strawberry-rhubarb pie

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
pie crust
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.
if you like this recipe, then perhaps you would enjoy the book it came from.  please check out my latest book, Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe!

food styling, kinda-sorta: apple and strawberry-rhubarb pies for a magazine

ever wonder just what the person behind the food blog does in real life?  we read the blog, follow them, use the recipes and even communicate with them, call them “friends” but do we really know them?  not really, and that’s okay.  so many food bloggers are simply talented home cooks/bakers while others are professionals in the kitchen.  myself, i fall into the latter category; i am a pastry chef and cookbook author.  
for years now, i have heard people ooh and aah when i tell them that i am a pastry chef.  it’s as if it is something so fantastic and magical and oh how they wish they could be one too.  if i only had a dollar for every time someone said, “oh that must be so much fun!”  really, fun?  it can be on occasion.  most of the time, it is hard work, physically draining and a bit stressful.  even so, i still have fun and most of all, i love doing what i do and could not imagine holding down any other type of job.  
every now and then, i have the opportunity to do something exciting on the job.  remember back in february when my coworkers and i went to the james beard house in new york city?  i am still in awe.  there have been photo shoots and video segments and all sorts of exciting events.  one such event was a recent photo shoot for a big magazine, i won’t name it now-but i will when it hits the stands.  there was a country music star in the photos too but, i was just happy for the chance to make a few pies for a national magazine.
for the shoot, they chose apple and strawberry-rhubarb pies, six of each.
apple pies getting ready to go into the oven
and in the blink of an eye, they are ready!
so are the strawberry-rhubarb pies
i can almost smell them-can you?

probably my two favorite fruit pies, apple and strawberry-rhubarb.  yup, this is the sort of day i would call fun.  the sort of day that makes getting up at 2:40am worth the lack of sleep.  the sort of day that makes working on your day off just fine.  it’s true, i live to bake, absolutely love to bake, so there.

black and blue rhubarb pie, #28 of 52 pies

there is something special about a freshly baked berry pie.  a little sweet-a little tart and a deep rosy hue that draws the eyes, makes the mouth water and has the hands reaching for a knife and plate.  trying to develop an original recipe is a challenge on it’s own but when you limit the categories to one and complete the task weekly…well, let’s just say this isn’t always as easy as it should be.  add a family that isn’t always receptive to the chosen flavors and you can end up repeating the theme easily.  those of you who have followed this endeavor will no doubt find yourselves saying “hmm, she already used that ingredient” and you would be right!  my husband loves fruit pies as long as they aren’t peach (go figure) and when i was pondering the choice of fruits, he wanted rhubarb.  since he will likely eat most of it, i decided to indulge him and make a rhubarb pie but rather than pair it with strawberries (as well as raspberries which i did for #18), i chose to go with blueberries and blackberries since they are both coming into season in the garden.

since not everyone has a freshly picked supply of blueberries and blackberries, buy them fresh or frozen.  you will need a total of 3 cups of berries which is a pound.  using frozen berries will make it possible to serve this pie even when the berries are not in season.

i am hoping to get some rhubarb crowns into the garden so i can harvest my own stalks.  believe it or not, my local supermarket has bags of sliced rhubarb available with the frozen fruits which means we can have a rhubarb pie anytime!  using purchased pie dough will save some time but for those of you not willing to compromise, make enough dough for a double crust pie using your favorite recipe or this one from pie #18

black and blue rhubarb pie
 1 (9″) lattice topped pie serving 8-10

dough for a double crust, 9″ pie
1 to 1 1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
zest of 1 orange or 3 mandarins (i chose mandarins!)
1 1/2 teaspoons apple pie spice (or cinnamon if you do not have any)

1 pound berries, about 3 full cups of blackberries and blueberries
1 pound of rhubarb slices, about 3 full cups

preheat the oven to 350.  grease a sturdy baking sheet, line it with parchment or foil and grease that as well.  line the greased pie plate with the bottom crust.  a whole lot of greasing going on?  this makes a sticky pie if the juices spill over during the baking and it will not be easy to remove from the baking sheet without the grease!  trim the excess dough so that only about 3/4″ of dough hangs over the edge.  roll the excess dough under and flute the edges.  place the prepared pie crust on the baking sheet.

