6.16.2012

Strawberry rhubarb pie recipe: the folly of perfection



Perfection and pie crust are two words that, when arranged side by side, make me want to tear out my hair. The perfect pie crust! The only pie crust recipe you’ll ever need! No more tears: perfect pie crust every time! Foolproof pie dough! These are bait and switch words. They hook you and slowly reel you into the madness of trying to achieve perfection.

Can I let you in on a secret? The perfect pie is the one that you make today or tomorrow, filled with some gorgeous summer fruit, and shared with your family and friends. There are a gazillion ways to approach making a pie, and that many recipes to go with them.

Do not be afraid.



Here’s a fact that I have noted before: I have made at least 2,000 pies. I stopped counting after that. Luckily I did not eat all of them, or I would not be here today to tell the tale. My first efforts were not so stellar, but I soldiered on—it was my job—and eventually I came up with a formula that works. It’s a process. Keep going.

Oh, but that hasn’t stopped me from taking the bait. Yes, I am that fool in the kitchen seeking foolproof. As I worked through some difficult times recently I embarked on yet another pie project. Is there really such a thing as a perfect pie crust? Is there really a perfect chocolate chip cookie? Is there really a perfect husband? That depends. Or in other words, of course not. But it was good therapy.




My curiosity was piqued after reading about Kenji Lopez-Alt’s vodka pie crust, which he developed for Cook’s Magazine. I actually never got around to that one because I found his newest method on Serious Eats. I tried Kenji’s method and about seven other different pie crust variations. I baked off samples (and forgot to take photos, sorry) to compare them. I also froze the dough, so there are more pies in my immediate future. The results? Well, they were all pretty darn good.

I liked Kenji’s a lot, so I am sharing my version using his method. It was crumbly and flaky. But I also liked my old standby version, and truth be told, it was hard to discern too much difference. If you are newly embarking on pie or are just an obsessively curious cook like myself, then read his post—it has some great insights into the science of crust-making and explains why Kenji’s method works. If you just want to dig in, then skip the reading. The main thing is to dig in. There’s a lot to say about reaching for perfection, but we’ll keep it to pie, for now. Perfection is in that moment when your kitchen fills with the aroma of pie goodness, and everyone who partakes of the result is your new best friend. I don’t think you can ask for more than that.



Strawberries are at their peak right now, so I took advantage of them to make my most favorite (redundancy necessary here) pie in the whole world. I am not kidding. You will have the best results if you use a scale, but it you don’t have one, don’t sweat it. Use the fluff and spoon method of measuring: Fluff up the flour in the canister with a spoon, and then spoon it into a dry measuring cup so it mounds on top. Scrape the excess back into the flour canister with a knife. I also used some shortening in the recipe for tenderness, since there is no water content in it. For an all-butter dough, replace the shortening with butter. I have given instructions on how to roll dough between 2 pieces of parchment, which is quite easy especially if you are new to pie making. You can check out another rolling method here. And now ladies and gentlemen, I hereby present the cheater, anti-perfectionist lattice crust.

Pie is just so much more than a tart. A tart is a beautiful thing, don’t get me wrong. But a pie? A pie answers the soul’s call for wonder.

Strawberry rhubarb pie with a cheater lattice crust: the recipe

For the flaky pie crust (Kenji’s method)
Makes enough for one 9-inch double crusted pie

13.5 ounces (3 cups) all-purpose flour
1.5 ounces (3 tablespoons) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1.5 ounces (3 tablespoons) trans-fat free shortening, cut into pieces*
5 tablespoons ice water
1 tablespoon lemon juice

*Substitute an equal amount of unsalted butter if you want to make an all-butter pie crust

1. Whisk the flour, sugar and sea salt together in a mixing bowl. Set aside 1 cup of the dry ingredients.

2. Tip the flour mixture into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Spread the butter and shortening pieces on top. Pulse the machine 15 to 20 times, or until the dough forms clumps. Transfer it back to the mixing bowl. (By hand, use a pastry cutter or a hand-held mixer, but be prepared to put in more time.)

