Our family (recently – as in this past April) had some lovely news! My brother is getting married! His fiancee is wonderful! We all love her, and are happy for them! Given my baking history and obvious love for all things sweet and cake-like, not to mention chocolate-y, I seem to vaguely recall offering to bake their cake for them. I was very excited at the time, not only to bake their cake, but for their upcoming nuptials. For those of you who know me, it’s no secret that my brother and I have had our differences, so I was surprised that my excitement was for BOTH of them, not just my brother’s fiancee.
As their wedding plans have evolved, my job as wedding cake/dessert-provider has also evolved. I love cake; what’s more is that I love baking cake. Probably more than my bf (but don’t tell him!). My brother’s fiancee, shall we call her Madelaine, is a pie person. My brother, Matthew, is a cake person, having been raised in our house where cake was our dessert of choice. Having learnt that Madelaine prefers pie, I started to read about pie and, hell, oh I don’t know, baked a couple as well. Not something I do very often, I needed to know that I had the basic ability to do so. I took this past summer as a very good opportunity to practice – especially with the fruit that would be in season for their wedding, because otherwise, tell me, what would be the point? I had to have this skill more or less down pat, because this was the main dessert for the wedding, that they would be serving everyone.
So, like any project that I’ve undertaken in my life, my research began in earnest. With our house being the house of cookbooks, I was bound to find SOMEthing in at least ONE of our books.
After reading through books, recipes, magazines and countless snippings, I settled on a strawberry-rhubarb pie recipe from good old Joy of Cooking.
I find that pie has many components – crust (potentially a double crust), filling, and the possibility of a non-crust topping, something like streusel or crumbs. I like to start with the crust partly because it needs to rest, more than once, for a good length of time. Also because it is the part that makes me most nervous and am scared I’ll overwork the dough and end up with a biscuit instead of crispy, flaky, light pie crust goodness.
I started with the Joy of Cooking‘s FLAKY PASTRY DOUGH (makes a double crust for a 9-inch pie):
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Then I added:
1 cup vegetable shortening (you could also use 1/2 cup shortening with 1/2 cup cold butter)
I cut the fat into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter, but 2 knives work well. Use the knives and cut in opposite directions creating smaller and smaller pieces of fat in the flour mixture. It should look like a mixture of coarse crumbs and pea-sized pieces.
At this point, you want to add 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon ice water. I find the best way to get ice water is to run the tap really cold and then add a couple of ice cubes. Let it sit for a few minutes and you should be all set. Use a large rubber spatula to gently fold the water into the fat-flour mixture. You want it to be moistened and you want small balls of dough to form. Once these balls stick together then you’ve added enough water. If they don’t then add 1 or 2 more tablespoons of ice water.
Once your dough is done, it’s best if you handle it as little as possible, which is hard sometimes. Split the dough in half, form into discs and then wrap in saran and rest in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes, up to 3-4 hours. The longer the better; I had mine in for about an hour.
Now is a good time to start preparing the fruit. I decided that the first pie I would make would be Strawberry-Rhubarb. Classic summer flavours that complement each other well, and would coincidentally be in season for the wedding next summer! I started with equal amounts of rhubarb and strawberries – 2 1/2 cups each. The rhubarb should be washed and then cut into 1/2-inch pieces. The strawberries should be in small pieces as well – my mom had picked fresh strawberries, so they were fairly small to begin with and didn’t require too much cutting.
Combine the fruit in a bowl with:
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cup sugar (depends on how sweet or tart you like it; we like it tart, so I stayed with a smaller amount of sugar)
1/4 cup tapioca
1/4 tsp salt
Let it stand about 15-30 minutes. When the fruit is standing in the bowl, it is usually a good time to roll out the crust. Begin with the bottom and roll out to about a 12-inch round – it’s okay if it isn’t round. Mine rarely are!! While you’re on a roll (pun intended!), do the top crust as well. Just make sure you don’t put them together right away.
Once it’s rolled out, roll it loosely back onto the rolling pin and spread it over your pie plate. This also might be a good time to turn the oven on. Preheat to 425F.
When making pie, it would be ideal to keep everything cold all of the time, but sometimes this can be difficult. My biggest problem is that in summer it’s hot out and there’s no room in the fridge for awkwardly shaped items. In the winter, it may be bloody cold and insane out, but I take advantage of it whilst baking and call it nature’s fridge. However, I digress…for this pie, I had no such nature’s fridge so had to slide pie crust into the fridge at weird angles. After the bottom crust has rested about 30 minutes, feel free to pour the fruit in and finish the pie up.
Once the fruit is good and in there, dot the top with butter – about 2 tablespoons worth.
Now you can loosely roll that top crust right over the fruit and seal the pie.
Most recipes say to trim overhang from the dough one at a time, but I like to trim both the bottom and top at the same time when I seal and crimp the edges.
You can trim with a pair of kitchen scissors.
Once you have sealed the pie, cut 5 slits in the top crust with a sharp knife, which will allow steam to escape. Brush the top with milk or cream and then sprinkle with some sugar.
Your pie is now ready to go in the oven!!! I like to bake mine on a cookie sheet to catch any juiciness that may bubble up during the baking process.
Throw the pie in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. After these 30 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350F and bake approximately another 30 minutes. The crust will be a lovely golden brown and the juices inside should be bubbly and thick.
I have to say, by now I’ve made about 3 pies for practice – all from different sources, and this is definitely my favourite. The fruit is the epitome of summer – you can never go wrong with strawberries and rhubarb; the crust was flaky and light. If you need to change the ratio of strawberries and rhubarb to suit one’s particular taste, it’s easy to do. I don’t have much bad to say about it – the only thing is that I might recommend would be to wait until it’s completely cool if you don’t like the juiciness. However, what fun is it if you can’t get a little messy?!
Thanks for reading! Happy eats!