Monday, February 5, 2018

Food Science Detour: In Search of the Perfect Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Recipe

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with All Butter Crust
My current obsession with rhubarb pie is a Scandinavian-American, Midwestern cultural tradition that might be genetic, embedded deep within Norwegian strands of DNA.  Or perhaps my Rhubarb-Pie-Philia is just laced inextricably throughout my brain's insular cortex and hippocampustangled up in a powerful web of nostalgia with all of my happiest childhood memories.  As an exiled Minnesotan living in North Carolina for nearly twenty years, I hadn't thought about rhubarb in decades -- until my pastor, a fellow expatriot Minnesotan, mentioned rhubarb pie to me at our Christmas choir party.  And then the smells, the flavors, and the memories came crashing back like a tsunami!  I was like Rapunzel's mother at the beginning of the fairy tale, consumed by longing for ONE SPECIAL VEGETABLE!  But alas, rhubarb can't be grown much farther south than Illinois, and it's not so easy to find down here as it is up North.  Our Charlottean summers are too hot for rhubarb and our winters are not cold enough.  I've been scouring grocery shops for weeks in search of this elusive red pie vegetable, and none of them even had FROZEN rhubarb.  Then, just when I thought I was going to have to ask one of my sisters to overnight me some rhubarb for my pie, I finally found these gorgeous, ruby red stalks at the Blakeney Harris Teeter.  I was so excited that I bought way more than I needed for one pie -- I bought almost all they had, about four pounds for $28.  And now, let the wild pie-making rumpus begin!  

[NOTE: I am including the full, final recipe for my new favorite Strawberry Rhubarb Lattice Top Pie at the end of this blog post!  Go ahead and scroll down to the bottom if you don't feel like reading through all the details of my baking experiments and you just want the recipe!]

Rhubarb: Pie Treasure Fresh From the Produce Aisle!
There are rhubarb pies, rhubarb cream pies, and rhubarb sauces, and many other delicious ways to bake with rhubarb, but the most glorious way to bake with rhubarb is to combine it with fresh strawberries in a deliciously sweet and tart pie!

Rhubarb + Strawberries = Dessert Nirvana
I have made strawberry rhubarb pie before, but the recipe I used last time (decades ago) had a note scribbled in the margin to remind me that I was disappointed with the pie because it was a watery mess.  Thus began the Research Phase of this baking adventure.  Here's what I gleaned after perusing various cookbooks and trusted online sources:

  1. Strawberries and rhubarb have the highest water content and the least amount of pectin of any pie fruits (yes, I know rhubarb is technically a vegetable, but still), so a strawberry rhubarb pie is going to require more thickeners than other fruit pies.  Hothouse rhubarb, which you can recognize because it is a lighter pink color than the dark red field grown rhubarb, has a higher water content as well.  You can use frozen rhubarb for your pie if fresh rhubarb isn't available, but be aware that frozen rhubarb will release even more water during baking than fresh rhubarb, so increase the amount of thickener accordingly.
  2. The most common pie thickeners are flour, cornstarch, quick cooking tapioca, Instant ClearJel, and something King Arthur Flour sells called Pie Filling EnhancerEach thickening agent has its pros and cons, but cornstarch -- the thickener in my old strawberry rhubarb pie -- doesn't fully activate if you take the pie out of the oven too soon, before the filling is bubbling up through the crust.  
  3. Lattice top crusts can help fruit pie fillings to thicken up because they allow more moisture to evaporate from the filling during baking than a plain double crust pie with slashes in the top.
  4. Fruit pie fillings continue to thicken up as they cool, for hours after your pie comes out of the oven, until it has reached room temperature.  Even if you do everything else right, if you serve your pie too soon before it has completely cooled, it will be a runny mess.

