I have said it a thousand times, I’m not a sweets person. But there are two desserts from my childhood that I find myself craving. Both are from storied old school Baltimore restaurants; the fabled pine nut roll at Tio Pepe’s and the strawberry pie from Haussner’s. The truly frustrating part is it’s very hard to find a recipe for either on the magic eight ball of the internet. This, of course, only intensifies the mystique surrounding them and my desire to eat them.
My Dad was a member of both the Baltimore and Washington D.C. Wine and Food Societies and he would host a dinner for each about once a year. These parties were a big deal, well, they certainly were a big deal to a little girl. Prior to the party we would move the dining room furniture in to the living room (more space) ‘Don’t hit the walls Morg. Careful, careful. Goddamnit. I hit the wall.’ The silver also had to be polished and the decanters had to be washed, these were my jobs while my Dad handled dinner. The dinner menu went like this: the main course was shad roe if it was available, if not, cornish game hens or beef tenderloin served with asparagus or green beans and a side of either wild rice or potatoes. The appetizers were always a selection of cheeses and pate from Charlie at the Cross Street Market and these were assuredly served with stone ground wheat crackers in the sky blue box. And the dessert was always, always the pine nut roll from Tio’s and the strawberry pie from Haussner’s.
Around five o’clock we would climb down to the wine cellar where my Dad would excitedly make his selections. Making proclamations about who he could fool with what wine during the blind tasting part of the evening. “Old so-and-so won’t know what hit him, oh yeah boy! Won’t know what hit him! Woo!’ Then I would assist my dad in decanting his wine selections. And for the record, sometimes he cheated and used a Melita coffee filter. ‘Don’t say anything Morg! Dear God! Some people say it changes the taste of the wine, it’s malarky! Malarky!’ Then I would wait, not so patiently, for the guests to arrive. I would help gather coats and greet people. Once everyone had arrived I could perform my parlour trick of sniffing and blind guessing a wine to my father’s beaming pride. Then it was off to bed to the smell of shallots and meat juices and to the sound of clinking glasses and laughter.
In the morning, while my Dad was still sleeping off all his hard work, I would come downstairs to the wine stained kitchen and help myself to the leftovers for breakfast. Nothing says bachelor dad like sitting on the kitchen counter eating pate and strawberry pie for breakfast. A great breakfast and one I always looked forward to, it was only improved when I was old enough to drink coffee with it. What made this pie so special were the contrasts. A buttery crust with a creamy vanilla under layer hiding beneath sweet and tart fruit with crispy almond slivers on top. It was hard to stop eating, especially when interspersed with bites of pate on stale stoned ground wheat crackers.
Haussner’s closed years ago, taking the pie with it. That pie was part of Baltimore. I feel like they should have at least given the recipe to the Maryland Historical Society. Research didn’t really help, none of the recipes I found on the internet felt right, they were either missing the cream layer or loaded in fake flavoring or color. And while I don’t doubt Haussner’s may have used artificial enhancers, I could not. I decided I would have to make my own version; more of an ode to the Haussner’s pie rather than a recreation. A trip to the farmer’s market last week had beautiful tiny strawberries, tart and precious, nothing like red behemoths at the grocery store, these were my inspiration. Three things were imperative: creamy filling, crispy almonds and glazed strawberries.
So before I dug in to this pie I was a little hesitant. It certainly wasn’t a pretty pie. I don’t have a piping bag. I just sort of squirted the whipped cream of all over the place, which is obvious from the picture. I also made a couple junior mistakes, like forgetting pie weights until 1/2 way through baking the pie shell. And there was a good level of improvisation that shouldn’t happen when baking. But when I took my first bite I surprised myself, it tasted a hell of a lot like childhood. There was an eye roll followed by an expletive and I gobbled down the rest of my piece. And I was kicking myself for not purchasing pate instead of Spanish chorizo at the farmer’s market the day before.
If you too miss Haussner’s strawberry pie, give it a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Haussner’s inspired Strawberry Pie - Serves 8
Pie Crust - Adapted from the Bouchon Cookbook
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces (2 sticks or 16 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup ice water
1/4 cup toasted almond slivers, ground in food processor
Make the dough a day ahead. Place 1 cup flour and salt in standing mixer with dough hook attachment, turn on low and add the butter a handful at a time, in about 4 batches, increase to medium speed and when butter is incorporated, stop machine, scrape down sides or dislodge dough from mixing arm, turn on low again and slowly add in remaining flour, followed by the water, mix until just incorporated. Remove and divide in to two, wrap one disk in plastic wrap and freeze for later use. Return the other half to the mixer and add in the ground almonds, turn on low until incorporated. Shape in to a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Roll it out on floured surface to about 12” in diameter. Place in a pie pan, top with parchment or aluminum foil and place pie weights or dried beans on top. Bake at 350 in the center of the oven for 45 minutes or until lightly browned at the edges. Place on a wire rack and cool completely.
Pastry Cream - Adapted from the Baltimore Sun
1 cup milk
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
This can also be a day ahead. Scald the milk in a sauce pan, set aside. Meanwhile whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Temper the egg yolk mixture by slowly adding the milk, whisking until incorporated. Return the mixture to the sauce pan and working over a medium heat continue to whisk. The mixture will begin to thicken, it may look lumpy, keep whisking. I found my mixture to be done when it had a pudding like consistency and appeared to ‘breathe’ when I stopped whisking it for a moment. Remove from heat. Add the vanilla and butter and stir to incorporate. Cover the surface with buttered wax paper. Allow to cool to room temperature before putting in the fridge.
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Whip together the cream and vanilla to desired consistency.
3 1/5 cups strawberries, hulled, and sliced if necessary
2 tablespoons strawberry preserves
1/4 cup almond slivers, toasted
Spread the pastry cream in to the bottom of the pie shell with a spatula. Top the pastry cream with the strawberries. Microwave the preserves for about 30 seconds. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the preserves on to the strawberries. Let cool in the fridge for a couple hours. When ready to serve, pipe the whipped cream around the outer edge of the pie and sprinkle with the almond slivers.