Our film group meets once a month to talk about our chosen film. The host provides the entree and the rest of us bring contributions, agreed ahead of time. Maybe it is a gourmet food club with the excuse of film. We often wonder.
This month our host was the regular provider of dessert. She would be distracted by the entree, so I jumped in to fill the gap. Why? After all, we hardly ever eat desserts. But some months ago we sowed a rhubarb plant, which survived, even though it was somewhat neglected. Then I noticed lately that there were real usable stalks on it. And just down the road from us is an organic, picked-today strawberry stand, so I volunteered for Strawberry Rhubarb Pie.
This pie has two challenges: (1) like any pie: the crust, and (2) the very wet filling.
Problemo Numero Uno. I pinged my circle for help, and in the end I chose my favorite dough, the Cook’s Illustrated Vodka Pastry Dough. Their argument is that you need moisture to make dough, but water encourages gluten, which can become tough, so they replace half the water with vodka. Of course all the water and all the alcohol boil off during baking.
So far so good, but as I began to roll out the very sticky pastry into 9″ circles as instructed, I realized I had 12″ pie dished, so I had to roll the pastry very thin between sheets of parchment paper. I was terrified that the thin pastry would just disintegrate when I came to cut it.
Problem 2. Both rhubarb and strawberries are very wet fruit. There is a risk that all this water will overwhelm the bottom crust and we’ll end up with slimy uncooked wet dough. Not nice. Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen studied this problem and determined that Quick Cooking Tapioca was the best way to soak up all the moisture. The results showed she was right.
The pie was spectacular. Even the lower crust was crisp. There was a perfect balance of acid and sweetness. The filling held together and didn’t puddle. Everyone at the film club meeting, even those on diets, devoured the pie. This was all that was left.
I could take up baking if everything turned out this well.
Vodka Pie Crust
Makes one 9-inch double-crust pie
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2cup (7 oz) cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
1/4 cup ice-cold water3
1/4 cup ice-cold water
Process 1½ cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous and dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds. Add remaining cup of flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. With blender running, pour in vodka and water. Pulse until dough sticks together. Turn out dough and gently roll into a rough cylinder. Cut off 1/3 and flatten each section into a disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour.
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
3/4 lb rhubarb cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1 1/2 lb strawberries, hulled and halved
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
juice of half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk blended with 1 teaspoon water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a well-floured counter, or between sheets of parchment, roll the big section of pie dough into a circle and transfer to the pie plate.
Stir together rhubarb, strawberries, sugars, lemon, salt and tapioca in a large bowl. Mound filling inside bottom pie crust and dot with bits of unsalted butter. Roll smaller section of pie dough into a circle and layer it over the pie filling. Crimp the edges and cut decorative slits into the top.
Brush egg yolk mixture over pie. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Put pie plate on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, until the pie is golden and the juices bubble visibly.
Transfer pie to wire rack to cool for at least two hours.