My old pie recipe, the one that disappointed me, called for cornstarch and a plain top crust with a few slashes for steam to escape.  I don't remember whether I used fresh or frozen rhubarb way back when I baked that disappointing pie, but it's entirely possible that I took it out of the oven too soon and it's highly likely that we cut into it and ate it while it was still warm, before the filling had a chance to completely thicken.  So I now have several things I can do differently in hopes of a better outcome.  I could have just tweaked my original recipe, slashing more holes in the top crust, baking the pie a little longer, and waiting until the pie was completely cool to serve it.  However, I'm VERY INVESTED in my pie project at this point, and an acceptably non-runny pie is no longer going to be enough to satisfy me.  My old pie recipe had a pretty boring list of ingredients.  The pie filling was just strawberries, rhubarb, and sugar -- that's it.  No spices, no flavorings.  Surely some pastry chef somewhere has figured out a little something extra to kick this pie up to an even higher stratum of heaven.  I abandoned all other responsibilities, dedicating every waking moment to finding and mastering the best, the most perfect, the most amazing strawberry rhubarb pie recipe on all of Planet Earth!

The recipes on my short list for consideration were Rose Levy Beranbaum's Lattice Top Rhubarb Pie for Fine Cooking magazine (abandoned because no strawberries, and because I didn't want to introduce the cream cheese flavor of her crust), the King Arthur Flour star-topped Strawberry Rhubarb pie (rejected because they recommend using either the Instant ClearJel or their Pie Filling Enhancer as a thickener, and I couldn't find either of those ingredients locally).  I also considered using the Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with Lattice Crust recipe from a pie cookbook that I've owned for years, Carole Walter's Great Pies and Tarts.  Ultimately, though, the two recipes that most intrigued me were Bon Appetit's Best Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie recipe by Chris Morocco and Fine Cooking's Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie recipe by Karen Barker.  Since I'd bought up all of the rhubarb in Charlotte, I had more than enough to bake both pies, so that's exactly what I did.

What were the differences between the two recipes that made it so difficult to choose between them without baking and tasting them first?  Let's start with the crusts.  Both of these recipes call for a plain top crust, but Bon Appetit/Morocco uses an all-butter crust with half of the ice water replaced by ice-cold VODKA and a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar.  

Secret Pie Crust Ingredient, Chilling Out In My Freezer
Why, oh why is there vodka in this pie?  It seems vodka is about 60% water and 40% ethanol, which means only 60% of the liquid you're putting in your dough is working to develop the gluten that can make a pie crust tough and unappealing.  The ethanol mostly vaporizes during baking, leaving no alcohol flavor behind, yet the additional liquid helps your dough hold together better while you roll it out and assemble your pie.  Now, doesn't that sound intriguing?  I had to try it!

Fine Cooking/Barker's crust, on the other hand, was a more common butter/shortening combo with ice water, made in a food processor.  I've done most of my homemade pie crusts as butter/shortening combos, but never tried making them in my food processor before.  And my food processor even has a special dough setting.

Both recipes called for exactly the same quantities and proportions of rhubarb and strawberries, with a pound of strawberries to one and one quarter pounds of rhubarb.  However, the Bon Appetit/Morocco recipe is thickened with cornstarch, sweetened with a combination of white and brown sugars, and is flavored with vanilla and lemon zest.  

Rhubarb, Strawberries and Lemon Zest for Bon Appetit/Morocco Recipe
The Fine Cooking/Barker recipe is thickened with quick-cooking tapioca, sweetened with white granulated sugar, and is flavored with orange zest, a couple tablespoons of fresh squeezed orange juice, as well as cinnamon, cloves, and allspice.  

Rhubarb, Strawberries, Orange Juice and Zest, Spices and Tapioca for Fine Cooking/Barker Recipe
One of these pies was destined to be a gift for my Minnesotan pastor and his wife, who celebrated a birthday last week and who loves strawberry rhubarb pie even more than her husband does, so I didn't get to taste both recipes. 

I started out with the Bon Appetit/Morocco recipe and its all-butter vodka crust.  Another thing about this recipe was that it called for a 9" DEEP pie dish, with a special note that a deep dish pie plate was crucial for success.  I own several standard Pyrex pie dishes, but no deep pie dishes, so I sent my husband out in search of one.  He came back empty-handed from Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Target, so we went to Williams-Sonoma together.  Williams-Sonoma did not disappoint!  

