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What do you do when you've got yourself a big old bowl of juicy-sweet summer strawberries? My answer is to make a pie. I know, it's not exactly pie-baking season, and running the oven in your already too-hot kitchen may not sound like fun. I feel you. I've been living in a tropical climate for some time now, and trust me, I avoid flipping on the oven as much as possible. That's not going to be a problem here, though, because this strawberry pie is not only no-bake, it's also totally no-cook.* Sound good now?
* Okay, that's not entirely true. There's one teensy, tiny step that involves briefly microwaving a bit of liquid to heat it up...but that's absolutely it, I swear!
To be honest, the benefits of a no-bake, no-cook strawberry pie aren't limited to comfort. It's also great for flavor. When you heat fruit up—especially strawberries, with their intensely fresh aroma—the flavor turns deep and jammy, and you lose all those fresh notes. Keep them cool, though, and you'll be rewarded with a summer berry pie that tastes like it's been freshly picked right off the berry pie tree, if such a wonderful thing existed.
No-bake strawberry pies generally fall into one of two categories based on the type of thickener used to set the filling. The first one is what I call the "strawberry Jell-O category," denoting pies that use gelatin to glue the berries together; some recipes even call for artificial-strawberry-flavored Jell-O, which is a great way to absolutely ruin the fresh flavor of your summer berries. The second type of pie is starch-thickened: The berries and starch (usually cornstarch) are cooked together on the stove until the mixture comes to a boil, after which the filling will set...at least a little bit. Both of these methods come with risks. Too much gelatin, and your pie will be as firm and bouncy as a trampoline; cornstarch, meanwhile, can produce a pie filling so loose and sloppy, you might as well just give up and use it as sauce for ice cream.
For this recipe, I went with the gelatin method, since boiling strawberries with cornstarch would violate my no-cook rule. To prevent the Jell-O effect, I made sure to use the least amount of gelatin possible, while also incorporating a strawberry puree. The puree helps prevent the liquid from fully setting, like in an aspic.
Here's how to do it.
Make the Crust First
Gelatin-based desserts don't like to wait around. Once the gelatin is incorporated into the filling, it needs to get into the pie shell before it starts to set. So it's essential that you make the crust beforehand. My simple graham cracker crust is ideal for hot weather, since it removes the stress and fuss of rolling out a buttery dough.
To make it, I mix ground graham cracker crumbs with butter until sufficiently moistened, then press the mixture into the bottom and sides of a pie plate. I use the bottom of a small measuring cup to press the bottom of the crust flat, then chill it until I'm ready to add the pie filling.
Make a Strawberry Puree
To bind the larger berry pieces together in the pie, I use a blend of strawberry puree, sweetened strawberry juice, and gelatin. To achieve a texture that's neither too soft nor rubber tire–hard, the magic ratio is one and a half cups of liquid to two and a quarter teaspoons of gelatin. Strawberry puree adds extra-fresh strawberry flavor to the pie, as well as body to the gelatin mixture—otherwise, it would just be good ol' Jell-O.
To make the puree, I process 12 ounces of trimmed strawberries in a food processor or blender. You should end up with about three-quarters of a cup. Pour this into a two-cup liquid measure and set it aside.
Macerate the Berries
Next, I macerate the remaining strawberries with sugar. Maceration is a process that draws liquid out of fruit through osmosis; the liquid that bleeds out of the berries then dissolves the sugar, creating a strawberry syrup. Meanwhile, as the cells of the berries release liquid, they soften and become less turgid. The flavor of the berry also becomes more concentrated as it loses water. Check out more info on maceration and its uses here.
To macerate the berries, toss them with sugar and let them sit, stirring once in a while to dissolve the sugar. Keep an eye on it: You're looking for about three-quarters of a cup of drained strawberry liquid, but if you let the berries macerate for too long, they'll exude too much liquid and soften up too much. It took about an hour for my batch, but different berries will release liquid at slightly different rates.
Add the Gelatin
Once the strawberries have released enough liquid, it's time to add the gelatin, blend it all with the puree, and spoon it into the crust to set. To get the gelatin ready, you have to bloom it first: Sprinkle it on a small amount of water and let it stand for about five minutes, then heat it in the microwave for a couple of minutes to melt it. (That's the one use of heat in the entire recipe!)
Once it's set in the refrigerator, the pie slices into soft wedges, studded with intense chunks of strawberry suspended in a juicy glaze. A dollop of fresh whipped cream on top, and you're all set.
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