“This time of year, I really like to make things that don’t require a lot of oven time. There’s so much great fruit around, you don’t need to do much to show it off,” says pastry chef Roxana Jullapat. She’s just arrived at the Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen, a box of strawberries tucked under her arm. The tender berries, from Harry’s Berries at the Santa Monica farmers market, are a vibrant shade of red; their fragrance fills the kitchen.
“It’s a perfect, easy pie dough. Ready when you need it,” she says, gathering a few simple ingredients to make the dough — flour, salt and sugar — and combining them in a large bowl. Salt adds flavor, she explains; sugar adds tenderness but also color as the crust bakes.
“The most crucial thing is the butter. Keep it cold,” Jullapat stresses as she walks over to the refrigerator to retrieve a couple of sticks. She cuts the butter into small cubes, then tosses them into the bowl, coating each piece. “This helps to keep the pieces from sticking together as they’re worked.”
She breaks the butter into the mixture using her fingertips. Where many recipes call for cutting the butter down to pea-sized pieces, Jullapat likes a mixture of sizes, though nothing too big. “Your pie dough should never be uniform. There should be an unevenness to it. Don’t overwork it.” She then forms a well in the center of the mixture, to which she adds a little ice water, using open hands to mix the dough until a handful clumps together.
Chill the dough — this step is important — at least 30 minutes and up to a couple of days. Or freeze it for up to two weeks. This way “you can keep ahead on your pie dough,” Jullapat says, smiling.
“See the marbling and striping?” Jullapat asks after the dough is chilled. “This indicates the butter was not overworked into the dough. You want to see this.”
Every few rolls, Jullapat moves the dough slightly, checking to make sure it doesn’t stick. Once it’s thin enough, Jullapat cuts the dough, using an inverted pie tin as a guide and cutting about 1 inch around the outer rim. To fit the dough in the tin, she rolls the circle over the rolling pin, then unwraps it over the pan, trims the excess and crimps the edges. “See how quickly I’m working? The dough gets soft so quickly.” She’ll chill the dough again for an hour before baking the crust.
“The most important thing I’m going to do today: blind baking,” explains Jullapat, greasing the dough and lining it with a parchment circle before weighting the shell with dried beans. She bakes the shell until it is golden and done throughout.
“With such great strawberries, simply stem and halve them.” She uses some of the berries to make a quick jam, which she tosses with the berries in a large bowl. The gelatin in the jam will hold the berries together.
She gently packs the berries by the handful into the shell. “Make sure every nook and cranny is filled.” Jullapat smiles as she slices into the pie. “So, that’s it! It’s the easiest, quickest pie of the summer.”