Emile Henry Ruffled Pie Dishes in Burgundy and Nougat
These Emile Henry glazed clay pie dishes are substantially deeper than my standard Pyrex pie plates and they get rave reviews from bakers.  They are also gorgeous, and the interior designer in me knows that everything tastes better when it looks beautiful!  I bought two of them even though the Fine Cooking/Barker recipe called for an ordinary 9" Pyrex pie plate, because I knew both pies had the exact same quantity of filling and fruit pies are notorious for bubbling up out of the confines of the pie plate during baking.  Also, these pie dishes are going to look so pretty behind the glass doors of my upper cabinets.  If Bernie wasn't with me to supervise, I might have been tempted to purchase the Fig and Azure colors as well...

Burgundy, Azure, Fig and Nougat Ruffled Pie Dishes from Williams-Sonoma
Well, now that I've baked with these pie dishes and know that they work as good as they look, my husband and sons can always get me the other colors the next time a gifting occasion rolls around, HINT HINT...

So, finally in possession of rhubarb AND the elusive deep dish pie plate, I was finally ready to begin baking.  I started with the Bon Appetit/Morocco recipe.  I was nervous about that crust, since I've had a rocky relationship with pie crusts in general and butter crusts are supposed to be more difficult to work with than shortening/butter combination crusts.  Surprisingly, though, this crust came together really easily for me and I had no trouble whatsoever rolling it out and moving it into my pie dish.  I used my pie crust bags to roll out the crusts, which was handy because the rolled crusts are supposed to be chilled in the fridge on parchment-lined baking sheets while you prepare the pie filling, but none of my baking sheets FIT in my refrigerator.  It was much easier and just as effective to just put the pie crusts on the glass shelf of my refrigerator, right in their pie crust bags.

All Butter Dough Rolled Out Effortlessly in Pie Crust Bag, Ready to Chill in the Fridge
These pie crust bags cost $6.95 each from the King Arthur Flour Baker's Catalog, and they are LIFE SAVERS for an occasional baker like me.  Savvy, experienced bakers who have made hundreds of pies over the years might scoff at my little zippered plastic bags, but before I tried these bags rolling out pie crust and fitting it into the pan was the the most stressful and disaster-prone part of pie making for me.  Now it's -- wait for it! -- as easy as PIE!  :-)  You just wipe down your counter with a damp rag (very important -- this prevents the plastic bag from sliding around when you roll out the dough), sprinkle four on both halves of the bag, set your disk of chilled dough in the center of the bag, and zip it closed.  Then you roll out your dough in a perfect circle without any dough sticking to your rolling pin, and after you've rolled it out, you use the bag to support the dough as you're transporting it to the pie dish so it doesn't break apart in transit.  Genius!

One interesting thing about this butter crust recipe is how they have you divide the dough in half for the two crusts, and then cut each of those halves into quarters (eighths) that you stack and then flatten, creating thin layers of fat within the dough.  As I was following these instructions, I was thinking about the similarity of this technique to the way laminated dough layers are made for croissants (which I've never baked myself, but read about here).  The resulting pie crust has streaks of butter that resemble marble veining.

Marbled Streaks of Butter in the Bon Appetit/Morocco All Butter Crust
Cool, right?  And when this pie went into my oven and began to bake, I swear my house SMELLED like croissants from an honest-to-goodness Parisian patisserie...  

Famous Pastry Shop Maison Collet in Paris -- What My House Smells Like When This Pie Is Baking!
But I'm getting ahead of myself.  After handling the dough minimally thanks to my pie crust bags and chilling it briefly, this crust released from the bag easily and sank down cooperatively into the pie dish like so:

Bottom Crust in Place, Filling Added
As you can see in the photo above, the Bon Appetit/Morocco filling is very dry when it goes in, with no liquid added to the fruit and the fruits haven't sat long enough to release any of their juices, either.  This is the recipe that uses cornstarch as a thickener.

Now, although my Bon Appetit and my Fine Cooking recipes both call for plain top crusts with a few steam vents slashed in the top, I wanted to try a lattice top instead based on my past experience with watery rhubarb pie and my research indicating that lattice crusts allow more moisture to evaporate during baking.  While I was shopping for pie dishes at Williams-Sonoma, I bought this faux lattice top cutter on a whim.  After all, cutting pie crusts into strips and weaving them on top of the pie isn't exactly rocket science, right?  But I do love my specialty tools and it was only $19.95. 

