There’s something about 4th of July get-togethers that really brings out the schtick in people. Streamers, balloons, sugary cocktails brimming with blue curacao, novelty Uncle Sam napkins….and if you head over to the dessert table? Yep, flair everywhere. I’m as excited for the fireworks and food as anyone (OK, I’m more excited for the food) but I maintain that it’s no reason to automatically run for the food coloring.
Instead, allow me to suggest something a little more classic. Something wonderful and bright, something everyone will recognize and understand as an American Tradition. Ladies and Gentlemen, I’d like you to meet my friend Strawberry Pie.
When I excitedly picked up my copy of Four and Twenty Blackbirds, I knew that I would be making this pie the moment the strawberries came in. Now, I know that the Elsen sisters have so many original and tempting flavor combinations (Salted Honey pie, anyone? Lavender Blueberry? Farmer cheese with thyme? I’ll take a slice of each — K thx) and it might be easy to overlook the Strawberry Balsamic pie — but don’t make that mistake! The filling is bright from the balsamic (the eternal perfect mate for strawberries if you ask me), and a whole grated apple they snuck in there binds the mixture beautifully, while a couple light dashes of angostura bitters balances the sweetness.
I’m telling you, this pie is worth passing over its more well known cherry and blueberry counterparts. Just do it. Say yes (and thank me later).
Strawberry Balsamic Pie
Adapted, barely, from Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen, The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
For the crust:
(this recipe will make 1 double-crust pie)
2 ½ cups (20 oz) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, cold from the fridge and cut into ½ inch pieces
1 cup ice cold water
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and sugar and mix well. Add butter and toss gently in the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it resembles pea-sized pieces (working as quickly as you can so the butter remains cold).
Combine the water and vinegar in a small bowl and add a few ice cubes to chill down the mixture. Add 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until incorporated. Continue adding the water 2 tablespoons at a time until the dough comes together in a ball with some dry bits remaining (about 10-12 tablespoons total). Divide the dough in half equally and shape each portion into a disc. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and store in the fridge until ready to use, at least 1 hour or up to 3 days. The dough can also be frozen for up to 1 month.
For the filling:
¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar
2 pounds of fresh strawberries (5-6 cups or 32 oz), rinsed and quartered
1 small golden delicious apple
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or strawberry balsamic vinegar, if you have it)
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons arrowroot (or substitute cornstarch)
2 grinds of fresh black pepper, with the grinder on the finest setting
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg whisked with a splash of water
Demerara sugar, for finishing
Place strawberries in a medium bowl and sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the granulated sugar over the strawberries and gently fold to combine. Allow to macerate at room temperature for at least 30 minutes but no longer than 1 hour.
Peel the apple with a vegetable peeler and grate using the largest holes on your box grater. Drain the excess liquid from the strawberries and add the grated apple. Sprinkle in the balsamic vinegar and the bitters. Stir gently to combine.
In a separate bowl, stir together the brown sugar, the remaining granulated sugar, arrowroot, black pepper and salt. Gently fold the sugar mixture into the strawberry mixture. Set aside.
Dust a flat work surface with flour and pull the first pie dough disc out of the fridge. Make sure to dust both your hands and a rolling pin with flour and roll out the disc until it measures roughly 12 inch round and is roughly ⅛” thick. Gently fit the dough into your pie plate, trimming the edges as needed. Pour the filling into the crust and set aside while you roll out the top layer.
Roll out the top layer to the same specifications as the bottom layer. Gently place on top of the filling and trim any excess overhang. Crimp the edges as desired. You could also use a lattice top here, if that’s your style.
Chill the pie in the fridge for 30 minutes to set the pastry.
While the pie is chilling, position the oven racks at the bottom and center positions and preheat the oven to 425°F. Brush the top pastry with the egg wash and sprinkle with the demerara sugar. With a paring knife, make a small “X” in the middle of the pie to allow steam to escape (If you’re using a lattice crust, or any other top crust that doesn’t blanket the whole pie, you can skip this step). Place the pie on the lowest rack of the oven and bake for 20-25 min, until the pastry is set and beginning to brown. Lower the oven temperature to 375°F, move the pie to the center oven rack and continue to bake until the pie is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling, about 35-40 minutes.
Allow to cool on a wire rack, 2-3 hours, no less or the pie will fall apart as you’re trying to slice it. Serve warm or at room temperature. A scoop of strawberry ice cream is delicious with this, but you didn’t hear it from me.
The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or at room temperature for 2 days.
Makes one 9 inch pie. Serves 8-10 people.