The Pie King + Strawberry Chiffon Pie

Strawberry Chiffon Pie

How’s summer rolling along for you? It’s the middle of July, we’ve been able to get out and roam around the city, hitting up some of our old favorite spots and finding new favorites. On top of that, I’m looking forward to Alex’s birthday next week (even if he isn’t), and we may have some exciting travel plans coming up! Summer is just the best, isn’t it?

So, you’re going to need to stick with me on this post. It’s one of those cases where I just got excited about something that’s not as exciting as I think it is, and the next thing I knew I had written about 900 words and there was a whole pie in my fridge.

A while back, I was hunting around for vintage recipes and I came across an article in the L.A. Times from over twenty years ago about a man named Monroe Boston Strause, A.K.A. the Pie King. But it was a line in the second paragraph that caught my eye, that mentioned where Strause’s father was born: Garrett, Indiana. WHERE I GREW UP!

Garrett is small. It’s basically a blip on the map. We do have more than one stop light, but the population hovered just above 6,000 last time I checked. So you can understand my surprise when I learned that a man, who eventually became known as the “Pie King,” had a link to my hometown. It’s not a huge link, but when you’re from a town with nary a claim to fame (with the exception of one tragic silent film star and a MLB player from the early 1900s), even little connections are interesting.

I’m not here to talk about my hometown, though. I’m here to talk about the man known as the Pie King. Somewhat surprisingly, there isn’t a lot known about the personal life of Monroe Boston Strause. We do know that he was born in Los Angeles on July 17, 1901, 117 years ago today. He was born to Boston Monroe Strause and Emma Studer.

Monroe Boston Strause(Portrait of Monroe Boston Strause, taken from his book Pie Marches On.)

It’s said that when Strause was still quite young, he became the owner of a bakery when when a relative who owned the business left it to Monroe. As a way of drumming up interest in the bakery, he began perfecting pie recipes and touring the country teaching others to make pie. By the 1930’s, he was already being written about by reporters who called him a pie expert.

It was also in the 30’s that he wrote Pie Marches On, essentially a pie bible explaining how to make the best versions of pie. He has a chapter dedicated to pie crust (if you’ve ever had a pie featuring a graham cracker crust, you can thank Monroe Boston Strause for it), as well as several variations of fruit and cream pies, black bottom pie (that he is credited with creating), and the chiffon pie, which it is said he invented in 1926.

By the 1940s, his mentions in the newspapers seem mainly to be companies promoting that their baked goods were “baked under the authority” of Strause, who may by this time have been traveling around the country less. His family situation may account for this. In the 1940 Census, he appears with his wife, Violet, and a one-year-old daughter, Marilynn. After that, I couldn’t find much information on him. He and his wife both died in 1981, a few months apart, but were living in different parts of California at the time.

Although his is no longer a household name, you can find vintage pie tins that bear his name still being sold on Ebay. He reminds me of many of our modern-day celebrity cooks. He perfected his technique, made a name for himself, and was able to profit from his celebrity status by allowing his name to be stamped on others’ products.

My search for more information on the Pie King’s later years will continue, because I usually can’t let things like this go. In the meantime, though, I’ve made a slightly updated version of his strawberry chiffon pie, which is a perfect for the dog days of summer, when the idea of turning the oven on at all is not very inviting, let alone long enough to bake a pie. It’s the perfect cool and creamy dessert for a hot and steamy day.

Strause’s original recipe called for uncooked, beaten egg whites to be mixed with a mashed berry/cornstarch concoction. The pie has a graham cracker crust base which only bakes for a short time, before being piled high with a light and airy egg-white-based filling, which is cooked for a short time over a double boiler to make the eggs safe, before it is allowed to set in the fridge.

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Strawberry Chiffon Pie
For my pie, I slightly altered this recipe. Makes one 9-inch pie.

Ingredients: 
Graham cracker crust:
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 9-10 sheets of graham crackers)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

Chiffon filling:
1 cup strawberry sauce (basically 16 oz of strawberries–see instructions)
2/3 cup sugar
.25 oz of unflavored gelatin
4 egg whites
1/4 cup of sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Instructions:

Graham cracker crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place sheets of graham crackers into a food processor. Process into fine crumbs, but stop before they are powder.

