Strawberry Rhubarb Pie in a Buttermilk Crust

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Hi guys! I'm back after an unannounced, yet much needed summer break. The last couple months have been a whirlwind to say the least. I'm officially a full-time accountant again, my baby girl Raven is happily enrolled in daycare, and Jaden is getting ready to enter 8th grade. The next big move for us will be finding a place to live, so I'm apartment hunting in the area (okay, I am kitchen hunting, to be more accurate.) Lots and lots of changes. I feel like my routine was tossed out the window but I'm slowly but surely getting the hang of this 9 to 5 thing again. I was admittedly nervous to share my big news, but hey... it's all part of the journey. Accounting pays the bills and will allow me to get back on my own again as well as invest in Elevated Comfort and The Kitchenista Diaries brand. Don't think for a minute that I'm giving up on my culinary path. Just taking a new route, one that comes with healthcare and paid vacation, ha.  In all seriousness, I'm grateful for getting a couple years at home, but this is the territory I'm actually much more familiar navigating. My plate's just a little fuller this time around!

On to the good stuff. And I do mean good. You came here for pie right? Right. Technically this is a spring recipe. However, along with all those new changes came a new laptop, so as I was transferring files I came across this delectable strawberry rhubarb pie. It's still relatively easy to find rhubarb and good strawberries right now, and even if it wasn't I'm still blogging this baby because I'll forget the recipe come springtime. So here we are. This was a tart, not-too-sweet, juicy, buttery, fruity, fragrant homemade pie that made my heart swell. I didn't even think I'd like it to be honest...but I loved it. My only real memory of rhubarb is from the summers we spent in Massachusetts when I was a kid. My cousins and I would gnaw on rhubarb stalks at my Nana's house. It was sour as hell and kind of stringy like celery but it was really just a vehicle for the sugar we were allowed to dip it in. The thought of cooking with rhubarb never really crossed my mind until the last year or so. Late this spring, I finally decided to see what the fuss over strawberry rhubarb pies was all about. I checked a few recipes online to get the gist of what I needed to know. Smitten Kitchen's recipe seemed closest to the formula I use for my other berry pies. With a few tweaks, I settled on a version that works for me!

The verdict? Strawberry rhubarb pies are absolutely worth the hype. There was a time when I thought cooked strawberries were kinda gross, but now I throw them in most of my summer berry pies and peach cobblers with reckless abandon. Sweet strawberries play perfectly with rhubarb, which gets tender after all that time in the oven but maintains its tartness. I kept the pie recipe fairly traditional, save for the sneaky addition of shredded apple. That's a trick I learned from making Cook Illustrated's blueberry pie. Apple is high in pectin, so it helps to naturally thicken pies made with berries, which are lower in pectin. You don't taste the apple at all. I also used my go-to blend of ground tapioca and cornstarch which work under high heat to thicken the juices in the pie without turning it cloudy. Working with fruit pies can be a bit of a challenge but the more you bake, the more you get a feel for the proper ratio of fruit to thickener. I don't like letting any of those delicious fruit juices go to waste, so I'll also show you how to get every last bit into the pie without making it runny. The crust shown here is my buttermilk pie crust recipe, which still proves to be a flaky winner every time. Lately I've been swapping out some of the shortening for leaf lard, which adds an indescribable flavor to the crust. (I get the lard from my butcher as I don't trust the processed tubs in the grocery store. I suggest you do the same if you'd like to try lard in your baked goods.)  Any good homemade pie crust recipe will be fine here. I didn't use a deep dish pie plate here, so if you use my pie crust recipe you'll have a good bit of dough leftover for a mini pie or some other use!

Strawberry rhubarb pie is certainly old-fashioned, in the best way possible. Whether you make it in the spring or summer, this is a dope pie to try if you've never had one. My cousin from Texas happened to be in town for the day when I baked the one in the photos. He was not trying to leave without a slice, despite my pleadings that it needed to cool for several hours before cutting. At exactly the four hour mark, he had to get back on the road but sat there waiting at the kitchen counter like a sad puppy. So I cut a slice for him, and it had firmed up just enough in that time. However I was still a little nervous that it would turn into strawberry rhubarb soup later on. To prevent that, I shored up the opening with aluminum foil and put the whole pie back in the fridge overnight before slicing any more of it. The next day, it was perfect with just the right amount of syrupy liquid that you'd expect from a berry pie. So if you can, chill the pie overnight before eating it. If you're like my cousin and can't bear the wait, four hours is a safe minimum cooling time. I have a thing for eating cold berry pies straight out of the fridge from the pie pan. It's honestly only because of my blog that a slice even made it to a plate!