Lattice Piecrust Cutter from Williams-Sonoma
I am SO GLAD I bought this contraption, because as wonderful as butter smells and tastes, the lower melting point of an all-butter crust makes it finicky to work with and it will fall apart if it gets too warm.  This lattice cutter works like a giant cookie cutter, enabling me to create the lattice top in mere seconds and without touching it with my hands so the butter doesn't have time to warm up and start misbehaving.  Although this was an impulse purchase for me, added on at the register, I now consider it crucial for making a lattice top with an all butter crust.  You can't really tell from my photo, but the lattice cutter is actually a two-piece gadget with a bottom that lifts out to remove the crust without breaking it:

Two-Piece Cutter for Easy Removal and Transport of Lattice Top
Here's how I used this tool with my pie bag:

Using the Lattice Piecrust Cutter With My Pie Crust Bag
After chilling my rolled-out top crust, I unzipped the bag and carefully peeled back the top plastic.  I set the lattice cutter on top of the exposed crust and flipped the whole thing upside-down.  Now I had a layer of plastic on top of my crust, the lattice cutter beneath my crust, and the other half of the plastic bag beneath the lattice cutter.  I gently rolled my rolling pin across the top of the plastic bag until I could see the edges of the cutter peeking up through my crust, careful not to press TOO hard because I didn't want to cut holes through my plastic pie bag!  Then I peeled back the top plastic and lifted the lattice top out of the cutter by the handles, still without touching the crust, and flipped it over onto my pie.  The crust doesn't fall out immediately, so I had time to position it just right, and then I carefully eased my lattice crust off the cutter insert along the edges and away from the edges of the diamond-shaped holes with my fingertips.  Now, isn't that pretty?

Instant Lattice Top Crust!
(I was feeling ambitious and tried to decorate my scalloped edges with little pearls that I rolled from the diamond cutout scraps.  Bad idea -- when I rolled the scraps in my fingers to form balls, the butter started to melt and they came out looking like little turds.  They further lost their shape during baking, too.)

Both the Bon Appetit/Morocco recipe and the Fine Cooking/Barker recipe call for brushing the top pastry with an egg wash and sprinkling it with sparkling white sugar before baking.  I didn't have any sparkling white sugar on hand so I used Swedish Pearl Sugar instead.  We'll talk more about the egg wash later.  Here's what my Bon Appetit/Morocco Strawberry Rhubarb Pie looked like when I popped it into the oven:

Bon Appetit/Morocco Pie Ready for Baking
So pretty!  I was SO EXCITED!  And I've already told you how amazing this pie smelled as it was baking.  -- But alas!  Way back at the beginning of this post I told you that, in my research, I had discovered that underbaking was a common cause of Runny Pie Syndrome, especially when cornstarch or flour were used as thickening agents.  Moreover, I checked the use and care instructions for my new Emile Henry pie plates and found that food cooked in clay vessels tend to take about 10 minutes longer to bake due to "differences in heat diffusion."  Therefore, when I checked on my pie after the minimum baking time, I decided to give it 5 more minutes to ensure that the cornstarch was fully activated.  And this is what happened:

It Smelled SO GOOD, But It Looked SO BAD!
Oh, WOE unto me and WOE unto this over-browned, beginning-to-burn pie crust!  This pie isn't ruined.  It's perfectly edible and it still tasted delicious (my family and I gobbled it up), but it didn't look good enough to give away.  Not only did the crust get too dark, but the Swedish pearl sugar burned around their edges.  I'd have been better off sprinkling regular granulated sugar on my pie.  Ah, well -- there was plenty of rhubarb, and I had another recipe to try!

