Saturday, March 14, 2015

Strawberry Pie with Orange-Almond Crust and Vanilla Bean-Scented Whipped Cream in Honor of Pi Day

Pi Day is especially significant this year since the first five digits are 3.1415 and if you celebrate it at exactly 9:26:53 you have the first ten.  Pretty impressive.  It also happens to be Albert Einstein's birthday, so Pi Day and E=mc2 rule the day.  Which is rather fitting since math and science or physics if you want to get specific come together in the kitchen when baking.  Cooking is an art, but baking is a science guided by mathematics.  So let's celebrate with pie.  

When visiting Vienna a few years ago we happened upon a metro station that celebrates Pi with the equation etched into a very long mirrored wall.  

In hopes that spring is around the corner I created a fresh strawberry pie with a orange-almond crust and crowned the whole affair with vanilla bean-scented whipped cream.   Strawberries are the star of the show, so be sure to use sweet, ripe berries for maximum flavor.  The berries are tossed in a fresh raspberry sauce to give them a jewel-like luster.  If flavorful fresh raspberries are not available frozen berries can be substituted to make the sauce.  If you leave the strawberries whole they look like glistening gems, but it is easier to eat if you half or quarter the berries.  (If strawberries are not to your liking here is another Pi Day pie for the apple lover.)

The orange-almond crust is inspired by a tart crust from Ladurée's Sucré cookbook.  The crust is both flavorful and tender, but strong enough to support the weight of the berries.  The pie crust makes enough dough for an 11-inch (28 cm) pie.  If you prefer to make a 9-inch (23 cm) pie the left-over pie dough can be made into a few cookies.  If making a 9-inch (23 cm) pie only use 2 containers of strawberries for the pie and 1 cup (250 ml) whipping cream and 1 tablespoon (15 g) of sugar in the whipped cream.

The crust, raspberry sauce, and whipped cream can be made ahead making the last minute assembly a snap.  As with most pies, this is best eaten the day it is made.  Refrigerate any left-over pie.  

Strawberry Pie with Orange-Almond Crust and Vanilla Bean-Scented Whipped Cream

Orange-Almond Crust

1/2 cup (120 g) cold, unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (70 g) confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup (25 g) ground almonds or almond flour
zest from one orange, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
1 egg
1 2/3 cups (200 g) cake flour

Cut butter into small pieces and put in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the butter is creamy.  Stop the mixer and sift the confectioners' sugar into the mixing bowl of butter.  Mix until the butter and sugar are combined.  Then add the almond flour, orange zest, vanilla, salt and egg.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl making sure all the ingredients are incorporated.  Add the cake flour a little at a time turning the machine on and off just until the dough comes together.  Don't over-mix the dough or the crust won't have a crumbly texture.

Form a disk with the dough and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.  When the dough is well chilled roll the dough out between plastic wrap or parchment paper to about 1/10 inch (2 mm) thick.  Lightly spray an 11-inch (28 cm) pie pan with cooking spray.  Fit the rolled-out pie dough in the pie pan.  Trim any over-hanging dough.  Chill crust for an hour until very cold.

Preheat oven to 350℉ (175℃).  Line the pie pan with a piece of parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until the crust is set.  Remove the parchment paper and pie weights or dried beans continue to bake 5-10 minutes more until the crust is lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Strawberry Pie

2 - 6 ounce (170 g) containers of fresh raspberries
2-3 tablespoons (30-45 g) granulated sugar
3 - 16 ounce (454 g) containers of fresh strawberries
apricot or raspberry jam, optional

Wash and gently pat dry the raspberries.  Put the raspberries in the bowl of a food processor and purée until smooth.  Put the purée through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the seeds.  Stir in 2 tablespoons (30 g) of granulated sugar.  Add an additional tablespoon (15 g) or more if needed.

Wash strawberries and pat dry.  Remove stems and leave whole, cut in half or quarters as desired.  Put the strawberries in a large bowl.  Toss with the raspberry sauce.  If using spread a thin layer of apricot or raspberry jam in the bottom of the pie crust.  (The layer of jam will keep the crust from getting soggy.)  Fill the pie crust with the strawberries.  Top with Vanilla Bean-Scented Whipped Cream. (Recipe below.)

Vanilla Bean-Scented Whipped Cream

1 1/2 cup (360 g) heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons (30 g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Split the vanilla bean in half length-wise and scrap the seeds out with a knife.  Put the seeds in a bowl with the whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla extract.  Beat until slightly stiff peaks.  Cover the strawberries with whipped cream leaving a border around the edges of the pie so the strawberries show a little.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  It is best eaten the day it is made.