Stir in sugar and salt. Stir in melted butter until very well combined.

Pour into the bottom of a pie pan and use a measuring cup or your fingers to press into the shape of the pan.

Bake for about 9 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature while you prepare the pie filling.

Chiffon filling:
Food process about 16 ounces of strawberries (for me it took the whole carton), until quite liquefied.

Pour into a measuring cup, straining out the larger strawberry pieces and seeds from the mixture, until you get 1 cup of sauce.

In a small heat-proof bowl, big enough to hold 1 1/2 cups of liquid, add 1/4 cup of water and sprinkle .25 oz of gelatin over the top to bloom.

Add the sauce to a small pan with the 2/3 cup sugar. Heat over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a rolling boil, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Fill a larger bowl with a little water and several ice cubes. Set aside.

Pour the strawberry mixture into the bloomed gelatin, put the bowl into the ice bath, and continually stir the gelatin mixture until it thickens slightly, about five minutes. Set the bowl in the refrigerator as you prepare the egg whites.

Over a double boiler (a heat-proof bowl over a pan of boiling water, but not touching the water), add egg whites, 1/4 cup of sugar, and cream of tartar. Whisk to combine. Heat the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the egg mixture has reached a temperature of 165 degrees.

Remove from the double boiler, add in the vanilla, and use a mixer to beat the eggs on high speed until they are glossy, light, and fluffy.

Immediately add the gelatin mixture to the egg whites, folding in gently but thoroughly.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell and put back in the refrigerator for at least four hours or overnight to set.

Top with whipped cream and/or sliced strawberries and serve cold.

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Three really good things about this pie: 1) Intense strawberry flavor. There is little getting in the way of the flavor of whatever berry you use. 2) Almost no bake time. It’s too hot, it’s too hot, etc… 3) It really is as light as air. (That’s perhaps my only gripe with it. Alex liked this recipe better than I did. I like pie with a little bite to it.)

Thanks for indulging me in this walk down pie history lane. If you decide to give this recipe a try, please let me know what you think. I want to know what kind of pie people I’m dealing with here!

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Sponge Cake with Strawberries and Cream

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Hey! I jumped off here for a bit. My dude and I paid a nice little visit to New Orleans, the only other city we’ve ever lived in together. It was half vacation, half we’ve had too much Chicago winter and, even though it’s getting nice now, our bones are still frozen. Since we left, New Orleans is 300 years old (what?!) and way cooler. Us leaving may have even had something to do with that. We do not usually go to the swankiest places, but a quick rundown of our old and new favorites include: Elizabeth’s and Paloma Cafe, in the Bywater, for great food and drinks; our old haunt Cure on Freret (they just won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program!); Alto, the poolside, rooftop bar at the Ace Hotel; Bouligny Tavern, our favorite neighborhood spot (when Uptown was still our neighborhood); and Jacques-Imo’s on Oak, for really solid New Orleans cuisine (be prepared to wait for a table).

So, now the reason for this post: It’s the two-year birthday of my little blog-baby! As a person who studied and loves history, but has no interest or intention of ever teaching, my blog has become my little passion project of researching, writing about historical people, historical recipes, and family recipes. I’ve been lucky enough to have very, very cool women agree to share their family recipes and stories with me. I’ve learned some cool new things myself, and hopefully you have, too! I’m having a mini-celebration with cake.

When I was little, my favorite dessert was strawberry shortcake (and my favorite cartoon was Strawberry Shortcake–which came first??). I see recipes for strawberry shortcake online and they look amazing, but they are not what I had as a child. In fact, the only strawberry shortcake recipe I knew as a child was probably mostly chemicals: Those little store-bought, yellow, spongecake discs, accompanied by a tub of bright red glaze, strawberries (perhaps the only non-lab-created ingredient), and cool whip. As a child of the nineties, my body was raised on preservatives and corn syrup. I think it’s really nice when I hear people my age say that cookies and candies weren’t even allowed in their house, or that if desserts were allowed they were always hand-made from scratch. That just wasn’t my experience. Cake was available at every celebration, and almost always from a box. And I loved every minute of it.

