Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Someone else named Ben asked me to post a recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb pie.  Most of the recipes I’ve put up here are healthy or crunchy in some way, but this is pretty much straight up – good though.  We always had a big patch of rhubarb growing in the garden when I was a kid, it was about the first thing up and it’s not useful for a whole lot besides making pies, but it’s great for that.  It’s at its best before the strawberries come in fresh, but fortunately both strawberries and rhubarb freeze well.  The pie crust recipe is not specific to strawberry-rhubarb, and the detailed instructions are for the benefit of pie neophytes.

Crust:

  • 1.5c white flour
  • 1c whole wheat flour (pastry if you have it)
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, cold
  • 1T sugar
  • 1/2t salt
  • Around 1/2c cold water

Mix up the dry stuff, cut the butter into thin slices, and mix it in, trying to keep it from sticking together back into a big hunk – this makes the next part easier.  The next part is laborious but important:  you need to break the butter into pea-size pieces and integrate it into the flour, but without smearing or really mixing it in – you want distinct hunks of butter, which flatten out when you roll the crust out, making it flaky.  Of course, using whole wheat flour makes it harder to get a nice tender flaky crust, but I find it difficult to bring myself to bake anything with all white flour.  Anyway, I incorporate the butter with two regular dull table setting knives, one in each hand, working them across one another in the bowl with a shearing action.  You want to do it quickly, because once the butter gets to room temperature it starts to smear.    Once  the butter is broken down to pea size or smaller, incorporate the water in little dribbles while mixing the crust with a fork.  The amount of water is not entirely predictable or an exact science, basically you want to add enough so the crust can be formed into cohesive lumps by hand, but no more.  Too little and it will not hold together well when rolling, too much and it won’t be as flaky.  You want to minimize handling to avoid melting the butter or toughening the gluten in the flour – definitely don’t knead it.

When the water is incorporated, form it into two flattened lumps like oversized hamburger patties, and put it in the fridge to cool a bit, wrapped in wax paper or the like.

Filling:

  • 5-6c fruit, fresh or frozen, about equal parts strawberries and rhubarb, cut into grape size chunks or smaller
  • 1c sugar
  • 1/4c corn starch
  • 1/4t salt

If the fruit is frozen, it’s usually a little soupy, so I drain off a bit of juice, maybe a half cup or so, before mixing in the other ingredients.  If the fruit is fresh, you want to mix in the sugar etc. and let it sweat for maybe 20 mins before proceeding.  Either way, at the end you have a bowl with a mixture of gloppy stuff in it.  The main failure mode with strawberry rhubarb pie is that the filling comes out too soupy; pouring off some of the liquid in the case of frozen fruit guards against this, but if you wanted to be sure in the case of fresh fruit, you would dose the fruit with some sugar and let it sweat out, then pour off some juice and try to guess the amount of sugar to replace, along with the corn starch and salt.

Assembly:

Flour a countertop and a rolling pin.  By this point the crust should be just a little bit chilled.  Take half and roll it out to a round a bit bigger than a 9″ pie plate – I use a deep glass dish.  It’s normal for even a properly formulated crust to crack a bit at the edges during rolling, I  weld them together by carefully applying the rolling pin directionally to move material from thicker spots toward the break and manually join the edges before running the rolling pin over to smooth it out.  Meanwhile you want to pay attention to make sure it comes out more or less round.   The same amount of crust will stretch to a 10″ pie plate just fine, though you will want increment the filling by 20% or so.  Lay the crust in the dish and pour in the filling.  If the crust is marginal in terms of structural integrity, it helps to have a large flat sheet metal object to help with the transfer operation.  Some recipes call for bits of butter to be put on top of the filling for certain kinds of pie, but I never do this – there’s plenty in the crust.    For a strawberry rhubarb pie I often do a lattice crust, where you roll out the top crust, cut it into 5/8″ wide strips, and weave it onto the surface of the filling.  But that’s kind of gilding the lily; it’s fine to just flop the top crust over top of the filling and prick some holes in it with a knife.  Then I trim the bits that lap over the edges with a pair of scissors, and form a fluted edge with my fingers to join the top and bottom crusts.  It helps to wet the interface with a finger dipped in water, to keep the top and bottom from separating while baking.

Preheat the oven to 425F.  Bake for around 15 mins, or until the top is almost as brown as you want it to end up.  Then turn it down to 35o and bake it for maybe another hour, till thick goopy filling starts to bubble out in one or two places from the openings in the crust.   To be honest I don’t really time things when they are baking, at least not pie.  Especially for strawberry-rhubarb, you want to let it cool till it’s slightly warm at most before cutting into it, so the filling sets up.

Debugging:  If the filling ends up watery, next time add more cornstarch, or work harder at getting some of the moisture out of the fruit before mixing the filling – see above.  If  the crust breaks up when you try to roll it out, you might need more water, or you might just want to do all white flour till you get the hang of it better.  If the crust is tough and isotropic rather than lamellar and flaky, maybe there was too much water, or just too much mixing in the process of forming the crust.  Often the lower crust is a bit sodden in making fruit pies with uncooked filling; if I were more of a perfectionist I might explore pre-cooking the crust or the filling, but I’m not that serious about my pies.

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