So the next day, I began making another pie using the Fine Cooking/Barker recipe.  I followed the directions for the food processor pie crust, and it was a disaster.  I know it's very in vogue these days to make pie crust in a food processor, but after trying both methods I greatly prefer doing it by hand.  The food processor just goes SO fast that I overdid it and ended up with a ball of dough stuck around the blade of the machine before I knew it.  That's bad, because you're supposed to stop pulsing the dough when it looks like coarse crumbs.  I proceeded to chill the dough as directed, rolled it out in my pie bags like before... and it fell apart into about a dozen pieces when I tried to transfer the bottom crust into my pie dish!  I gathered up the scraps, rolled them out again and tried one more time, but the same exact thing happened.  I was NOT a happy camper!  Why was I having so much trouble with the "easy" butter/shortening crust when the butter crust that should have been more challenging was such a breeze?  Well, one thing I should point out here is that the Fine Cooking recipe called for a regular 9" Pyrex pie dish, whereas the Bon Appetit recipe called for a deep dish pie plate.  Comparing the two crust recipes, the Bon Appetit butter crust had 3 1/2 cups of flour but the Fine Cooking crust only had 2 2/3 cups of flour.  I think that the Fine Cooking recipe did not make enough dough for my deep pie dish, and I had to roll it out way too thin to make it big enough.  It was a MUCH thinner crust, and I think that's why it was falling apart.  Yet both pie recipes use the exact same quantity of filling, and even with the deep pie dish, that first pie bubbled over in the oven.  No way was I going to try to cram all of that fruit into a shallow, ugly little Pyrex pan.

Another possibility: I was also following both recipes' instructions to divide my dough in HALF for the top and bottom crusts, even though the bottom crust really needs to be larger, especially with a deep pie dish, since the bottom crust needs to reach up the sides of the dish with enough left over to crimp the edges rather than just laying flat across the top.  The King Arthur Flour Baking blog recommends dividing the dough for a two-crust pie into 2/3 for the bottom crust and 1/3 for the top crust.  I'll try to remember that for next time.  

I could have started over with the Fine Cooking crust, processing it less in the food processor, dividing the dough unevenly so there would be more bottom crust to work with, or even increasing the ingredients proportionally so I'd have more dough for both crusts.  But I remembered how easily the Bon Appetit butter and vodka crust was to make, how trouble-free it was to work with, and how delicious it smelled baking, so I decided to make another  Bon Appetit butter crust to go with the Fine Cooking filling.  

Meanwhile, during the trials and tribulations of the self-destructing pie crusts, my filling was already mixed up and had been sitting on the counter.  Because Fine Cooking calls for quick cooking tapioca instead of cornstarch, the strawberries and rhubarb had been mixed up with the sugar, tapioca, orange juice, orange zest, and spices before I even started fighting with the Crust That Wasn't Meant To Be.  Tapioca needs that extra time for the fruit juices to start softening the tapioca granules before it goes in the oven.  The recipe said to let the filling sit for "at least 10 minutes, and up to 30 minutes, while preparing the bottom crust."  Well, I fought that bottom crust for at least 45 minutes before I gave up on it, and then spent another 15 minutes starting a new butter crust from scratch... and that dough needed to be chilled for another TWO HOURS.  So my filling sat for a LONG time, and a great deal of juice was released by the time I had a bottom crust ready to fill.  The first pie filling I made, the Bon Appetit recipe thickened with cornstarch, looked like dry fruit with a light coating of white dust when it went into the pie.  

Relatively Dry Cornstarch Filling from Bon Appetit Recipe
But this Fine Cooking pie filling that had been mixed up and sitting for about three hours had released so much juice that it looked like a fruit soup by the time it went into the pie!

VERY Wet Tapioca Filling From Fine Cooking Recipe
My husband suggested draining off the liquid from the soupy pie filling, but I knew that all of that liquid was in the first pie, too -- it just didn't come out of the fruit until it was baking in the oven.  So I left my filling soupy, and covered it with a lattice top crust exactly like the one I'd made for my first pie.  Like the first pie, the Fine Cooking recipe also called for an egg wash and a sprinkling of sugar, so it looked very much like the first pie when it went into the oven except for the fruit juice that was already coming up through the lattice holes before baking.  In hindsight, I think I was a bit heavy-handed with the egg wash.  I need to get a different pastry brush that will let me brush on a thinner coat next time.

Fine Cooking Filling With Bon Appetit Crust, Ready for Baking
I was determined that this pie would be pretty enough for gifting when it was done, though, so I did some more research about how to overcome the overbrowning.