As a grown-up who knows more about nutrition now, I eat a little better. Cakes are made, sure, but I enjoy only a little, or give them away as gifts. Also, I am blessed with a lot more time than my mom had. I am not working overtime in a factory, with two kids to feed. So, while I appreciate the tiny celebrations that we had, my happy medium as an adult is making things I love from scratch, with fresh and whole ingredients (including sugar and butter) when I can. This strawberry sponge cake is my version of my favorite childhood treat.

There is no history to this post, except for my own. It’s just a thankful strawberry spongecake recipe to remind me of summer days as a child, why I love food so damn much in the first place, and how grateful I am that people like you show up to look at my pictures and read my words.

To begin, and to really get the nostalgia flowing, instead of a biscuit-like base (like the ones I see online that are very beautiful and delicious), I made a yellow sponge cake. There are not one, but two, layers of strawberries, one layer floating just above the cake, dripping with a strawberry glaze that melts into the top, the second sitting on a cloud of fluffy whipped cream. It’s my own personal version of heaven.

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Sponge Cake with Strawberries and Cream
Makes one 9×13-inch cake.

Ingredients:
For cake:
2 cups unbleached cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup whole milk
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
For topping:
2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered (measure after quartering)
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced (to add to sauce)
1 1/2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered (to add to whipped topping)
2 1/2 cups heavy cream, very cold
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 tsp vanilla

Instructions:

For the cake: Grease a 9×13-inch pan and line with parchment paper (you may want to use a binder clip to hold the parchment to the sides of the pans). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

Melt the butter and combine with the whole milk. Stir in the vanilla. Set aside.

In a double boiler, combine the eggs and sugar. Whisking constantly, heat the mixture over medium heat for 5-8 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture should be very light yellow and thin. Remove from heat.

With a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together until about double in size. When ready, the mixture will be very light yellow in color, and will hold its shape for a moment, when you move the beaters through it.

Pour in all the flour mixture and gently fold from bottom to top until all dry ingredients are incorporated. Add in the butter and milk mixture and stir until combined. The batter will be quite thin.

Pour the batter into the pan, bake for about 25-30 minutes, turning the pan 180 degrees at the 15-minute mark.

When it is lightly golden brown on the top, springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, it is done. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

For the topping: Hull and quarter strawberries and add them to a food processor with sugar. Blend until liquefied, then strain the mixture into a bowl.

Slice two cups of berries and stir them into the sweetened berry purée.

Beat the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla.

Quarter the two remaining cups of strawberries.

Using a large serrated knife, slice the very top layer off the cake to make it a flat and porous surface. Pour the strawberry purée mixture evenly over the top of the cake. Add whipped cream. Then top with quartered berries and mint (optional).

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This cake is not for everyone. Not even my mom who used to make it for me, who says she doesn’t like “goop” on her cake. But for me, it’s perfect. It’s simple, it’s delicious, and it’s a little messy. Probably good for a picnic. It checks a lot of boxes.

If you share my passion for food and history, you’re always welcome here! This is not a business for me, but it does feel like more than just a hobby. Thanks so much for reading and I hope you’ll be back soon!

Homemade Strawberry Hand Tarts

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Picture this: It’s the first week of summer vacation. I am a scrawny kid, probably 80 lbs., soaking wet, likely wearing uneven, homemade jean cut-off shorts and an oversized Marlboro shirt that my dad got when he bought a carton of cigarettes (don’t smoke!). More than likely barefoot and even more likely, eating Pop-Tarts. That was me, every summer, from approximately 1993 to 1998.

Alex and I stopped by my hometown on our way to and from a wedding in Cleveland on Memorial Day weekend, which was bringing up all kinds of warm feelings. On Memorial Day weekend, if I were 11 again, I would have been running around in my friends’ back yards, with all of the other neighbor kids, until the very last second before the sun went down. Then my dad would yell my name or, more likely, my nickname out the backdoor and it would be time to come in for the night. It was making me all nostalgic for childhood and, of course, Pop-Tarts.

For the most part, I try to lead a healthy life. I work out, I eat lots of vegetables, and yes, I make a lot of desserts for this blog, but for the most part, but I usually end up giving a lot of what I make away (after I taste it of course–quality control, you know). On top of that, I really try to avoid eating too many overly-processed foods now, which is a real struggle for me. Being a 90’s kid from small town Indiana means that I am, as my friend Kristina puts it, “90% Ecto Cooler and other preservatives.” For example, nowadays, I never buy Pop-Tarts, even though I love them so much.

