May 24

Many of the areas farmer’s markets have opened for business this month, and while the first few days were spotty with produce as they ramp up for the season, stands have begun to flesh out with the finest from the Spring garden.

I can’t seem to get enough of strawberries these days. Finally getting to the point where they are plump, ripe and juicy, markets have been piling up pints of them, and walking by the scent of their floral sweetness seduces me into buying more than I know what to do with.

I like to think I am a purist when it comes to desserts. While decadently dark chocolate ice cream certainly has its allure, I tend to prefer a really good vanilla ice cream any day of the week if given the choice.  This time of year, however, I am easily swayed by the combination of fresh strawberries and cream, churned into a creamy, lush ice cream.  The rosy hued dessert, laced throughout with frozen bits of fragrant berries, has a nursery sweetness that is a refreshing change to the standard scoop of vanilla, scoop of chocolate.

Eating an unadorned bowl of strawberry ice cream is pleasure enough, especially when it is homemade with the ripest selection of seasonal berries.  But looking to truly indulge my fancy, I decided to turn a freshly made batch into an over-the-top embellished confection of a pie, layered with complimentary flavors that enhance the beauty of the berries.

Atop the graham cracker crust base, a swirl of homemade caramel sauce creates a gooey, buttery barrier to pile the soft ice cream upon. Within the filling I fold pieces of crushed, toasted meringue for crunch and for more hints of vanilla. To enhance the flavor profile of berries, I also weave in a homemade triple berry compote that is richly perfumed with raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.  Finally I gild each slice with an extra drizzle of caramel, some of the remaining berry compote, and a soft dollop of sweetened whipped cream.

My husband, an unabashed devotee of all things chocolate, let out an uncontrollable moan during his first bite of this dessert. And it wasn’t out of regret for the lack of chocolate. The elements of this pie are both sophisticated yet playful, and highlight the beauty and bounty of the strawberry season while it still lasts.

Strawberry Blonde Pie Recipe:

*all elements of this dessert can be store bought and assembled, rather than homemade

For the strawberry ice cream:

1 pint of ripe strawberries, washed and stemmed

2 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar

I recipe homemade vanilla bean ice cream:

Ingredients

1 ½ C heavy cream

1 ½ C whole milk

½ C sweetened condensed milk

½ C sugar

6 egg yolks

1 vanilla bean (preferably from Madagascar) split lengthwise

Method:

Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Have a smaller bowl and fine mesh sieve close by.

Heat the cream and whole milk together in a pot with the vanilla bean over a medium setting. Meanwhile, whisk the yolks and sugar together in a separate bowl. When the cream comes to a simmer, remove it from the heat and slowly whisk it into the yolks. Turn the burner to a low setting, pour the cream and egg mixture back into the pot and cook it over very low heat, stirring constantly with a high heat rubber spatula. After about five minutes, the liquid should start to thicken slightly so that it thinly coats the side of your spatula. You do not want to boil or overly cook the eggs here, so be prompt in removing your pot from the heat, Pour the ice cream base through the fine mesh sieve into the smaller bowl, and place it over the ice bath to cool. Stir it occasionally until it has chilled throughout. Pour this into your ice cream maker and operate the machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Serve the ice cream immediately from the machine, or store in your freezer for up to one week. Note: Because there are no additives in this recipe, the ice cream will be noticeably harder the next day when you remove it from the freezer, so allow additional time for it to soften slightly before serving.

Heat the strawberries and sugar together over medium heat until the berries begin the break down and their liquid starts to thicken. Remove from heat and cool completely before proceeding. Allow the vanilla ice cream to soften at room temperature then fold in the strawberry compote with a rubber spatula. Refreeze the ice cream before serving.

For the graham cracker crust:

2 C Graham cracker crumbs

2 Tbsp Sugar

1 stick + 2 Tbsp. butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Mix all the ingredients together then spread it out into a 9-inch pie plate so that the mixture covers the bottom and partially up the sides.  Bake for about 8 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely before proceeding.

For the caramel sauce:

1 C granulated sugar

4 Tbsp water

½ C heavy cream

1 Tbsp butter, unsalted

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

pinch of kosher salt

Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan, without stirring, until the mixture turns a dark amber. Immediately add the heavy cream and lower the heat to a medium setting. Carefully stir the liquid with a whisk until the mixture is combined. Continue to cook over medium-low heat for an additional 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat then stir in the remaining ingredients.

For the berry compote:

I pint frozen or fresh mixed berries

2 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Heat the berries with sugar and lemon juice over medium heat for about 7 minutes, or until the berries begin to break down and their liquid starts to thicken. Remove from heat.

For the whipped cream:

1 C heavy whipping cream, cold

3 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

Whip the cream with the sugar to medium peaks and then fold in the vanilla. Keep cold until ready to serve.

For the meringues:

1 small box baked vanilla meringues, coarsely crushed

To assemble the pie:

Allow your strawberry ice cream to soften slightly, then fold in all but 4 Tbsp of the crushed meringues. Drizzle ½ C of caramel sauce along the bottom of the pie crust. Spoon half of the strawberry ice cream on top of the crust, smooth the top of the surface, then pour all but 2 Tbsp of the berry compote over top.  Fill the pie with the remaining ice cream then allow to set in the freeze for at least 2 hours. To serve, garnish each slice with a dollop of whipped cream and some of the berry compote.

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