Effects of Different Pastry Washes
This whole washing-the-top-crust thing was new for me.  The Bon Appetit recipe called for washing the top crust with a whole egg, and the Fine Cooking recipe called for a wash made with only the egg yolk.  However, both of those recipes are originally calling for a plain sheet of pastry draped over the pie, not a lattice top like mine.  The lattice topped strawberry rhubarb pie in Carole Walter's cookbook uses a milk wash instead of egg, and as you can see in the photo above (love the Internet!), a milk wash or even an egg white wash would not have browned as darkly as the egg yolk wash did.  Perhaps the thinner strips of pastry in a lattice top brown faster on their own than a plain crust would.  So switching to a wash of egg white or milk is another change I'm going to incorporate next time.

The other tips I gleaned from Carole Walter's recipe were to cover the pie edges with pie shields right up until only 10 minutes of baking time remained, and to cover the entire pie with tented aluminum foil (with a few slashes for steam to escape) if the pie was starting to get too brown before the filling was bubbling up -- the essential indicator that it's really and truly done baking.  I did both of those things with this pie.

So after all of this drama, here's what my second pie looked like after baking:

2nd Finished Pie, Bon Appetit Crust With Fine Cooking Filling
Not bad, right? I'm so glad I went with the deep dish pie pan, since the filling bubbled up and over the edges even with the larger capacity pie plate.  This is the pie I brought to church for my pastor's wife so I didn't get to eat any of it, but I did taste a bit of the filling that dripped out of the edge of the pan.  YUM.

Cornstarch Pie On Left, Tapioca Pie On Right
With the two pies side-by-side on my counter, I noticed other differences besides the amount of crust browning.  As it cooled, the cornstarch thickened pie filling contracted so substantially that it sank below the crust, turning the lattice holes into dark windows of gloom.  The tapioca thickened pie filling didn't do that.  Also, if you click on the photo to enlarge it, you'll see that the cornstarch thickened pie has a dull pink, cloudy color, whereas the tapioca thickened pie is a deep, attractive red color.    You can see that in the sliced pie as well.

Slice of Cornstarch-Thickened Pie
It doesn't look like anything out of a food magazine, but the cornstarch thickened pie held up beautifully -- no watery mess! -- and tasted delicious.  I hope I can get honest feedback about the tapioca-thickened pie that I gave away.  In any case, I have enough rhubarb chopped up in my freezer to make one more pie.  I'm going to make it just like the one I gave away, using the Bon Appetit butter crust, my lattice piecrust cutter, and the tapioca filling from the Fine Cooking recipe, but I'm going to use a milk wash instead of egg and sprinkle the next pie with granulated sugar instead of with the giant Swedish pear sugar boulders.

But I've spent an awful lot of time in the kitchen over the weekend, and will be too busy for any more baking until at least next week.  Maybe I'll I'll bake another pie for Valentine's Day!

Want to try making this pie on your own?  Here's my final recipe, a hybrid between the Bon Appetit/Morocco and the Fine Cooking/Barker recipe, incorporating all of my nifty pie tools:

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie with Lattice Butter Crust


Advance Preparation: Dough can be prepared 5 days ahead & refrigerated, or 1 month ahead if frozen.  Let dough soften slightly at room temperature before using.  Bake pie a day ahead of serving.

1 lb. + 1.5 oz all purpose flour
2 T granulated sugar
1 1/3 c. finely chopped pecans
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
1 ½ c. (3 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½” pieces
¼ c. cold vodka
2 T apple cider vinegar
Milk for glazing

1 lb. + 4 oz fresh rhubarb, cut into ½” thick slices
1 lb. strawberries, hulled & sliced into ½” chunks
1 ½ c. + 2 T granulated sugar
¼ c. + 1 T + 1 ½ tsp. quick-cooking tapioca
2 T fresh-squeezed navel orange juice
1 tsp. finely grated orange zest
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. kosher salt
2 T cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