in a large bowl, rub the sugar, cornstarch, zest and spice together.  add the fruit and toss together.  scrape the filling into the pie crust and top it all off with lattice strips.  sprinkle some coarse sugar crystals over the strips and bake until it boils in the center, about 1 hour 15 minutes.   let it cool completely, about 4-6 hours, before cutting or you will have a never ending pie; no matter how many slices you cut, the filling runs out and fills the plate again!

so go forth in the world and bake a pie.  send me a photo and i will post it here!

berry rhubarb pie-#18 of 52 pies

 for me, spring is one of the most wonderful times in the year.  the visions of flowers and mushrooms dancing around in my head… planting the garden, pulling weeds, preparing the bee hive for the honey flow, cleaning out the freezer… where did that come from?  well it does need to be done and this weekend, i cleaned mine out-kinda, sorta.  in the process, i found some rhubarb and some raspberries that needed to be used up and when darry asked me to make a pie for our mushroom hiking friends, i decided to use them in the pie.  along with some strawberries and lots of other good things like orange zest, vanilla bean, pumpkin pie spice, cardamom and rosewater, i made a lattice topped pie for our hiking/lunch date with friends.

first, place your bottom crust in the pan and trim it to leave an even 1″ of dough all the way around.  pour in the filling.  lattice tops are an easy way to make a pie look fancy.  to keep your sanity, work with part of the dough at a time and don’t worry about weaving the strips.  simply laying them out in two layers will be easier and elegant all at the same time.

once you have your second layer of strips on top, carefully roll the edges up to make a raised rim of dough all the way around the edge of the pie plate.

using your fingertips, flute the edges.  finally, brush the strips (not the fluted border or it will darken too much in the oven) with a little egg wash and sprinkle it with some sanding sugar.  into the oven she goes…

berry rhubarb pie
1 (9″) pie serving 8
2 2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening-i used a non-hydrogenated shortening found in the health food section of my grocery store.
1/3 cup cold water
1 1/2 tablespoon vinegar-white or cider
berry-rhubarb filling, recipe follows
in a bowl, stir the flour and salt.  cut the shortening into the dry ingredients until it is in small pieces.  add the cold water and vinegar and mix until a smooth dough is achieved.  divide into two pieces but not equal pieces-one should be slightly larger than half the dough.  wrap them and chill them for about an hour.  allow them to soften slightly before rolling them out.  preheat the oven to 350.  roll the smaller piece into a circle and fit it into the pie plate making sure that at least 1″ of dough overhangs the edge of the plate.  trim away any parts that are more than 1″.  to make it easier to handle, place  the pie plate on a sturdy baking pan that is lined with paper or foil and grease it slightly to prevent the plate from sticking.  make the filling and pour it into the crust.  to make the lattice top, divide the remaining dough into 2 or 3 pieces.  to prevent the dough from toughening, make an effort to roll it into a neat rectangle wide enough to fit the width of the pie.  cut the strips about 3/4″ wide to fit the pie and be sure to use the photos above as a reference.  finally, flute the edges and bake the pie for about 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the juices are bubbling in the center.  allow the pie to rest for at least 4 hours or it will be too runny to serve.  
berry rhubarb filling
2 cups of halved strawberries
1 cup raspberries
1 cup rhubarb-slice about 1/4 inch thick
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1-2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice-or cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 of a vanilla bean-seeds scraped out and the pod reserved for another use
2 teaspoons rosewater
toss the berries and rhubarb together-if using frozen, allow them to thaw completely but measure them while frozen.  combine the sugar, cornstarch, orange zest, spices and vanilla and rub them together to disperse them evenly.  toss the fruit and sugar together and add the rosewater-mix to combine and pour into the prepared pie shell.
and as always, if you bake one and send me a photo-i will post it here.  contact me at  and now if you will excuse me, i think i hear some morels giggling in the woods and i must go find them

warming up with #9 of 52 pies in 52 weeks

this winter has been colder and snowier than usual.  around here, just about everyone has had their fill of snow and the hassles that come along with it.  today, the temperature broke 50 and it was sunny.  it was a taste of what lies ahead and i can’t wait.   the chance to weed the garden and sow seeds.  to watch sleeping plants slowly reappear.  to see the bees flying around in search of blooms.  for the first harvest of fresh greens.  but for now, it is all a lovely vision of what isheaded our way and that means i must content myself in the kitchen.  in honor of the coming season, i have chosen two things that make me think of spring.  easter pie is a popular italian pastry and depending on which version you make, it can either be a ricotta cheese cake studded with candied citrus fruit or a savory pie filled with meats and cheeses.  since spring generally means a new growth of rhubarb in the garden, i chose the cheesecake.  to incorporate the rhubarb, i made a compote to serve over the slice.

