one of our family traditions is to make a cake for birthday celebrations rather than buy one. when my dad came to visit recently, I presented him with a freshly baked strawberry rhubarb pie in honor of his birthday. while a pie may seem like an odd choice, I happen to know that strawberry rhubarb is one of his favorite pies and since we rarely get to spend time together at birthdays, a pie seemed like the perfect birthday dessert.
since the middle of fall is not strawberry season, or rhubarb season for that matter, I decided to use frozen fruit. there are plenty of people out there that are probably thinking that I made a poor choice but the truth is, frozen fruit is at times better quality than what is available in the fresh produce section of most grocery stores. the fruit is picked ripe and processed so quickly that it is also a lot fresher and since it is cleaned before freezing, it is ready to use one it is thawed.
the best part of a freshly baked pie is a homemade crust. if I have heard it once, I’ve heard it many times, many people are convinced they just cannot make a fresh pie crust from scratch. the truth is, it is one of the easiest recipes to master and that includes the rolling process. there are just a few things that you must remember about pie crust: heat is your enemy, over mixing is a sure way to get a tough crust, use plenty of flour to roll it out because you can easily brush it off and last, let it rest before baking by putting it in the fridge to give the gluten time to relax.
this pattern is probably my favorite one to top a pie with. it looks woven but really isn’t. alternating strips of dough are placed on the pie starting along one side. the next strip is placed at the top of the pie perpendicular to the previous strip. the third strip overlaps the second one at the top. repeat the process by alternating a strip horizontally and vertically until you get to the bottom and you will form an eye catching chevron pattern.
carefully trim away the excess dough but leave enough to roll the edge and flute it. you can either egg wash each strip as you go or all together at the end. give it a light sprinkle of sugar and into the oven she goes…
now that I am not making pies by the dozen at work each day, I actually look forward to making them at home. in some ways, I think I actually miss making fruit pies. that could just be the change of seasons too-I am not a fan of winter and the fact that it is approaching quickly has me pining away for warm, balmy summer mornings in the garden…
for now, I am concentrating my efforts on getting settled and building the garden. learning the patterns of sunlight both indoors and out is a large part of my focus. so far, this house has many more options for light than our house in Nashville had and I am taking full advantage of it.
as winter approaches and my plans for the garden grow, I continually think of the seeds I will sow and the plants I will add to the beds. growing rhubarb is challenging in the south because of the high heat and humidity but strawberries are easy and almost self sufficient. there will be plenty of room for a large bed of plants and if I can keep the critters out, we will have enough berries to make a pie or two rather quickly. for now, I can only dream about it and thankfully, finding strawberries and rhubarb out of the growing season is not difficult and may be just the thing to stave off the winter blues.
strawberry rhubarb pie with homemade crust
makes 1 (9″) lattice topped pie plus extra dough
1/3 cup cold water
1 1/2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
2 2/3 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
(you can also use chilled vegetable shortening or a combination of the two, measure out and refrigerate the shortening overnight for best results)
1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon of water
strawberry rhubarb filling, recipe follows
combine the water and vinegar and place them in the refrigerator while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
in a large mixing bowl with a flat bottom, stir together the flour and salt. sprinkle the cubes of butter (and/or shortening) over the flour and gently toss together to coat the fat with flour, be sure that they are all separated and evenly distributed. using your finger tips, two forks or an old fashioned pastry blender
(my personal choice), to cut the fat into the flour. you want the pieces of fat to be no smaller than peppercorns and if there are some the size of peas, that is good too. sprinkle the cold water over the mixture in the bowl and gently toss the dough together to moisten it evenly. if the dough is crumbly or there are pockets of dry ingredients, add a few sprinkles of water until it is moistened and pliable but not at all stick.
this is an important part of the process, do not try to work with soft, fresh dough! divide the dough into three equal pieces and form a thick disk. wrap each separately and refrigerate for at least an hour. take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter until it is somewhat pliable and gives when you squeeze the edge. it should not be sticky or soft but rather cool and manageable-the edges shouldn’t crack and crumble when pressure is applied.
flour your work space liberally-yes, liberally. the excess can be brushed away much easier than sticky dough can be scraped off of the counter and rolling pin! flour the top of the dough and begin rolling from the center out. continually add more flour as you turn the dough between rolling pin strokes so that you get a circle rather than a square of dough. when the dough is large enough to line a pan, brush the flour off the top surface, gently fold the dough over in half and brush the flour off the bottom. carefully lift the dough and turn it over so that you can brush the flour off the other side. if the dough is the proper temperature, it will be manageable at this point and moving it will be possible. if it isn’t, roll it up on the pin and transfer it to a baking tray and pop it in the fridge for 5-10 minutes to chill it and make it easier to handle. keep in mind, if you chill it, you must also let it soften or it will crack when you pick it up. it is a bit of a dance, but learning to judge the temperature of the dough and the consistency is a skill worth having and it will ensure stress free pie baking!
transfer the crust to a pie pan that has been lightly greased and place it on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment. put the crust in the fridge to rest while you make the lattice strips and the filling.
to make the lattice strips, roll out a second disk of dough using the method above but instead of making a circle, make a rectangle that is about 9-10 inches wide and about 3/8 inch thick. using a rotary cutter or a large knife, cut strips of dough that are 3/4″ thick. you will need a dozen strips to make the pattern I used, you can re-roll the scraps once but they will be tougher than the first batch so resting them is a must! you can use the third disk of dough if necessary or freeze it for another pie. brush off the excess flour and place the strips on a baking tray and set them in the fridge to rest.
preheat the oven to 350. fill the pie shell and carefully brush some egg wash around the edge. lay the lattice strips according to the directions with the photos and if desired, you can brush each strip with egg wash as you go or wait until it is finished. sprinkle with a little sugar and bake until the filling is bubbling in the center, about an hour. let the pie cool to room temperature before cutting or the filling will run out.
strawberry rhubarb filling
12 ounces strawberries
12 ounces chopped rhubarb
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1-2 teaspoons of freshly grated orange zest
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon apple pie spice or pumpkin pie spice, either will work
if you are using frozen fruit, allow it to thaw completely and be sure to add the juices to the mixture. in a mixing bowl, stir the sugar with the cornstarch, zest and spices to combine them completely. add the fruit and toss to coat. scrape the filling into the prepared pie shell and top with a lattice, bake as directed above.