Justin Burke-Samson appreciates the classics.
So the California native feels right at home as the executive pastry chef at Kindred and Hello, Sailor restaurants outside his mother’s hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Burke-Samson made his name with a series of dessert pop-ups in Boston, Massachusetts. “Boston loved avant-garde desserts,” he says. “That just isn’t me. A lot of the things I gravitate toward making are the things I grew up eating—and, here in North Carolina, I can let a piece of cake speak for itself.”
He also appreciates a year-round supply of farm-fresh ingredients that he puts to work in seasonal treats like this tribute to retro strawberry pretzel pie.
“Strawberry pretzel pie is a good old-fashioned grandmas-at-a-church dish,” he says. “In its simplest form, it’s just crushed-up pretzels with cream cheese and strawberry jello. That’s it. Maybe if grandma is feeling a little interesting, she’ll throw in some chopped strawberries.”
Burke-Samson grew up on the sweet-and-salty original, but, as a professional pastry chef, he decided to make a few changes to the formula. He dialed down the sweetness, lightened the texture of the cream cheese filling with whipped cream, and added complexity with chocolate malt powder and fresh strawberry puree.
It’s still an easy icebox dessert, in slab or round form, made entirely with ingredients you’ll find at the supermarket—though, if you want the fruit filling to pop, you’ll seek out fresh farmers’ market strawberries while they’re in season this spring.