Published July 1, 2003.
No-bake berry pies often turn out soupy, chewy, or tasteless. Could we make a pie with great texture and flavor--and still keep it simple?
Many berry pies consist of rubbery Jell-O or viscous pudding, poured into a cardboard-like prefab crust and garnished with Cool Whip.
The bright flavors of a berry tart served in a substantial pie with good texture and neat slices.
Our initial tests showed that a graham cracker crust is not only easy to make but also pairs nicely with tangy sweet berries. Store-bought graham cracker pie crusts failed to impress, so we decided to make our own. Some recipes call for simply pressing and chilling the crust before filling it, but we discovered that prebaking dramatically improved the flavor of the crust and gave it more structure by melting the butter and sugar together. A careful balance of the three ingredients—crumbs, butter, and sugar—was crucial to texture and flavor. We also found it much easier to press the crumbs into the pan when the butter was very warm.
Having created a recipe for the crust, we could now focus on the mound of berries that would top it. The biggest issue was figuring out how to hold the berries together. We needed a binder that would give the pie enough structure to stand up to slicing without interfering with the pure flavor of the fruit. Combining a berry puree with whole berries meant optimal flavor, but the puree still had to be thickened. Cornstarch did the trick, producing a good texture without adding any off-flavors. We combined the puree, cornstarch, sugar, and salt and strained out the seeds. We then briefly cooked the mixture, seasoned it with lemon juice at the end, and allowed it to cool slightly.
As a final touch, we borrowed a trick from tart making and gently tossed the fresh whole berries with melted seedless jam, giving the cake an attractive glaze and enhancing the berry flavor at the same time. We then layered the glazed berries over the puree and moved the pie to the refrigerator so it could set up. A few hours later, we dug in. Our pie tasted fresh, sliced well, and was a whole lot easier to make than a traditional American pie.list of recipes