A strawberry pie for early spring

Roasted strawberries collapse into a light chocolate crust covered with cold cream in a spin on black forest pie.
Roasted strawberries collapse into a light chocolate crust covered with cold cream in a spin on black forest pie.
(Silvia Razgova/For The Times)

Though strawberries scream “summer” to most people, to me they carry a lot of BSE: Big Spring Energy. That’s because growing up in the South, the first strawberries of the year hit markets in early March. And while those early-season berries weren’t as sweet as those that came at the start of summer, I always loved them more. Their slightly sulphuric, sour flavor made them ideal for baking since it helped to cook them down with sugar so as to make them as candy-like as their late-season siblings.

The early-spring strawberries are now in Southern California, along with all the mania that manifests when everyone returns to a specific fruit at the perfect time of year to eat it. I mostly refuse to eat strawberries throughout the rest of the year, waiting for those first berries of spring to kick off the season that lasts until the last super sweet berries leave in the summer. And right now, all I want to do is bake things with these new berries.

My current baking project is a cold pie that incorporates the cooked-down strawberries into a “Black Forest” flavor profile, a request from my partner. Instead of using cherries, which I often find need a lot of help to coax that enticing “red” flavor from within, early-season strawberries have the robust, tangy flavor I want — when cooked and condensed, the acidity balances all the sugar and allows for an exponentially greater berry-full flavor.


To complete the inspiration, I spread a layer of chocolate pudding over the jammy berries, followed by a layer of whipped cream to cut all the richness. In that last layer, I use cornstarch and gelatinto help set the whipped cream and prevent weeping — when water separates from the dairy fat — which can happen as it sits. It’s a technique — to help set the whipped cream on the outside and keep it stable, sliceable and soft — I learned from making a traditional Black Forest cake.

First you make a pudding by cooking a small amount of milk with cornstarch and sugar, then you dissolve gelatin into the pudding and, finally, fold it into the whipped cream to stabilize it. It may seem unnecessary, but when you work so hard on a pie like this, you want to ensure it sets up and comes out looking beautiful with each slice — now is not the time for those fashionably floppy pie fillings.

The crust is an homage to chocolate-flavored Teddy Grahams cookies, which have the perfect lite-chocolate flavor I’m after, and are balanced with the earthiness of graham crackers. But because they’re often difficult to find, I came up with my own amalgamation of the cookies using plain graham crackers and cocoa powder to mimic the flavor. With all the intense fillings above it, this crust is refreshingly tame in comparison and a cinch to make since rolling out pastry would be overkill here.

To garnish, I use some simple shaved bits of chocolate and, if I want to really impress (I always do), a sprinkling of ground freeze-dried strawberries. It’s a luscious, sensual pie using a berry that, for now, is happy to play with other strong flavors until it’s ready to show its sweet side.

Get the recipe:

Strawberry Forest Pie

Time2 hours
YieldsServes 8