For crust:
1.      Whisk flour, granulated sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Toss butter in dry ingredients with your fingertips to evenly coat. Working quickly and aggressively, rub butter into dry ingredients with your fingertips to create large, shaggy pieces of dough (the idea is to smash the butter into the flour, creating some pieces that are flat and thin and some that are large and irregular).
2.      Stir vodka, vinegar, and ¼ cup ice water (or ½ cup ice water) in a small bowl. Drizzle over dough a little at a time, mixing with a fork until shaggy pieces form. You may not need to use all the liquid!  Knead in bowl with your hands a couple of times until a shaggy dorm forms (it should look quite dry). Transfer large clumps of dough to a work surface. Drizzle 1 Tbsp. ice water over remaining dough in bowl and knead again to bring it together. Add to dough on work surface.
3.      Divide dough unevenly into 2/3 for the bottom crust and 1/3 for the top crust. Working with one crust at a time, press into a single mass, incorporating dry bits, then pat down to make a ¾"-thick block. Using a bench scraper or knife, divide into 4 pieces. Stack pieces on top of one another, tucking any unincorporated dry bits in between layers, and press down to combine, flattening dough into one mass. Form dough into a ¾"-thick disk and wrap tightly in plastic. Use your fingertips and the outside edges of your palms to press in any rough spots or remaining dry bits of dough. Chill at least 2 hours or preferably overnight.
For filling:
1.      Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat oven to 425°F. In a large mixing bowl, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, all the tapioca, orange juice, zest, cinnamon, clove, allspice, and salt. Toss gently to mix well, and then let sit for at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes (while you roll out the bottom crust).
2.      Let dough sit at room temperature 5 minutes to soften. Working one at a time, roll out disks inside lightly floured 14” plastic pie crust bags to ⅛" thick. The bottom crust should roll out to the edges of the pie bag, but the top crust should be a little smaller.  Place each crust, still in its plastic bag, on glass refrigerator shelf to chill for 5-10 minutes.
3.      Take the bottom crust out of the refrigerator, unzip the bag, and carefully transfer to pie dish (make sure it’s a deep pie dish!). Lift up edges and allow dough to slump down into dish (if it’s too cold to be pliable, let it warm up slightly first). Gently press dough into edges of dish, if needed. Trim, leaving about a 1" overhang. Gently scrape in filling, smooth top, and dot with cold butter chunks.
4.      Remove the top crust from the fridge.  Unzip the bag, carefully peel back the top plastic, and invert the lattice piecrust cutter onto the exposed dough round.  Carefully flip the whole thing over so that the plastic bag is on top with the pie dough beneath it, the cutter directly beneath the dough, and the other half of the plastic bag beneath the cutter.  With a rolling pin, gently roll the dough down onto the cutter until the diamonds of the cutting tool are exposed on top, being careful not to roll too hard and cut through the plastic pie bag.  Carefully peel the plastic pie bag away from the dough, and use the handles on the lattice cutter insert to lift the pie crust out of the cutter tool.  Invert the perfectly round lattice top crust on top of pie filling.  Fold edge of bottom crust up and over edges of lattice top crust; press together to seal, and crimp as desired.  Chill assembled pie in freezer for 10 minutes.
5.      Transfer pie dish to a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet (for catching overflowing juices later), brush the lattice lightly with milk, and sprinkle with sugar.  To prevent the edges from burning, place pie shields (or strips of aluminum foil) around the edges of the pie.
6.      Bake pie 5 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 375°. Continue to bake until juices are thick and bubbling, 75–90 minutes longer, removing the pie shields before the last 10 minutes of baking.  If the lattice top is getting too dark before the pie juices are bubbling, cut a few vent holes in a piece of aluminum foil and tent the foil over the entire pie.
7.      Once the crust is golden brown and the pie filling is thick and bubbling, remove the pie from the oven and cool on a wire rack for at least 4 hours before serving. Yes, it smells amazing, and yes, people love warm pie. But if you don’t give it time to set up properly, the filling will be runny when you cut into it.
8.      The completely cooled pie can be covered with a sheet of waxed paper, then wrapped in aluminum foil and stored at room temperature or refrigerated.

9.      Pie can be serve plain, or individual slices can be warmed in the microwave and topped with vanilla ice cream.

Today I'm linking up with the February  Baking Crumbs linky party at Only Crumbs Remain and with Full Plate Thursday at Miz Helen's Country Cottage.

