Americans love their pies, in all seasons -- pumpkin in the fall, rhubarb in the spring, berry in the summer. But while the fresh bright raspberries, blueberries and strawberries of July fairly call out to be cradled in sweet crust, who wants to bake on a summer afternoon, turning the kitchen into a furnace and those beautiful berries into sticky-sweet mush? Two-crust pies, cobblers and betties are just the kind of comfort food that can feel heavy on a blazing day around the barbecue.
With a long weekend of Fourth of July entertaining just ahead, the Times Test Kitchen set out to develop a red, white and blue trio of no-bake fresh berry pies. These are new takes on some all-American favorites, with flavors and cooking techniques updated for our times. These pretty pies -- a blueberry cream pie, a raspberry wine pie and a strawberry and goat cheese pie -- are festive desserts that show off the abundance of the season. Perfect for summer entertaining, they’re easy, can be made ahead and use the refrigerator, not the oven.
Each pie uses a cookie-crumb crust that complements the filling. One basic crust recipe is easily varied to suit each pie. The cookies can be finely ground in a food processor or crushed in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. Use a spoon to press the crumb-butter mixture into the pie plate before chilling.
The blueberry cream pie is a three-layer confection of fresh berries; vanilla custard cooked on the stovetop, made light by constant whisking; and a flavorful berry-filled glaze. It’s in a pecan-cookie crust and is a sweet centerpiece for family gatherings. The uncooked berries offer a nice crunch to complement the soft custard.
Our tasters raved about the strawberry and goat cheese pie. Gorgeous red strawberries stud a tarragon-scented layer of savory goat cheese. The handsome presentation and surprising contrast between sweet fruit and tangy herbed cheese make for an impressive treat that’s shockingly simple to prepare. The cookie of choice to crumble for this crust is a simple butter cookie. For the best-looking pie, select large, deep-red berries of about the same diameter trimmed to match in height. And use a gentle hand in spreading the goat cheese so you don’t tear the crumb crust.
The combination of port and berries in our raspberry wine pie brings a real depth of flavor to the old-fashioned technique of folding gelatin and whipped cream together to create a mousse-like refrigerator pie.
The filling is light, loaded with sweet berries, and set off by a crust made of almond biscotti. Use really ripe berries for the best color and flavor. And when you crush them, be sure to leave some whole. They look beautiful when the pie is sliced, and add an exquisite burst of flavor.