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Chilled dough for a double buttermilk pie crust, or your favorite pie crust dough
1 1/2 lb fresh organic strawberries, hulled and halved (approx. 3 cups)
1 1/2 lb fresh rhubarb stalks, chopped into 1/2" pieces (approx. 3 cups)
1/2to 3/4 cup granulated organic sugar; more or less to taste
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup shredded apple (something tart and firm like Granny Smith or Honeycrisp)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup Minute Tapioca, finely ground using a coffee or spice grinder
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, diced
1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tsp water
1 tbsp coarse raw sugar (optional)
Whipped cream or vanilla gelato, for serving

Active Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 8 hours
Yield: Serves 6 to 8
Special Equipment: (This section contains affiliate links.) 9" pie plate (standard size, not deep dish), heavy baking sheet, dough scraper, parchment paperstrawberry huller, coffee or spice grinder, large colander, rolling pin, pastry brush, cooling rack

On a lightly floured surface, roll out half of the pie dough and fit it into a 9" standard pie plate. I prefer to use glass to easily check the bottom of the crust for doneness. Firmly press the dough into the bottom of the pie pan. Trim dough around the edges in excess of 1" and freeze the pie shell until firm, about one hour. Roll out the remaining dough into a circle 1/8" thick and slightly bigger than the diameter of the pie pan. Transfer it to a parchment paper lined baking sheet and chill in the fridge until needed.

Meanwhile you'll also want to give the fruit some time to macerate. Hull the strawberries (a strawberry huller makes an easy job of tearing out the core and leaves in one twist) and slice them in half. Trim rough ends off the rhubarb stalks and chop into 1/2" pieces, similar to cutting celery. Toss the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar and salt together in a large colander set over a bowl to catch drips. Let that sit for thirty minutes to an hour.

After the fruit has macerated, add the shredded apple, vanilla extract, lemon juice, and ginger. Stir to  combine. Taste for sweetness; you'll be adding a little bit of brown sugar but you may want to adjust the amount of white sugar first if you find the rhubarb to be too tart or strawberries aren't quite sweet enough.

Grind the tapioca in your coffee or spice grinder until it's a fine powder. In a separate small bowl, mix the ground tapioca, cornstarch and brown sugar together. Stir that mixture into the fruit. Spoon everything into the frozen pie shell. If you have a warm kitchen, you'll want to transfer the filled pie shell to the fridge while you do the next step. If you want a flaky crust, the goal is not to let the dough soften to the point of all the butter in it melting before it hits the oven.

You'll see about a cup of fruit juices collected in the bowl under the colander. Pour it into a small nonstick skillet or pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat until the liquid is gently bubbling and allow it to reduce until it's about half the volume and coats the back of a spoon, 5 to 10 minutes. Set it aside and allow it to cool slightly, or transfer the syrup to a jar and set it in the fridge to cool faster. You should have about 1/2 cup (or less) of syrup. Don't worry if you have more than that, you just won't need it.

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Take out the chilled pie crust top that you rolled out earlier, and the filled pie if you put that in the fridge while you waited. Once the syrup is cool enough to stick your finger in it comfortably, pour up to 1/2 cup over the strawberries and rhubarb, being careful not to get it on the edges of the pie crust. Dot the pie filling with butter.

In a small dish, make your egg wash by whisking together an egg yolk with a teaspoon of water. Use a pastry brush to paint a very thin layer of egg wash around the rim of the pie crust. Top the pie with the remaining dough. Pinch the edges of the pie crust together to seal, trimming any excess of 1". Fold and tuck the edges of the dough inward to further reinforce the seal. Flute or crimp the pie crust edges as desired. If you're using my recipe, it will puff up considerably so I don't bother with anything too intricate. For more of a visual, check out this video I did for preparing pot pie crusts as an example of sealing double crust pies.

Brush the entire surface of the pie crust and rim with egg wash. Use a sharp knife to cut a few slits in the top of the crust to allow steam to escape. Optionally, sprinkle the crust with coarse sugar.

Place the pie on a lined heavy baking sheet to catch drips. Bake the pie for 20 minutes at 425°F, then reduce the heat and continue baking another 30 to 40 minutes at 350°F. You're looking for the crust to be a deep golden brown and bubbly fruit juices. If you can, check the sides and bottom of the pie to see that it's golden. A good, crisp pie crust needs a lot more time to bake than most of us ever really give it so don't be afraid of that. (Looking back at some of my earlier pale pie crusts, I would have given them way more time in the oven!) If the pie looks like it needs a little more time, turn the oven down to 300°F  and put the pie on a lower rack to finish baking so that the sugar doesn't burn. Remove the pie from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Let it rest at room temperature for an hour or two, until it's cool enough to handle. Transfer to the fridge and allow the pie to cool overnight if possible. At minimum, you want to give it a total cooling time of 4 hours from the time it was taken out of the oven. The filling will not set up as well if you don't give pies time to cool, especially berry pies. Tapioca and cornstarch both work together nicely as thickeners, but to finish the job it all needs to cool properly too.

Finally, here is the moment you have worked so hard for! Treat yourself to a nice (preferably cold) slice of strawberry rhubarb pie. I loved it with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, but equally good is a scoop of vanilla gelato if you're really ready to indulge!

I truly hope you enjoy this one. Strawberry rhubarb pie will definitely become a spring and summer tradition for my family.

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