The story of this pie is not the story of the pie, but of the crust.
The pie itself is pretty straightforward. Kave describes it as a sweet riff on Caprese salad, the classic Italian salad of mozzarella, basil and tomatoes, and while I think that’s a stretch – strawberries, balsamic vinegar, basil and black pepper don’t exactly scream “sweet Caprese” to me – it’s definitely a different sort of flavor profile than you’d expect from a strawberry pie. It’s got a little kick. That said, I didn’t get to taste this pie until several days after I made it (it was a gift for someone), and I can’t say I was thrilled with it. My experience of berry pies has been that they are tooth-achingly sweet more or less across the board, and despite this one not even containing that much sugar (3/4 cup) I did not find it to be the exception. That is definitely something I can work on modifying in the future, as I intend to make this pie again. The basil also didn’t shine through as brightly as I had hoped. The answer to that might be increasing the amount of basil in the pie or finding a way to work it in as a garnish. These are things I can improve in the future.
The crust, though. As you guys might recall, pie crust was very much a new frontier for me, and it’s still not something I’m entirely comfortable with. I’ve made it a lot of times and it always tastes great – I use this recipe, which is as far as I can tell idiot-proof – but I really hate doing it. Mostly, I hate rolling out. I hate how flour gets everywhere and it always rips and it never gets thin enough or remotely circular and then you have to transport it without wrecking it. I hate all these things. And if I tend to do them without a ton of skill with a recipe with which I am familiar, you can only imagine how much chaos I can cause with a recipe that’s new to me.
Kave’s pie crust is, like her recipes seem to be (I’ve already made a third, and you’ll read about it soon), pretty fussy. Instead of water, she calls for the liquid to be a mix of milk and vinegar; in addition to flour, sugar and salt, she throws some cornstarch in there; and ideally, your fat would be a mixture of “unsalted European-style cultured butter” and lard. All of which, you know, whatever. Kave’s a professional pie-baker and I’m not, and I’m sure she’s experimented exhaustively to come up with a recipe this precise. If she’s that pedantic about it, it’s gotta be good right?
Well, I can’t tell you if it was good because I didn’t get to eat it until several days later and I’m not insane enough to judge pie crust by how it tastes a week later. What I can tell you is that I was seriously tearing out my hair making this. Remember, I’m shit at making crust to begin with, but I found the quantity of wet ingredients called for by this recipe insufficient to pull the dry ingredients together. And then I added more wet ingredients but I did it in a bad way so parts of the dough were too wet and parts were still too dry and only small sections had Goldilocks conditions. I’m shit at rolling out to begin with, but when half your dough is sticking to the rolling pin because it’s so damn wet and half is crumbling as you roll it out … I basically mashed half the dough into the pie pan and did a half-assed lattice over the top. And yet, because homemade pie with homemade crust is basically idiot-proof, it still looked incredible when it came out of the oven. (On the bright side, I was so mad about this crust that I reached out to my pie-making friends, and I got a million tips for not fucking up next time. So hopefully I can manage that.)
Word to the wiser-than-me: if you’re going to travel with this pie, do yourself a favor and wrap it more securely than in several layers of tin foil (or add extra cornstarch to the filling). I was traveling with my mom the day I made this pie and brought it to my friend, and we were both extremely distressed when she went to get in the car, moved the pie, and found strawberry goo all over the seat. We fixed things using a combination of scraping tools and towels and a plastic bag to make extra sure none of the goo leaked onto her skirt, but it was not the most auspicious start to the journey. My car still smells like strawberry on hot days. I guess that’s a perk.
I give Strawberry-Basil Pie a tentative B-. I didn’t get to eat enough of it for a really solid assessment, but what I had was decently tasty. It’s way too sweet though and I’m not sure how I feel about the flavor profile.
Clearly, I need to make it again.
Because of the extent to which I intend to blog about this cookbook, I will not be publishing the recipes. However, if a particular pie speaks to you, let me know and I’ll be happy to send the recipe along privately.