3. Add the reserved 1 cup flour to the mixing bowl and with your hands, toss with the clumps until flour is well distributed. Sprinkle the ice water and lemon juice over the top. With your hands, toss like a salad, until dough comes together in larger clumps.

4. Tip the clumps onto the counter and divide into 2 piles, one slightly larger than the other. Press each pile into 2 flat, round disks and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours, or up to 1 day. Wrapped in several layers of plastic and foil, the dough can be frozen for up to one month.

For the pie
Makes one 9-inch pie

Pie dough (see above)
1 1/2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and halved to make 4 cups
About 4 stalks (8 ounces) rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch slices to make 2 cups
1 cup blond cane sugar, and a little for the top of the pie
1/3 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Coarse sugar for garnish, optional

1. Have on hand one 9-inch pie pan.

2. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes to soften. Set an oven rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375 degrees F.

3. Cut two 14-inch long pieces of parchment paper. Lightly flour the dough. Set the smaller disk of dough on 1 sheet and set the second sheet on top. Roll into a 1/8-inch thick circle. (If the dough has become soft while rolling, transfer it to a baking sheet (still between parchment) and refrigerate for about 10 minutes to make it is easier to handle.) Pull off the top sheet of parchment and flip the dough over the pie pan. Pull off the top sheet of parchment. Fit the dough into the sides and bottom, lifting it at the edges to avoid stretching it. With a paring knife, trim the dough so that it is even with the edge of the pan; refrigerate.

4. Roll the second disk of dough in the same way, into a 1/8-inch thick circle. Slide onto a baking sheet and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.

5. Toss the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, flour, and salt together in a large bowl. Transfer to the pie shell and dot with butter. Brush the rim with water.
6. Slide the parchment paper with the second round of dough onto a cutting board and lift off the top piece of parchment. Now, for the cheater lattice crust, no weaving: With a pizza cutter or a sharp knife, cut 1-inch wide strips. Lay 5 strips on top of the pie, using the shorter pieces for the edges of the pie. Turn the pie 45-degrees, and lay 5 more strips across the pie. Trim the strips so that they are even with the edge of the pan. Cover the rim all around with more strips of dough. Crimp the edges or press down with the tines of a fork. Brush with beaten egg. Sprinkle with coarse sugar, if you like

7. Set the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 80 to 90 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling. If the crust browns before the filling is done, cover the pie loosely with foil.

8. Transfer the pie to a rack to cool for at least 45 minutes before serving.

Are you pie-phobic? Ask me questions. I swear to tell the truth.


 Process until large clumps form.














Dump into a bowl, and add the reserved flour. Toss together with your hands. Sprinkle water and lemon juice over the dough, and toss again with your hands , like you are tossing a salad, until clumps almost form a dough. 











Tip the clumpy dough onto the countertop and form it into two piles, one slightly smaller than the other. The small clump is for the bottom crust.












Gently press the dough into disks. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours to allow dough to completely hydrate.












Lightly flour the dough and place it between 2 sheets of parchment. Roll into a 1/8-inch thick circle (about 11-12 inches in diameter)













If the dough has softened during rolling, slide it onto a baking sheet and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Peel off the top sheet of parchment. Turn the dough upside down and lift off the second sheet of parchment. Fit it into the pie pan, lifting at the edges to avoid stretching the dough. Trim with a paring knife or scissors. Brush the the rim of the pie with water.





Use a rolling pin as a guide to cut 1-inch wide strips.














Fill the pie. Lay the strips over the pie and trim the edges. Lay more strips all around the pie. Crimp or press with a fork. Isn't it pretty? Brush with egg wash. Don't get attached to its perfection! Put it on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 80 to 90 minutes.