Only Crumbs Remain


Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

I grew up with Rhubarb also being from Wisconsin originally - I have tried to grow it in Arkansas with little luck. My youngest daughter moved to Wisconsin 10 years ago and has a patch of rhubarb so when we visit or she visits us I always get some to freeze - if we have the camper I freeze it right then and there and it is on the tail end of the visit so I bring home about 2 gallons to use, last time she visited she brought me a big chunk of root once again to try - I put it in a 5 gallon pail with draining holes in the bottom and left it on the porch over the winter as I just didn't know where to try it once more time - I wonder if some will start to grow from it? I still have one gallon of frozen to use in the freezer - I need to make a pie I have rhubarb butter left that I canned - about 3 more half pints I think and I love rhubarb crisp - like apple but with rhubarb

Ramona said...

Aahhh! Rhubarb! I, too, love it and can only get in Virginia for a few short weeks. I can’t tell you how many batches of strawberry rhubarb jam my mom and I made, along with rhubarb crisp, rhubarb coffee cake and strawberry rhubarb pies. I’ll be glad to be your taste tester for your pies! :) My husbands aunt made the BEST strawberry rhubarb pies. Her crusts were so thin and could almost see through them. Now I’m hungry! I grew up in upstate NY and had a HUGE rhubarb patch in our yard. Yummy.

Jenny K. Lyon said...

Holy cow girl, you research more than I! I'm dizzy from reading, lol. I only do vodka crusts now-they are just too easy not to. The crust bag thing-I'll have to try it next time. The 1/3 and 2/3 thing-yup, and makes sense. Oh my, both pies looked really good to me! And my family wouldn't know it's pie without a wee bit of overdone crust! You rock.

Fred and/or Marlies said...

You take me right back to my boyhood in Germany. Erdbeer Rhabarber Torte was a staple that my mom could always bake. I used to grow some giant rhubarb in my (our) garden where I always had to do the work, not always willingly either. Rhubarb was in every man's garden in northern Europe. I even ate it raw but Rhabarber Marmelade was always in my taste buds as we spread it on bread as a matter of course. I can't say I was found of it then, strawberries were much nicer but not always available. Your M-I-L had to cook the stuff in a big pot and does not remember rhubarb as kindly as we eaters.

Marti said...

Those pies are foodie magazine perfect! I love your explanation of where and why rhubarb grows. That explains why rhubarb isn't as popular in the South. From the time I was in grade school, I remember reading about rhubarb pie and always wondered what this delicacy tasted like. Do you like plain rhubarb pie too?

Chris said...

Loved this post! And rhubarb pie! I think my favorite is rhubarb custard. And on a whim, I checked Williams Sonoma's website for those pie plates and discovered the white one for only $29.95 and an offer for 20% off and free shipping!! So if you want more white ones, check it out! (So far I'm remaining resolute, but...)

Lynette said...

Your pie experiments mesmerized me, and I am super impressed! I think I made a pie once. It wasn't happiness. Who knew about Vodka for good crust handling?? Spray starch, crust savior - all-around nifty item. :)

Deb from Frugal Little Bungalow said...

My grandparents had a garden and she often made rhubarb pie and strawberry rhubarb, and then as a young married when I'd go out there I'd get some rhubarb there and strawberries at the farm market or store and make pie as well.

I don't think that life was as complicated back then..I had two cookbooks and probably just used a recipe from one of them...most likely Betty Crocker :) Reading this made me wonder..I do have some of my grandmother's recipes but not for her pie so it must have been the cookbook. Haven't made one in ages and I think I shall come spring time! :)

Miz Helen said...

I love the Rhubarb and Strawberry Combination and you have certainly found the very best recipe for this pie. I love the research and tutorial that you gave us on the crust. Hope you are having a great day and thanks so much for sharing your awesome post with us at Full Plate Thursday.
Come Back Soon
Miz Helen

Preeti said...

Whether it is patchwork or pie, you do everything with a zeal of a warrior and the sensitivity of an artist. I am in awe of your awesomeness. Pardon the mushiness - it is Valentine's Day, after all. Hope you and Ben have a lovely time.

Unknown said...

What a delicious pie(s) Rebecca Rose! I totally agree that rhubarb & strawberries toegther are heavenly - though as you've pointed out they kick out so much water. I love the thoroughness of your piemaking trials - I was fascinated by the pastry with vodka! I shall have to try that too! Out of curiosity have you ever tried blind baking the pastry before adding the filling and the lattice crust? Thankyou so much for linking up with #BakingCrumbs it's lovely to have a ne face join in,
Angela x