lurking in my refrigerator are many different flours and for the crust, i chose semolina-after all, this is inspired by italian cheesecakes and the sandy texture of semolina seemed like a good choice.  the dough is a little sweet due to a generous addition of brown sugar which also helps give the dough some extra color.

many italian style cheesecakes call for candied citron and orange peels.  since they are hard to come by once fruitcake season over, i decided to use the fresh grated zest of an orange and a lemon along with some vanilla bean seeds.

the filling, which was mixed up quickly by hand, was poured into the prebaked tart shell and then topped off with a non-woven lattice top.  the rhubarb compote was served chilled and added to each slice as it was served.  surprisingly enough, everyone has a generous slice with the compote when i serve it-even the kids!  the compote tastes a little like cranberry sauce-the kind made with fresh berries but that could also be because the flavorings added to it can always be found in the cranberries i cook for thanksgiving dinner each year.

lattice topped ricotta cheesecake with rhubarb compote  
makes 1 (9″) serving 8-10  
semolina crust
makes enough dough for two 9″ tart shells or one tart shell with a lattice top
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup semolina flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening (i used spectrum brand mechanically pressed organic palm oil-non hydrogenated shortening)
4-5 tablespoons cold water
place the flours in a bowl with the brown sugar and the salt.  using your fingers, rub the mixture together to completely incorporate the brown sugar.  using a pastry blender, two forks or your fingers, cut in the shortening until it is in small peas sized pieces.  add the water, first the 4 tablespoons, and mix until it comes together and forms a soft dough.  add the extra tablespoon of water slowly and only if needed.  form the dough into a thick disk, wrap it in plastic and chill for several hours.  can be made 2-3 days ahead.
to make the tart shell, allow the dough to soften a bit at room temperature.  it should be soft enough that it yields to gentle pressure.  grease a 9″ tart pan with a removable bottom and place it on a sturdy baking sheet.  preheat the oven to 325.  take a piece of dough that is slightly less than half of the disk and form it into a round patty.  on a floured surface, roll out the dough so that it is larger than the pan; it will need about 2 inches of surplus around the entire pan.  carefully place the dough in the pan and referring to the photo above, fold the extra dough in to make the sides a double thickness.  line the tart shell with a piece of parchment or coffee filters and fill it with weights.  prebake the crust until it is no longer shiny and translucent on the bottom but it should not have gained much color, about 20 minutes.  for more hints on prebaking pie shells, refer to this previous post.  while the crust bakes, mix the filling.  pour the filling into the prebaked pie shell and top it with lattice strips if desired.  bake the tart on the sheet pan at 325 for about 325 until it is firm and the top crust has baked, about 50 minutes.  chill the tart before serving.  cut into edges and serve with a dollop of the rhubarb compote.
ricotta cheesecake filling
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon finely grated zest from 1 orange and 1 lemon-2 teaspoons total
seeds from half of a vanilla bean, reserve the pod for the compote
1 (15oz) container of part skim ricotta (i chose this because it was the only one without additives)
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup heavy cream
in a bowl, rub the sugar with the flour, zests and vanilla beans until it is all combined and the vanilla beans are dispersed evenly.  using a spatula or wooden spoon, mix in the ricotta and blend it well.  whisk in the eggs and the yolks, scrape the bowl well and carefully whisk in the cream.  it is a custard filling and is best not to add too much volume so only whisk to combine.  
rhubarb compote
makes about 2 cups 
2 cups rhubarb, sliced 1/2″ thick (i used frozen rhubarb which is sold with the frozen fruit in the supermarket where i shop)  if using frozen, allow it to thaw and include the juices that collect.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
combine all of the ingredients in a small sauce pan and slowly simmer until the rhubarb begins to break up and it turns a light rosy shade.  remove the vanilla pod and the star anise pod and chill completely before serving.