I love these first days of Spring when we all start to shake off the chill of winter and stretch our limbs towards the sun. Every week more flowers pop open, trees get their leaves back after months of naked branches, and I watch as my lucky neighbors sweep off their patios and start replanting their tiny city gardens. One of the things that surprises me most about living on the East Coast is how much I have grown to enjoy the seasons and the transitions that come with them.
This weekend marked a lot of Spring firsts. My first bbq of the season, my first rooftop cocktails, my first subway ride home when I smelled charcoal smoke in my hair and on my skin. I'm sure it doesn't come as a surprise to anyone when I say that the first pie of the season tops my list of favorites.
While I made this pie last Sunday, I practically vibrated with excitement at the thought of eating it outside with the sun shining on my face. Add to that the novelty of trying out a new mixing technique in my quest to improve my pie crust and my favorite vegetable disguised as fruit and you've got my dream day all wrapped up.
I am happy to report that this pie was as revolutionary as I hoped it would be. It was so tart and flaky and lightly vanilla scented that alternate titles I considered for this post included: We Don't Need no Stinking Strawberries, I am a Pie Ninja, and Holy Shit, This Is The Best Pie I've Ever Made. That last one was the exact phrase that popped out of my mouth when I pulled the bubbling beaut out of the oven. I didn't even have to taste it to know.
I wrapped it up in a big cloth tied at the top and proudly carried it on the train to its rightful resting place: a rooftop picnic table full of friends in the sunshine, with a view of the city in the distance.
For the Crust
This crust comes to you from Brandi Henderson of I made that! and The Pantry at Delancey where she teaches a class called "How to be a Pie Ninja" and she is not messing around. Brandi uses a technique called fraisage which creates long sheets of buttery flakes throughout the dough instead of little pockets of butter. Delightful!
12 oz pastry flour
8 oz cold butter
4 oz ice water
1. Mix the flour and salt together, then pour the whole lot on a large cutting board or countertop.
2. With a bench scraper, cut in half of the butter until it is the size of lima beans, then cut in the other half of the butter until it is the size of quarters.
3. Using your fingers, flick the water on to the butter flour mixture and gently fold it in with your bench scraper. You have added enough water when you can pick up a handful of the dough and squeeze it together without it falling apart.
4. Then, get this, you smear the butter into the dough. With the heel of your hand push a section of the dough down and away from you. Congratulations, you have just created a sheet of butter which is going to turn delicious flaky crust. Scrape your sheet off of the board and place it in a bowl to the side. Repeat until you have worked through all of the dough, pushing it down and away from you in sections. Once you've gone through all of the dough gently remove it from the bowl, press it together, then split it in half, and wrap each half in plastic wrap and form into a disk. Chill the dough for at least one hour before using. I chilled mine overnight. If this sounds confusing, check out the link above for a really helpful photo tutorial.
For the Filling
20 oz of rhubarb (about 5 slightly heaping cups), chopped into 1/2'' pieces (if your rhubarb is tough or stringy, remove the strings by pulling them down the stalk)
11.5 oz sugar
2.25 oz flour
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
1t orange zest
big pinch salt
For the Topping
1 egg, beaten
A few tablespoons of coarse sugar like turbinado or light demerara
To Assemble and Bake
Preheat oven to 450º
1. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of the dough into a 12'' circle about 1/8'' thick and place it into a 9'' pie pan. Place in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the pie.
2. Roll out the other piece of dough into a 12'' circle about 1/8'' thick and place it in the fridge to chill while you prepare the filling.
3. In a large bowl, rub the vanilla bean seeds and orange zest into the sugar to evenly distribute. Add in the rhubarb, vanilla/zesty sugar, flour, and salt and toss to combine evenly. Fill the prepared pie shell with the rhubarb mixture and top with the second crust, crimp the edges and cut a few vents. Alternately, you can top the pie with a lattice-style crust as I've done in the photos above. Here is a link to a great photo tutorial on Simply Recipes. When I make a lattice topped pie, I like to use nice thick strips of dough, so the one's pictured above are about 1'' wide.
4. If the crust seems soft or warm, slide the whole pie into the fridge or freezer for about 15min before you bake it. When you are ready to bake brush the top of the pie with a beaten egg and sprinkle with a healthy dose of coarse sugar.
5. Put the pie on a baking sheet to catch any drips and bake for 15min on the lowest rack of your oven, then lower the oven temp to 350º and bake for 40-50min or until the crust is deep golden brown and the rhubarb juices bubble. Cool at least 2 hours before serving.
Thanks to Shawn for the shot of me holding the pie and to Ellie for the Holga shot on the bottom left.