Photos by Collin Richie

Recipe Detective: Food blogger Maria Do creates delicious replicas of restaurant dishes and shares the formulas with her followers

A lunch date featuring an ethereal appetizer of whipped ricotta and a particular king cake obsession are just a couple of the contributing factors that led Maria Do to quit her day job as a project manager and jump into full-time food blogging. “Murmurs of ricotta,” mused the server as Do and her friend were whispering about their luscious appetizer at the Elysian Bar in New Orleans. The phrase grabbed Do’s ear, and she turned her longtime dream of a blogging career into reality. 

When the world shifted to “work from home” in 2020, Do did just that. She converted her dining room into a home office and photo studio and made her mark in the blogging sphere, decoding a famously hard-to-find king cake and sharing the process with the world.

Do works strategically to replicate restaurant recipes through a process of reverse-engineering to match the texture and flavor of her favorite dishes. Mastering the always sold-out king cake at the Vietnamese French bakery Dong Phuong in Do’s hometown, New Orleans East, was the catalyst in her kitchen. “I’ve been wanting to do this for so long,” she says. “I made a copycat version of their king cake to let other people make it at home. The recipe took off! It was featured on Delish. Someone pulled out their KitchenAid mixer for the first time in four years!” 

Witnessing the impact of these virtual cooking lessons on people around the world fueled Do to continue. “During COVID, you know, when you couldn’t go anywhere, if you could make the food you wanted to have at home, then you could go wherever you want,” she says.

Raised in New Orleans East by Vietnamese immigrant parents, Do now tries to recreate things that bring back memories or take her places. “We don’t have pictures and family recipes,” she explains. “I didn’t grow up with those things. Plus Katrina wiped out everything on top of that. I like doing my own recipes because I never had it before.” 

Her latest success is the celebrated fresh strawberry pie from Strawn’s in Shreveport, her husband’s hometown. “I tasted this pie at the diner for the first time in 2015 and it was amazing!” she recalls. “When I visit, I always bring one of those pies home with me. I schedule my blog posts around my moods and the moment.” 

After figuring out the nuances of each component of Strawn’s Strawberry Pie, she now makes her version of their pie in strawberry season in her Baton Rouge kitchen. 

There is no madness to her method. “I am very Type A,” she says without hesitation. “I like making my own schedule. Being in the kitchen and writing it all out, that’s the fun part.” 

Her neatly curated supplies, staged in her kitchen and adjoining office and studio, are super organized, which keeps her working efficiently. She pens the recipes like a scientist on graph paper before slipping on her apron and recipe testing and tasting to get each one just right before publishing. 

Deconstructing every element of the dishes she loves and sharing with the world brings her a lot of joy. “Cooking,” she professes, “helps you through some of the toughest times.”

Homemade Strawn’s Strawberry Icebox Pie

A ready graham cracker crust is a rescue here. Sampling a slice of Maria Do’s delicious pie presented in a ceramic pie dish fooled me into believing the crust was made from scratch, all the way to the graham crackers. Nope. She buys it in its foil pan and  transfers it to a pretty dish. Careful when “brushing” the crust with egg. I didn’t have a brush handy, and when I tilted the pan to pour the extra egg from the crust, the whole thing cascaded out onto the counter. Time to improvise: I baked these graham shards on a cookie sheet and layered berries, cream and glaze with the crunchy cracker/cookie bits. Presented as individual trifles in stemless crystal, it was as delicious as by the slice.

1 graham cracker pie crust (9-inch preferred)
1 egg, beaten
2 eggs
130g (about 23 cup) granulated sugar
6 oz. (¾ cup) whole milk, divided
21g (about 3 Tbsp.) cornstarch
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 to 2 drops red gel food coloring
2g (about ¾ oz.) freeze-dried strawberries, pulsed into a powder
Whipped Topping:
16 oz. (2 cups) cold heavy cream
55 g (about ¼ cup) powdered sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Fresh Strawberry Filling:
1lb. (about 3 cups) strawberries, cut into quarters
55g (about ¼ cup) powdered sugar
1 strawberry half for garnish
Bake Crust: Brush beaten egg on storebought crust and bake per package instructions or at 375 degrees for 8 to 12 minutes until golden brown. Set aside to cool.
Make Glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and granulated sugar until incorporated. In a separate bowl, mix 2 Tbsp. milk with cornstarch and stir until smooth. Pour cornstarch mixture into egg mixture and combine. Warm remaining milk (½ cup plus 2 Tbsp.) and butter over medium heat until steaming, about 2 minutes (be careful not to bring it to a simmer). Slowly pour warm milk into egg mixture, whisking constantly, to avoid cooking the eggs.* Then place the entire mixture into the saucepan on medium heat. Stir constantly until glaze thickens, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Pour glaze through a fine-mesh strainer into a heat-safe bowl. The strainer ensures a smooth glaze. Whisk in red food coloring and powdered freeze-dried strawberries to make that rich, red-pink color! Refrigerate glaze until ready to assemble pie. You’ll have enough strawberry glaze for about 2 pies.
Make Whipped Topping: With a hand mixer or stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat together heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla until it forms stiff peaks. Be careful not to overbeat it (it will look curdled if it is). Set aside.
Assemble pie: Spoon about half of glaze into pie crust (you will have extra for a second pie if you want!). Spread it all over the bottom and up the edges. Layer on fresh quartered strawberries on top of glaze. Sprinkle 55 g or ¼ cup of powdered sugar on top of strawberries, then add heaping spoonfuls of whipped topping over top. Spread topping in a dome shape over pie, and garnish with a strawberry half. Serve cold.
Keep the pie refrigerated if you don’t serve it all right away. It’s important to keep the whipped topping cool so that it doesn’t bleed too much into your fresh strawberries. The pie is best assembled the day you want to eat it.
*A note on tempering the egg mixture: If you start seeing specks of white in your glaze, the eggs have cooked and we definitely don’t want that! I recommend starting a new batch and ensuring you add the warm milk into the egg mixture even slower as you whisk vigorously.