A little farther
we will see the almond trees blossoming
the marble gleaming in the sun
the sea breaking into waves
a little farther,
let us rise a little higher.
This is the point in the semester when energy levels start to wane. Each task begins to feel Herculean. The sun makes its presence known and begins to compete with our work for our attention (you can guess which one wins. My dissertation and I, in fact, are taking a break from each other. I've decided that any short-term loss will be offset by the long-term gain of this mini-vacation). We itch to escape, for it to be over, so that we can rest and slowly prepare ourselves for yet another onslaught come the fall. Personally, I choose to combat this particular brand of end-of-the-semester blues with dessert. And, for some odd reason, pie--the dream of a sweet cheese pie with strawberries, coconut and chocolate--has been on my mind.
Partly, this is because last week, when I was leaving campus after the screening of Iphigeneia in my Greek class, I got an email from the Berkeley Public Library telling me that the Joy the Baker Cookbook I had requested was ready for pick-up. And as I waited for the eternally late and legendary 51, which has been immortalized in the poetry of an alumna of my current department, I began to flip through it, wondering which recipe would grab me first.
Though a sucker for peanut butter and sorely tempted by the Peanut Butter Birthday Cake (doesn't even matter that it's not my birthday), I found myself instead eyeing the no-roll pie crust and remembering the cherry cheese pies that my grandmother and I had baked when I first started this blog back in June 2010. While I'm certainly not a woman to get excited about pie, these pies truly did strike me as the embodiment of pie perfection: almost a cheesecake, but really a pie with flaky crust. With the taste of them haunting my memory, I quickly began plotting my next steps, how I would combine Joy's easy pie crust and my grandmother's cheese filling with the pretty strawberries that the Greek had brought home...
And on Saturday afternoon, that's just what I did. Since this was basically the first time I had baked since the Sachertorte and Caramelized Garlic Tart of February, I let my imagination run away with me. I toasted some unsweetened coconut flakes. I took a small square of Italian dark chocolate and shaved it with my zester; sprinkling it on the pie, I liked that the whole thing looked like it had been properly seasoned. Truthfully, it was a well-loved pie, from my first inkling of its imminent creation to my final bite of coconut-covered strawberry cream.
The fact that I'm already wondering what kind of pie I'll bake next confirms it.
Strawberry Cheese Pie with Toasted Coconut and Chocolate Shavings
Yields 7-8 generous slices of creamy, sumptuous pie
Both a family- and Joy the Baker-inspired creation
For the Easy-No Roll Pie Crust (from the Joy the Baker cookbook):
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. baking powder
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, frozen
1 heaping tablespoon cold cream cheese
3 Tbsp. milk, cold
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. canola oil
-In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder.
-Grate frozen butter on a cheese grater.
-Add the frozen butter pieces and cream cheese to the flour mixture and use your fingers to incorporate them into the flour quickly. The mixture should look like a combination of a small pebbles and oat flakes. As Joy says, it should look "shaggy."
-Whisk together the milk and oil and add, all at once, to the flour and butter mixture.
-Use a fork to combine the wet and dry ingredients; make sure that all of the flour is introduced into the liquid.
-Dump into the bottom of a nine-inch pie plate (N.B. the recipe was for a ten-inch pie plate; I used a nine. This meant that my crust was a little thicker, which, for a cheese pie, suited me just fine. I also had a little extra dough at the end, which I formed into a cookie. It was delicious).
-Press the dough into the pie plate and up the sides with your fingers.
-Try to create an evenness, but don't worry if it's a bit marked up from your fingers. The baking will take care of those.
-Heat the oven to 350 F.
-Place foil over the pie dough and cover the foil with uncooked beans (I used some old limas).
-Place pie in the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
-Then, remove the foil and baking beans and continue baking for an additional 6-8 minutes (N.B. Joy's recipe said 4-6, but it took a little longer for mine to begin to look golden).
-Remove from oven and let cool before filling.
For the Cheese filling:
1 block of cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 pint whipping cream
-Beat whipping cream until light and fluffy with peaks and then set aside.
-Cream the softened block of cheese and add the powdered sugar. Cream again until they are mixed well.
-Add the whipped cream into the mixture and gently fold.
For the toasted coconut (optional):
-Preheat the oven to 300 F.
-Line a cake pan with parchment paper and spread 3 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes across it. Try to spread them as evenly as possible.
-Put in the oven for about 5 minutes; coconut browns quickly and you don't want it to burn!
To assemble the pie:
-Cover the pie crust with a thin layer of toasted coconut (N.B. depending on your preferences, you could substitute chocolate instead).
-Spoon in the cheese filling, making sure to spread it evenly.
-Cover the cheese filling with the toasted coconut and sprinkle 3/4 of the shaved chocolate (N.B. I used just a small square of a large bar, but you could use as much as you like) on top.
-Wash and dry about 5-6 medium-sized strawberries.
-Chop them roughly--for the outer edges of the pie, I used halves; as I worked my way to the center, I was cutting them into fourths--and spread them over the pie.
-Dust with the remaining bit of chocolate.
-Let chill in the fridge.
-In about an hour or two, remove and begin slicing and eating to your heart's content!