Incidentally, the Pop-Tarts that we know and love may never have been. In early 1963, Kellogg’s competitor, the cereal company Post, had announced a plan to release a new breakfast item called Country Squares. However, Post was still months away from releasing their item, which allowed Kellogg to swoop in and develop their own version. In their attempt to best their competitor, Kellogg reached out to Keebler, the famous cookie makers, to create a quick breakfast that could be heated in the toaster.

Perhaps we owe our greatest debt to Bill Post, a plant manager at Keebler during this time who was tasked with creating a toastable treat. (Bill Post appears to have no relation to the Post corporation, but I’m looking into whether there’s a cereal gene in the Post family.) He tested out versions, originally called “fruit scones,” on his children and they were a hit. Pop-Tarts were first tested in markets in Cleveland at the end of 1963. People loved them and they were released to the general public in 1964. They were unfrosted at the time, and only came in four flavors: blueberry, apple-currant, brown sugar cinnamon, and (my personal favorite) strawberry. A few years later, after Bill Post convinced executives that there was a way to create a toaster-safe frosting, frosted versions were made available.

Though I might not buy Pop-Tarts anymore, my cravings for warm, frosted, strawberry goo-filled treats have not diminished. Especially in the summer. I don’t know what it is. So, I made my own version at home.

Strawberry Hand Pies

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Homemade Strawberry Hand Tarts
Makes about 10 2 1/2 x 4-inch tarts.

Ingredients:

For the crust (using this recipe):
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
9 tbsp (1 stick, plus 1 tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
1/4 cup-1/3 cup very cold water
3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
Egg wash, optional:
1 egg
1 tsp water

For the filling:
1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
1-2 tbsp water
1/2 tsp cornstarch
2 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp lemon juice
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp vanilla

For the glaze:
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
1-2 tsp milk

Colored sugar or sprinkles, optional

Instructions:

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Briefly pulse to mix. Add cold, cubed butter and process again until small clumps form, about 5-7 seconds. Add in 1/4 cup of water and apple cider vinegar. Pulse for an additional 5 seconds to combine. If the dough is still dry, add cold water one tablespoon at a time, not exceeding 1/2 cup.

On a well-floured surface, pour out the contents of the food processor. Gather the mixture, separate into two piles and form a disc out of each pile. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour, preferable overnight.

In a saucepan, combine strawberries, water, cornstarch, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Heat on medium, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is boiling. Boil for about 15 minutes. Lower the heat and continue to cook for an additional 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Set aside to cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

On a well-floured surface, roll out the pie dough. The pie crust should be quite thin, only about 1/8-inch thick, but you shouldn’t be able to see through the crust. You should be able to get about 10 rectangles from each disc, if you cut them 2 1/2 x 4-inches.

Place each rectangle on two large parchment paper-covered baking sheets. Spoon about one tablespoon of the cooled strawberry mixture into the middle of 10 of the rectangles. Place an empty rectangle over the top, carefully pressing down the edges. Then, seal the edges with the tines of a fork. Continue until all 10 tarts are filled. If using an egg wash, beat together one egg, with one teaspoon of water. Using the same fork, poke several holes into the top of each tart. Brush egg wash lightly on each tart.

Bake for 30 minutes, turning the baking sheet 180 degrees halfway through baking.

Remove from baking sheet to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Mix together the powdered sugar, vanilla, salt, and milk in a small bowl. Spoon one teaspoon of glaze over each cooled tart. Sprinkle with colored sugar or sprinkles, if desired.

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No, they’re not healthy per se. They are basically made from butter and sugar, but I guess you’re replacing the high-fructose corn syrup? Pick your poison, I suppose. I also don’t feel bad about not buying Pop-Tarts because their sales have increased every year since they were introduced. There are plenty of latchkey kids out there, like I was, looking for an easy snack. Then those kids become adults and say, “No, I’m too good for Pop-Tarts, I’ll make my own.” But they’ll secretly have a moment of yearning, every time they walk by them at the grocery store. Or, so I’ve heard…