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Wilshire’s Strawberry Pie by Hillary Naishtat

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PIE-A-DAY #58

This recipe comes to us from Hillary Naishtat, Pastry Chef at Wilshire in Santa Monica.

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It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite fruit for pie, but I definitely have a favorite way to make a pie. For me, the best pie is simply the one made with the most perfectly, beautifully flavorful fruit, showcased with a flaky crust.  My mentor, Nancy Silver, showed me a way to kick it up a notch, adding a crème fraîche custard and streusel topping, a combination that goes well with any fruit.  Every day at Wilshire restaurant we make mini pies in a small cast iron skillet with whatever fruit is amazing at the farmers’ market that week.  I love having this on the menu because there are so many ways for me to play and mix things up—it’s the definition of “freedom within form.”  With cherries, I add almond flour to the custard and toasted almonds to the streusel, or with peaches or plums, I add warm spices to the fruit. – Hillary Naishtat

Keep reading for more of Hillary’s thoughts and the recipe…

The amount of fruit needed will vary, but generally I use about five cups of fruit to make a 9” pie bountiful.  You can use just about any fruit you can imagine in a pie.  This one was made with fresh strawberries from the Farmers’ Market.  Keep in mind that harder fruits need to be cut into smaller pieces, while soft, juicy fruits need to be bigger or else they’ll disintegrate to mush when baked.   I never measure sugar when making a fruit pie because not all fruit is created equal.  I add brown or white sugar to taste.  It’s your pie, and only you know how sweet you like it!  Then I add a pinch of salt and a little squeeze of lemon or lime juice, and any spices if I’m using them.  Finally, a thickener is used to prevent the fruit from becoming a soupy mess.  I like my pie on the loose, wet side, so I add only about a handful of flour for substantial fruit like apple, pear, or peach, but more like two handfuls for really watery fruits like plums or berries.  Pile your prepared fruit into your chilled crust (that you made from your secret family pie dough recipe or the frozen crust you bought from the supermarket).   Bake the pie in your preheated 450°F oven for 10 minutes or until the crust has some blonde color.  Turn down the oven to 375°F and take the pie out of the oven to add the custard and streusel topping.  Pour as much of the custard as desired—I personally like about half a cup.  Don’t worry about spreading it out too evenly because it will spread out on its own in the oven.  Grab handfuls of the chilled topping and crumble it all over the top of the pie.  Let some fruit peek out to add color.  Put the pie back in the oven and bake until your fruit is thickened and bubbling and the streusel has some golden, toasty color, about 30-45 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Fruit
5 C fresh seasonal fruit, harder fruits cut smaller, softer fruits in bigger pieces to maintain some texture

Streusel topping
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold, cubed, unsalted butter
1 c flour
¼ c brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon white sugar

Combine the flour and sugars in a large mixing bowl.  Using your hands, work the cold butter into the dry ingredients thoroughly.  Don’t worry about overworking this, you can’t!  You want to work it until there are no butter pieces left and the mixture is ever so slightly moist and stays completely together when you grab a handful.  Chill for an hour.

Crème fraîche custard
1 egg
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup crème fraîche (or sour cream)
½-1 vanilla bean, scraped

Whisk egg, sugar, and vanilla bean (you don’t use the empty pod). Mix in crème fraîche.