Thanksgiving snuck up on us last year. We thought we’d play it cool and celebrate by going out for a meal with some Aussie friends; as it turned out, our cravings for fall cooking, pumpkin pie and cheesy speeches weren’t so easily placated. This time we’re ahead of the curve. We’ve already had a Friendsgiving and a Worksgiving (is that a thing?) and the real Thanksgiving isn’t even for another 5 days.
I decided this year that I’d branch out from my go-to recipes and try something different. So, for Friendsgiving, I made roast butternut squash soup. It was so good and so easy! I could kick myself for not trying this before. (Recipe on the way). This past Friday, we had one of our monthly bake offs at work. Seeing as it’s late November and all, I themed this one around Thanksgiving, or really, around pie.
Rhubarb Rhubarb: isn’t it pretty?
Strawberry rhubarb isn’t a typical Thanksgiving pie, but it IS summer down here and it felt more appropriate to make a fruit pie than, say a pumpkin or pecan one. I’m a sucker for strawberries and rhubarb, especially together and especially in the summer when they’re at their peak. Besides, filling a pie with fresh fruit rather than sugar or custard makes it feel infinitely healthier (even if only in my head :p). Before we get to the recipe, let’s talk about the cardinal rule of pie-making:
Homemade crust is the best crust
The key to a good pie is the crust. It’s the first thing you bite into and the last thing you taste. It introduces the pie and sets the tone for what’s to come. You might not swoon over a pie made with perfect crust and a poor filling, but a delicious filling will never make up for a mediocre pie crust.
A good crust has texture and flavor; it’s something you’d eat even without the filling. A great pie crust complements the yummy goodness it’s transporting into your mouth. Tangy key lime? Go with a punchy graham cracker crust. Creamy, custard? Try a textured crust made of crushed pecans. Fruit pie? Keep it simple and let the fruit shine.
Making your own pie crust might sound time-consuming and tedious but it’s pretty easy if you know how. More importantly, once you’ve had a good homemade crust, you’ll never go back to those bland, greasy, unsatisfying substitutes. Why would you want to waste your precious calories, not to mention your delicious pie filling, on something mass-produced and supermarket-bought? I kind of feel that way about all food, but it’s especially true for dessert. So, give the homemade version a go!
Easy, all-butter pie crust
Prep time: 45 mins | Fridge time: 1+ hours or overnight | Cook time: 20 mins | Yields: 2 base crusts or 1 base and 1 top
- 3 cups of flour
- 250gms unsalted butter
- 10 tablespoons ice water
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- Pie weights (or lima beans or coins) for blind baking
- A rolling pin
- A 9″ pie or springform dish (if you like deep dish pie)
Now first things first: you want your butter to be cold. Not melting, not room temperature, cold. The trick to getting your crust all flaky and textured is to leave chunks (slivers? pieces?) of butter intact in the dough. If you let the butter melt or if you overwork the dough, your pie crust will be tough and chewy. So, if your kitchen counter is next to a toasty warm oven, a burning stovetop or a dishwasher, take your butter some place else. Once you’re alone with your butter in a nice cool place, chop it into cubes and stick it back in the fridge.
Next, measure 3 cups of flour and 1/2 tsp of fine salt into a large bowl and stir to mix and aerate. Take your chopped butter out of the fridge and begin working into the dry mix. You can use a pastry blender to speed things up here or you can go old school and use your fingers. If you’re using your fingers, I’ll tell you what my 4th grade teacher taught me: wash and dry your hands (duh!) and use only the tips of your fingers! Get your palm in there and you’re sure to create a buttery mess and ruin your dough. Once you’re done, your pre-dough should look like giant crumbs the size of lima beans.
Get your ice water out of the freezer and add a few tablespoons at a time, mixing until the dough just comes together. Be very careful not to add too much water and not overwork the dough. Your final dough should be moist but flaky, not sticky. Divide the dough in half, flatten each piece into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. You can leave the dough discs overnight or you can ready them for baking within an hour.
Take your chilled disc out of the fridge and place it on a clean, cool and well-floured surface. Dust the rolling pin with flour and start rolling. The dough is going to want to stick onto the countertop but the trick here is to roll and move. Flip the dough over, move it around, do whatever it takes to keep it from sticking. You’ll want to shape it into a 12″ circle so that it’ll sit in your 9″ pie dish with about 1″ of overhang. Once you’re there, transfer it into your greased and floured pie dish (I like to use a spring form because I’m a fan of deep dish pies) and crimp the edges, using your index finger and thumb. A quick video on fluting here.
Finally, line the dough with baking paper or foil, and weigh down with pie weights, dry beans or clean coins. I like to use coins because they’re heavy and good conductors of heat to boot. Place your pie dish in a middle rack and bake at 450F / 220C for 15-20 minutes until the crust starts to look golden brown. Remove and set aside to cool.
Strawberry rhubarb pie: the filling
- 2 cups of unpeeled, diced rhubarb stalks
- 2 cups of diced strawberries
- 1-2 cups sugar depending of tartness of fruit
- 1 tsp orange or lemon rind
- 1 tblsp butter
- 3 tblsp cornstarch or 6 tblsp flour to thicken
- Egg wash or milk
- Prebaked pie crust (see above)
It’s the start of summer here in the Southern hemisphere and rhubarb is in season. I love rhubarb, especially when paired with strawberries, and I thought it would make a killer combo for an old-timey American pie. The sweetness of the strawberries mellows out the tartness of the rhubarb, creating a beautifully jammy filling that will leave you wanting more.
Fruit pies can be tricky because the cooking fruit juices can lead to a soggy crust. There are two tricks here: one is to pre-bake (aka blind bake) the base crust. The second is to thicken the syrupy fruit filling with cornstarch, arrow root or ground tapioca. I used flour in a pinch (doubled the amount called for) and it worked like a charm.
Combine the filling ingredients in a big bowl and let it sit for 15 minutes. Spoon the pie filling into your pre-baked pie crust.
The last step in your pie baking adventure is the top crust. I opted for a lattice-style crust for this pie but you can go with something simpler. The NY Times has recently done an amazing round up of pies for its Thanksgiving cooking section and has lots of top crust ideas here.
Brush the top of your pie crust with milk or an egg wash to encourage browning and bake in the oven at 400F for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the fruit starts to bubble. Enjoy!