Most grocery stores sell canned strawberry pie filling, but it bears only a pale resemblance to what you can produce on your own. Using fresh or frozen berries creates a more intense flavor, brighter color and a better texture than store-bought versions. In addition to filling pie shells with your own strawberry mixture, try using it between cake layers or as a topping for pancakes and waffles.
The type of dessert you’re making dictates the kind of filling recipe you follow. For a pie, keep berries whole or halved so they don’t break down completely in the baking process. For cake filling, you may want pureed berries and more thickener than you’d use in a pie. Since most cakes are sweet on their own, you can also add less sweetener to a strawberry mixture you’re using as cake filling.
Taste your berries before you start your recipe. They may be tart or sweet depending on how ripe they are, and that will help determine the amount of sweetener to add. A safe ratio is 1/2 cup of sugar to 1 pound of tart berries. Mix the sugar with the sliced berries and your thickener in a bowl, add a small amount of lemon juice to preserve the berries’ color, and let the mixture sit for 5 to 10 minutes before using it in the dessert.
Strawberry jam makes a convenient filling base because it’s already thickened and sweetened. The flavor is less intense than that of a filling produced from fresh berries, however, and so will the color. Mixing a prepared jam with fresh berries can create a dissonant texture because the fresh berries are much firmer, but if your recipe calls for a heated filling, break down the fresh berries with heat and combine them with jam when they soften.
Thickening the Filling
Flour, cornstarch or tapioca are three common pie filling thickeners, and they will all work for strawberry filling. Flour will give your strawberry mixture a cloudy look, and you’ll need more of it than cornstarch or tapioca. Cornstarch is a better binder but can also create a cloudy look. For a clear starch that adds shine, an instant modified food starch works particularly well in pie fillings. Tapioca pearls also bind pie fillings well but should not be used for lattice pies because the pearls near the top can become crusty and hard while baking.
References and ResourcesThe Local Palate: Strawberry Filled Cake with Fresh Strawberry Buttercream
King Arthur Flour: Thickeners for Pies
OregonLive.com: Make Sure Your Fruit Pie Filling Is Properly Sweetened, Thickened