You know how nothing is as easy as you envision it? Or sometimes we get in our own way and create a situation where it isn’t as easy as we thought it could be. Cooking is my safe space for creating, and fixing, disasters; ok so maybe not disasters, but certainly learning that mistakes are not only learning opportunities, but (nearly) always fixable. Baking on the other hand is a trickier business. It is a process of chemistry, combining ingredients in that just right way that results in fluffy, creamy, crunchy in just the right ways, and a balance of sweetness or savoriness that captures your tastebuds and makes them ooo with excitement. So, clearly I really like baked goods.
This week’s baking adventure involved strawberries and rhubarb. I grew up loving this flavor combination, my mom made strawberry pies with a jello filling. We often picked the strawberries ourselves from a local berry farm. The strawberries were suspended over her flaky crust, encapsulated in red gelatin, and bursted with the flavor of summer in every bite. When she added rhubarb it was often in a crisp, it turned creamy when it was cooked and the tart mixed with sweet flavors are what early summer means to me.
This is a pretty quick and easy pie to make, I usually have a couple of balls of pastry dough hanging out in the freezer so that makes it even easier. There are typically two styles for the crust on this pie, the familiar Pâte Brisée on both the top and the bottom, or just on the bottom and a crumble on the top. The crumble includes, oats, brown sugar, butter as a jumping off point and whatever strikes your fancy as the flavor notes (cardamom, cinnamon, etc.). I decided I wanted a lattice top so pâte brisée it was for both.
I looked at two recipes because I was curious how the final results would differ, the main difference between the two was the thickener, berry pies require a starch to thicken the liquid. So in my usual fashion I blended the two and split the fruit mix in half adding the relative starch to each bowl.
The first was cornstarch, I have lots of experience using cornstarch for all sorts of things, it’s easy to use and produce consistent results.
The other thickener I used was tapioca. This produced a bit of a conundrum as the recipe called for quick tapioca, which doesn’t mean tapioca starch, and none of the bags of tapioca at the store claimed to be quick (or slow, just tapioca). I made the decision there was going to be some tapioca pudding in my future and on to the kitchen I went, bag of tapioca in hand.
You can see the difference in the unbaked pies, pictured below, a few of the small white balls of tapioca hanging out at the top. Because these pies are for personal chef clients, I decided one large pie didn’t make sense, full size muffin tins were the perfect solution (more on how, er, perfect that was later). It turned out I didn’t have quite enough rhubarb for the recipe, but I did have a lot of strawberries so instead of equal parts I used a larger amount of berries. I used a large round ring mold/cookie or biscuit cutter to get the desired size for the bottom crust and used my handy, dandy bench scraper to cut the strips for the lattice. After and egg wash, into the oven they went. I typically use baking times in recipes as a guideline as every oven is different, and once you change the size or shape of the baked good you’ve thrown off the cooking time anyway. I find checking at the 15 or 20 minutes mark lets you assess when to check next.
Once the pies were done I let them cool completely before removing them from the tins. This is where I ran into some difficulty. I usually bake pies in a glass pie dish, or make crostatas, which easily slide off the baking sheet. In either of those cases removing the lovely little pies is easy, not so the muffin tins. I didn’t pan spray the tins for two reason, I dislike pan spray and I was worried the crust would get too dark before the fruit cooked. Mistake made, lesson learned, pan spray for next time. I lost crust on a few of them and the lattice got bent on most of the others. Thankfully, half of this recipe test was being eaten by me and my coworkers so I had plenty of cute pies for clients, plus they’re so tiny I’m pretty sure even in their slightly sloppy form, most people would be happy to eat them.
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
- Pâte Brisée, you will need two rounds of dough
- 3 1/2 c rhubarb, 1/2′ slices
- 3 1/2 c strawberries, hulled and sliced or halved if tiny
- 1/3 c packed light brown sugar
- 1/3 c sugar
- 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
- pinch of kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 T lemon juice
- 1/4 c cornstarch or 1/4 c quick-cooking tapioca
- 1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 T water or milk
- optional: coarse sugar for garnish
- preheat oven to 400°
- combine rhubarb, strawberries, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cornstarch/tapioca, salt, lemon juice, and vanilla extract together in a large bowl. Let the flavors marry while the oven preheats
- roll out your chilled crust to the desired size and carefully lay into your pie tin or (prepared) muffin tins
- if you are making a lattice top, you can cut strips out of your rolled out dough and lay them over your pie individually or make the complete lattice and lay the whole shebang over your pie
- lightly brush the top of the pie crust with the egg wash, this is the moment to sprinkle coarse sugar if you’re going that route
- place the pie onto a large baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, turn down the temperature to 350°F and bake 25-30 minutes longer
- Transfer pie to wire rack to cool. Do NOT cut into it until it’s completely cool, seriously, step away now.
Tips: This a great pie to make a day in advance so the filling has time to set. You can also freeze any unbaked pie for up to three months, simply pull it from the freezer and pop it into your hot oven.