There’s something magical about strawberry season. It means that summer has arrived, bringing with it a bounty that’s as striking as it is scrumptious. A strawberry can quench our thirst, satisfy a sweet tooth, and remind us that vibrant beauty is a free gift of nature.
But despite all this allure, something has always bothered me about strawberries when they are in the form of pie – at least, the type where a plain, pale crust and a mound of uncooked, whole strawberries are as creative as it gets. I’ve long wondered, Can anything be a pie when it’s sitting in a crust? Why not just eat a bowl of strawberries? That’s not to say that a pile of berries isn’t delicious, but rather, that there are countless other ways to showcase their appeal. So after some conveniently edible trial and error, I created a refreshing dessert made with lots of vanilla beans, minimal oven time, and a generous splash of spiced rum: strawberry pie, with spirit! Here is the recipe.
Strawberry Vanilla Bean Rum Pie (serves 8-10)
- 5 ounces (9 full crackers/1 sleeve) graham crackers
- 1 ounce almonds (about 1/4 cup)
- Seeds scraped from 2 large vanilla beans
- 1/3 cup melted butter (plus a few drops more if too dry)
- 3.5 ounces white chocolate in small pieces
- Scant 2 Tbsp butter at room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9” pie pan (preferably glass) with butter. Pulse first three ingredients in a food processor until evenly crushed, then add melted butter and pulse for a few more seconds. If too dry, add a little more melted butter. Evenly push into greased prepared pan and bake at 350 F for 14-16 minutes. Remove crust and turn off oven. While crust cools for a few minutes, melt the white chocolate in 15 second intervals in the microwave, stirring in between. Once smooth, stop heating (it should only take 2 or 3 times in the microwave), whisk in butter until smooth, and carefully spread it into bottom and lower sides of the warm crust (this will prevent the crust from getting soggy once the filling sits in it). Place in fridge to completely cool.
- About 1 lb. 13 oz. fresh strawberries, or 2 standard square baskets
- Scant ¼ cup sugar
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 3 Tbsp cornstarch
- 2 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- Another scant ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ cup spiced rum (I prefer Sailor Jerry’s)
- Seeds scraped from 2 large vanilla beans
Hull and half the strawberries directly into a medium saucepan (you’ll lose a couple of ounces in weight, which is fine). Top with lemon juice and ¼ cup sugar. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. After 10 minutes, slowly sift the cornstarch over the berries, stirring it in completely, then keep stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, start working on the custard: Whisk together remaining five ingredients in a large heatproof bowl and set over a pot of simmering water. Whisk constantly, until custard is thick enough to hold a deep trail, about the consistency of sour cream. This should take about 10 minutes. Remove strawberry pan from heat; remove custard from heat and keep whisking while bowl cools a bit. After a few minutes, use a whisk to push the strawberries through a sieve onto the custard, being sure to scrape the back of the sieve. Mix the strawberries and custard by hand until even in color and consistency. Pour into cooled pie shell. Refrigerate for at least 5 hours or overnight, serving within 24 hours.
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- Seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean
- 2-3 Tablespoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon spiced rum Beat all ingredients on high until stiff. Pipe or spread evenly over pie. Decorate with strawberries if desired. Keep chilled and eat within 2-3 hours.
Cool, refreshing and flavorful, this pie satisfies several cravings in one bite. The hint of rum really intensifies the vanilla bean, which itself gives the tart strawberries a boost of complimentary warmth. The texture is creamy, velvety and speckled with tiny seeds that offer a welcome burst of summer to both the belly and the spirit.
Maybe next time… This recipe can be made gluten-free by simply using gluten-free graham crackers or gingersnaps in the crust. To make it dairy free, use coconut oil in place of all butter, dark dairy-free chocolate in place of white, and a meringue topping like the one I made here instead of whipped cream (be sure to replace the liquid in the syrup with a mixture of rum, vanilla, and strained berry juice). Finally, if you can find vanilla bean paste, it’s much easier than scraping all the vanilla bean pods, is just as delicious, and a little bit goes a long way.