This week’s crust comes from Millicent Souris, author of How to Build a Better Pie: Sweet and Savory Recipes for Flaky Crusts, Toppers, and the Things in Between. She uses SALTINE CRACKERS to create a vanilla wafer crust for her Easy Strawberry and Lemon Curd Pie.
Read below for the recipe, and for more about saltines. Click here to enter YOUR delicious pie (or pies) in the 4th Annual Good Food Pie Contest on Saturday, September 8th at LACMA.
Souris likes to make pies as simply as she can. So I asked her about that.
How simple can a pie recipe get? What is the absolute minimum number of ingredients a baker could use?
A pie is a simple as a vessel and its filling. That’s the most basic pie. The vessel is the crust, and the filling can honestly just be whipped cream, if you that’s how you want to roll. For the Easy Summer Pie recipe I was just thinking about fresh fruit. After months of cold-stored apples, rhubarb is a joy and strawberries even more so because they are fantastic raw. This recipe can work with almost any of the summer fruit. I just had strawberries on my mind.
And why saltines?
I think if you can make a crumb out of it you can make a crust. Originally I used cheez-its, but they’re too processed. I think desserts with savory elements are lovely, so the saltines mixed with the vanilla wafers add a compelling quality to this pie.
Easy Strawberry and Lemon Curd Pie
Tom Petty said it best: the waiting is the hardest part. When you make a traditional fruit pie you’re always waiting. The crust has to chill, the pie has to bake and most importantly the pie must cool. If you don’t cool a fruit pie for a few hours you’ve essentially just made a hot fruit soup with homemade crackers. There are ways to get around this, both the element of time and the excessive use of oven.
Let’s simplify. Even though these are three different steps they can all happen simultaneously, well, enough, to produce a lovely dessert. This is just a lot of words. Always read through recipes first. It helps more than you ever know if you’ve never done it.
For a 9″ glass pie plate.
Saltine Vanilla Wafer Cracker Crust
1/2 sleeve Saltine crackers (16)
16 Vanilla Wafers
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg white (save the yolk)
1 t kosher salt
Melt butter in a small pan. Pull from heat before it browns and let it cool a bit. Toss the crackers and wafers in a cuisinart and pulse until crumbs. You don’t want them to be dust, let them have a little body. Get together the sugar, salt and egg white. Turn the Cuisinart on, add the butter then the sugar, salt and egg white. Turn the Cuisinart off and turn the mixture into the pie plate. With a level, steady hand lightly press the crust into the plate. You don’t want to make mortar, so don’t smash it too tightly. Just evenly tap it across the bottom of the plate and up the sides about half an inch. It should be even in thickness. Put it in the refrigerator to rest for at least 20 minutes. Everything likes to rest to come together.
Now preheat oven to 350 degrees. No use having it on beforehand.
Once your crust has rested, bake it in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Pull and cool.
In the meantime, make the lemon curd.
yields 2 cups
juice & zest of 3 lemons
1/2 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
pinch of kosher salt
Fill a medium-sized saucepot about a third way with water and heat. Use a bowl that will fit atop the pot, or nestle down a bit, without touching the water. If it does either lessen the water or find a more suitable bowl. Cut the butter into small chunks and toss in the bowl with the sugar. Place on the pot so it starts to melt as you zest the lemons, keepingthe zest separate to add at the end. Whisk the melting butter and sugar together and add the lemon juice, whisking together well.
Lift your bowl. If the water is rapidly boiling, anything over a gentle simmer, really, turn it down and let some of the heat escape to bring the temperature down. Beat the three eggs together well, not so they are fluffy and full of bubbles but so the whites and yolks are as integrated together. Add the eggs to the lemon sugar butter bowl, whisking everything together. Once this mixture is combined use a rubber spatula to continuously scrape the bowl around the sides and especially the bottom so it cooks evenly. The point of the double boiler is to gently cook your eggs with everything, if the heat is too high it will scramble the eggs before they become a curd. The mixture thickens over the next 7 to 10 minutes; it becomes more cohesive rather than liquidy and firms up along the edges of the bowl. The curd is done when you lift the spatula, run your finger through the curd on it and the separation is devastating and apparent. Also you can dip a cold spoon in the curd. It should create a viscous drip on the bottom.
Add the zest and salt. Mix. Turn into another bowl and place cling wrap across the top so it doesn’t get a weird skin. Refrigerate for at least half an hour.
Strawberries for the Top
1 pint beautiful strawberries, the smaller the better
2 Tablespoons sugar in the raw (or 2 packets from the local coffeeshop)
zest and juice of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon Maldon salt
3 sprigs of tarragon or 4 sprigs of mint or 4 sprigs of chervil
a scraped vanilla pod, if you have one
Hull the strawberries and cut in half lengthwise if they are bigger than the tip of your pinky. Well, my pinky, it’s probably bigger than yours. If the strawberries are small, leave them be. Toss them with the raw sugar, lemon zest & juice and salt. Pick whichever herb you have and chop up. Bruise the stems a bit and toss the stems, herbs and vanilla pod with the fruit. Those stems and scraped pod have a lot of flavor to them. Let it macerate (sit) at room temperature while everything else (the crust, the curd, the cream) is cooling. Strawberries are juicy beasts.
After half an hour fill the crust with the curd. Refrigerate it again until it all becomes cohesive. It’s okay for it to jiggle a bit when you shake it, but it will give tighter slices the longer it chills. Cut it into 8ths, soaking the knife into hot water after each slice and wiping it clean. Plate the pieces and then take a spoonful of the dressed strawberries and top the pie. Drizzle some of the strawberry juice on it, and use the rest of the juice for a delicious drink, preferably with bubble water, lime and cold cold vodka.
Serve. Eat it. Resist the urge to serve with whipped cream. That’s called gilding the lily.
You don’t need it.