14 comments:

  1. Hi Sally
    Deb here from Berlin, Germany where it is both strawberry and rhubarb season only the two are not partners here! Gorgeous photos and great post. I just made a big batch of strawberry rhubarb sauce. Spooning it in and over everything.
    Deb

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    1. Deb, I hope you are enjoying good summer weather! I think I will have to follow your lead and make some strawberry rhubarb sauce to keep the seasonal momentum going....

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  2. Hi Sally, This reminds me of the midwest summer and Grandma Whitton's strawberry rhubarb pie. It looks delish. Maybe I can convince Tracy to try it. I'm sure the cooking gene must run in the family.

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    1. Just do it, Lydia! I know you can.

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  3. Replies
    1. Hooray for pie, don't you think?

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  4. 2000??????? That's impressive. You must be able to make them with your eyes closed. I still get nervous every time I have to take a rolling pin out.

    Looks great though! Love the classic pairing of strawberry and rhubarb. Yay for the Pie Party!

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    1. Crazy, right? I bet it was closer to 3,000--10 to 20 pies a week over the years adds up; that's the life of a pastry chef :) Your pie looks amazing--hooray for pie day!

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  5. I'm anxious to give your crust a try. I've learned the hard way that not over-mixing and letting the dough rest in the refrigerator is essential. I often substitute some vodka for the water because Cook's Illustrated found scientific reasons--which I've forgotten--that some vodka makes the dough come out better. I have a great recipe for strawberry rhubarb pie with a crumb topping. I think the rhubarb takes more time to cook than the strawberries do so I'm thinking of fooling around with that next time. Thanks.

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  6. Thanks for your comment. Your crumb topping pie sounds delicious! When I cook rhubarb on top of the stove, it only takes a few minutes of boiling (4 to 5) and then continues to soften as it cools. I think the reason the filling in a pie takes so long is that the ingredients start out cold. Then they have to heat in the oven and actually boil to cook the flour and thicken the filling.

    As for the vodka: my understanding is that the vodka makes the dough wetter and therefore easier to work with;,but since that liquid is alcohol, it evaporates quickly, and does not have the toughening effect of a dough that has a high water content. The rest of the method reminds me of puff pastry. I learned to mix the butter with a little flour to make it more pliable. The rest of the dough is made of flour and water. Rolling, folding, turning, etc. the butter layers between layers of flour and water dough makes crisp flakes! I think Kenji's method makes sense in that context.

    Maybe TMI. Just make it! It will be fabulous, for sure. Strawberry rhubarb pie is the ultimate in my book!

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  7. Hi Sally,

    I am so excited that you've tried Kenji's pie dough, but the truth is you didn't really need this recipe. Kenji's recipe does not produce a superior pie. People have been baking fabulous pies before him and any excellent baker (like you) can pull it off without his tricks. What I like about his recipe is its potential for newbies. Until his recipe, I've never heard of someone first pie (I mean the very first one in their life) coming out. It takes practice and there are lots of things that can go wrong in this relatively simple process. But with Kenji's method, complete beginners have been producing great crust.

    A note on vodka: gluten doesn't develop in alcohol, so the dough is not only wetter, it can be handled a lot longer than normal pie dough without toughening. I wouldn't recommend kneading it thoroughly, but a few extra folds are often needed for beginner bakers to bring the thing together into a cohesive disk. The more cohesive and wetter the dough, the easier it is to roll out without cracking.

    Cheers,
    -Helen

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    1. Helen, I kept thinking of you as I wrote this post, and I more or less glossed over the vodka--you are so right about the gluten factor! I thought I should have called you to discuss that which only a few diehards want to discuss. I didn't notice a significant difference in this method from my usual pie dough, but I don't have the proper perspective on it (too many pies under the bridge!) I hope anyone who wants to make their first pie will try it; it definitely works!

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  8. I made this pie yesterday and it is absolutely wonderful! The crust, the filling - it's all divine! Thanks for the great recipe - I will definitely be making this one again and again.

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    1. Holly, I am so pleased! It is rare that I get feedback from people who have made a recipe, and it is much appreciated. Happy summer pie making!

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