Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Rhubarb is the first "fruit" to come in in the spring. Although the Farmers' Market here in Berkeley had very little rhubarb available, our market in Eugene was replete with gorgeous stalks, and I brought some back with me.

Rhubarb is delicious alone in a compote — combine on the stove with a hefty dose of sugar and a splash of water — served over vanilla ice cream, or as the only fruit in pies and cobblers. But its true purpose is to be combined with strawberries.

Preheat the oven to 450°F. In a food processor or standing mixer with the whisk attachment, cream
  • 1 stick butter
  • just shy of 2 cups all purpose flour
  • a large teaspoon of salt
until thoroughly combined. If using a standing mixer, scrape down sides. Then add
  • 5 to 6 Tbsp cold tap water
and mix until dough comes together into a single ball. Separate dough into two roughly equal sized portions, wrap in plastic, and let sit while you prepare the filling.

In a large bowl, combine
  • 1 stalk rhubarb, rinsed and diced
  • 1 basket strawberries, rinsed and chopped, with greens removed
  • 1 cup sugar
  • quite a lot of corn starch and flour
The sugar-with-fruits will release a lot of liquid.

Roll out the larger of the two balls of dough for the base of your pie: use a well-floured surface and a well-floured rolling pin (I like to keep a pile of flour next to my dough, to be constantly reflouring the pin). By folding in half, transfer to pie plate: the dough should be big enough that it hangs over the edge on all sides.

Fill pie with filling. Dot the top of the pie with butter.

Roll out the second half of the dough. My family traditionally rolls out the top and covers the pie — if you do this, be sure to poke many holes in the top of the pie to allow the steam to escape in the oven. I occasionally construct lattice tops. For these, roll dough into an oblong, a little longer than the pie. Starting from the middle, slice thin strips of dough, and assemble the top. Many people have favorite ways of doing this. I start with the longest strip down the middle of the pie (say NS), and place the next longest strip perpendicular (EW) to it on the other middle. Then I do the two strips running NS next to the first one. For the next two (running EW, on either side of the second strip), you have to lift up the middle strip. Keep moving out, placing two strips NS, then two EW, etc.

At the end, use a fork to press top and bottom along the rim, perforating the edge, and with a sharp knife slice off dough hanging out of the pan. I usually skip this part, but for a well-browned crust, brush on an egg wash (one egg mixed with a Tbsp or two of milk).

Bake 10 minutes at 450°F. Then turn down oven to 350°F and bake another 30-35 minutes.

This is a very buttery but not particularly flaky crust. Refrigerate the dough before rolling out to make it easier to work. Vodka, incidentally, is half alcohol, which does not glutenize: for a flakier crust that's still really easy to roll out, use 4 Tbsp water and 4 Tbsp vodka, but be sure to use high-end expensive vodka with no flavors. Or make chocolate-pecan-bourbon pie, and use bourbon in the crust.

Or you can make your crust like pastry dough. Use some of the butter, all the flour, and very cold water. Melt the rest of the butter in the microwave or in the double boiler. Roll out the dough, and brush with butter. Fold in half, roll out again, and brush with more butter. Repeat a number of times. If flour starts to resist, let it relax in the refrigerator.

I like my pie filling to be very sour: 1 cup sugar is about the upper limit for me, and if I'm making apple pie I use very little sugar and some lemon juice. Berry pies I tend to just not put much sugar in.

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