-sugar peanut butter will give you different results. That’s fine if that is how you roll, but be aware that you may need to add salt and your favorite natural sweetener to make a palatable pie.

I am not a choosy mom, but I still choose Jif because my choosy mom chose Jif. I like the taste and the texture better than other brands. You can use the peanut butter you prefer, just make sure it’s smooth. Part of the appeal of this pie is the creamy texture. Peanut bits that will invariably get stuck in your teeth will ruin the effect, plus your friends with diverticulitis (Remember Doug and Wendy Whiner?) won’t be able to eat it.

While you can pick up a ready-made crumb crust at the grocery, I implore you to make your own crust. It is so easy and so much better.

Peanut Butter Pie

Crust
1½ cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs (about one sleeve)
5 tbs butter, melted
1 tbs sugar

Mix and press into pie plate. Bake at 350° for 8-10 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

Filling
8 oz cream cheese, softened
¾ cup confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
1½ cups smooth peanut butter
1 tbs vanilla
1½ cups heavy cream

Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and powdered sugar on medium speed until fluffy. Beat in peanut butter and vanilla until combined. Set aside. Beat heavy cream until soft peaks form. Stir in 1/3 of whipped cream into peanut butter mixture, then gently fold in remaining whipped cream. Spoon into cooled pie crust and refrigerate at least four hours before serving. Garnish with a sprinkling of cookie crumbs or a drizzle of chocolate syrup.

I remembered to take more photos this time, except during the whipped cream part. I am easily distracted by whipped cream.

The obligatory ingredient lineup

Chocolate graham cracker crumbs. Chocolate cookie crumbs work, too

Mmm.... Butter! Do not skimp on the butter; four tablespoons really isn't enough

Use the flat bottom of a measuring cup to evenly press the crumbs into the pie plate

Completely cool the crumb crust on a wire rack before filling

Beat the powdered sugar and cream cheese until fluffy

Ooooh! That's fluffy!

Now it's time to add the peanut, peanut butter (hold the jelly)

Confession: I rarely measure vanilla extract

Beat in the peanut butter and vanilla until it looks like this

Use a spatula to gently fold in the whipped cream

Peanut-buttery goodness ready to become a pie

Gently fill the crumb crust and make it look pretty

I sprinkled cookie crumbs on top just to pretty it up a bit

After chilling for four hours, the pie sliced up perfectly

Ginger-Pear Crumble Pie

What started as a simple project challenging myself to bake a different pie every week for a year, has turned into a project of finding unusual pie recipes and making up some of my own. I found that I like to put my own twist on the standards as much as I enjoy creating new flavor combinations.  And even though I fear some of the crazy pies I read about (a sweet, not savory, Green Tomato Pie?), I am willing to take a few risks.

For example, my friend over at Forgotten Bookmarks recently shared with me a recipe he found for Prune Meringue Pie. PRUNE! MERINGUE! PIE! That is just crazy enough for me to try. It also leaves me craving more crazy pie recipes. Do you have any unusual pie recipes to share? Please post a comment or e-mail them to mypiary@gmail.com. I will give you proper credit if I bake your crazy pie.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, I recently mixed up this lovely Ginger-Pear Pie with a crumble topping. The fresh ginger gives it a nice kick. My pears were not quite ripe, so they were a little crunchy but still tasty. I added nuts to my crumble topping, but they can be omitted if you are not a fan of nuts. I happen to be a huge fan of nuts. Mmm…. Nuts!

Ginger-Pear Crumble Pie

2 eggs
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tbs lemon juice
1/4 cup flour
2 tbs cornstarch
pinch salt
4 ripe, yet firm, Bosc pears, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
1/2 cup butter
2 tsp vanilla
2 tbs fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

1 9-inch prepared, unbaked pie pastry

Crumb Topping
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup cold butter
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375°, with rack in middle position. Place a spill mat or cookie sheet covered with foil on the rack below to catch any drips.

In a small pan, melt butter with vanilla and grated ginger over medium heat. Cook about 5 minutes, until butter is frothy and light brown. Remove from heat.

Place chopped pears in a medium bowl. Pour butter mixture through a sieve over pears. Stir and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs and sugar until well combined. Whisk in lemon juice, then flour, cornstarch, and salt. Stir into pear mixture until combined.

Pour into a 9-inch prepared (unbaked) pie crust. Top with crumble topping and bake about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack. I served mine warm with vanilla bean ice cream.

Time for a few pretty photos. Just a few. I sometimes get too wrapped up in the baking and I forget to take enough snaps. Sorry about that. I will try to be better about documenting the entire process without sacrificing the pie.

Here's the ingredient lineup

And another view of the ingredients, just because

Grate the peeled ginger right into the melting butter while avoiding grated fingertips

Evenly top the ginger-pear filling with crumb topping

Baked to perfection

Maple Nut Pie

By now you must have realized that I am absolutely nuts — about pie! And just plain nuts, too. It’s all good. Well, except that my Christmas cookie recipes are extremely jealous and concerned they won’t get out of the box this year. No worries, I’ll switch to cookies this weekend.

In the past week I baked two incredibly easy pies, an Eggnog Custard Pie (recipe to come!) and a Maple Nut Pie. Both pies call for just a few ingredients and are mixed in one bowl. Easy as pie.

This Maple Nut Pie was adapted from a recipe found in Martha Stewart’s New Pies and Tarts. You will need one 9-inch pie crust, either homemade (the best) or you can cheat with a frozen or refrigerated dough. But, really, it is so easy and so much tastier to make your own pastry. By now, I have the recipe memorized and it takes just a few minutes to prepare. Don’t be scared; just do it.

Also, it is imperative that you use real maple syrup. Forget that Aunt Jemima crap and fork over a few extra bones for the pure maple syrup from Vermont or Canada (Oh, I love my Canadian friends! Yes, I love my Vermont friends, too!). It will make or break your pie. Seriously.

Maple Nut Pie

2 eggs
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 cup pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1½ cups pecans, coarsely chopped
1½ cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 9-inch prepared pie pastry

Preheat oven to 350°.
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, brown sugar, and salt until frothy. Whisk in vanilla, nutmeg, and maple syrup until combined. Stir in nuts until thoroughly combined. Pour into prepared, unbaked pie shell. Bake about 45-50 minutes, until filling is set and crust is golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Super easy, right? And so rich and delicious. I ate mine neat, but you can serve yours with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for a decadent dessert.

Pretty picture time!

Use pure maple syrup for best results

NUTS!

More NUTS!

Whisk until combined and frothy

Mix in the NUTS!

Fresh from the oven

Like I said, easy as pie

Sweet Tater Praline Pie

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I am so grateful that I didn’t have to travel this year. I had a perfect day of cooking, eating, watching football, and reading Mindy Kaling’s new book, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).” It was awesome.

Now, I usually make homemade cranberry sauce and sweet potato soufflé for our Thanksgiving feast, but since I am in the midst of a pie project I decided to make a Cranberry and Pear Pie and a Sweet Tater Praline Pie instead. Both were huge hits, but the Sweet Tater pie was ranked as one of my top pies by my official taste tester. It was really, really good.

My pie was inspired by Martha Stewart’s Sweet Potato Pie with Pecan Topping. Here is my adapted recipe.

Sweet Tater Praline Pie

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 eggs
1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 tbs pure maple syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp fresh grated ginger
3/4 cup plus 1 tbs heavy cream
1 partially pre-baked pie crust, cooled
3 tbs butter
1 cup pecans, broken into pieces

Cover sweet potatoes with water in a large saucepan and bring to boil. Cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and puree in a food processor. Let cool before using. (It’s OK to put in fridge or freezer to quicken the cooling process).

Preheat oven to 375°.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk egg, 1/3 cup brown sugar, and maple syrup until smooth. (I used my KitchenAid stand mixer with the whisk attachment and it worked perfectly.) Add puree, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and 3/4 cup cream. Whisk until smooth.

Place cooled crust on rimmed baking sheet; pour filling into crust. Bake pie on lowest oven rack for about 50 minutes, or until filling is set. Cool on rack 1 hour, then put in fridge to cool completely.

Now it’s time to make the praline topping.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar and stir until combined. Add the pecans and continue stirring until the mixture is smooth, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in 1 tbs cream until incorporated. Let cool a few minutes then pour over cooled pie. Use a spatula to evenly spread the mixture over the pie. Cool for at least 30 minutes.

I used the rest of the heavy cream I had to make fresh whipped cream to top off the pie. It was decadent.

I didn’t take as many pretty pictures as I usually do because I was busy cooking up a feast of roasted chestnut stuffing, stuffed sweet dumpling squash, roasted Brussels sprouts, and Parker House rolls. Am I crazy? A little. But our feast was amazing.

Here's the ingredient lineup (the sweet potato puree is in the bowl)

All whisked up and ready to roll

My crust wasn't perfect, but it still tasted good

Oh, yeah! The perfect slice of pie makes me crazy happy