Monday, May 6, 2013

They won't let me forget it: Rhubarb-Strawberry Pie

This is the month for rhubarb-strawberry pie--for baking it and for eating it. It is a Monday, and Mondays need a little sweetness to start off the week. It is spring. Where I live the sky is overcast, and the air is so much cooler than it has been that I don't feel threatened by the impending doom of heat. I've just finished my morning piece of pie. It tastes an awful lot like a certain rhubarb-strawberry crisp I made a couple years back. But this time it is a pie. And at the risk of sounding totally over-the-top, it is perfect.

This is the fourth rhubarb-strawberry pie I've made this month. I should be a little ashamed of that or something. Four pies. And I didn't bake any of them for recipe development or research.  I made the pies because I felt like it and because there were strawberries and rhubarb close and calling. I also got the recipe right the first time, so I've just been enjoying the process and the result of perfect pies all. month. long.

The second and third pies I made, granted, were for a certain birthday bash. He's there, my Papa, in the picture below, with his fabulous turquoise watch and his handkerchief in his shirt pocket. He grew up in Texas, married an Oklahoman in California, lived here and there in the Napa Valley and Wyoming, Nevada and Georgia, and is currently in the old, miniature Napa house that has housed one family member or another since as long as I can remember.

The truth is, I could have made instant pudding with cool whip on top and my Papa would have been grateful. He's just like that. He eats the burnt toast, scrapes out the last pearls of jam from the jar, and almost delightedly takes what some might see as edibly undesirable and makes it clear what a gift it is. I've always loved that about him. He also tells me I look incredible, every time, even when I'm pretty sure I look haggard or homely or hungover. I like that about him too. But even though he'll take the bad stuff and be convinced it is good, I wanted to make something for him he wouldn't have to exert himself to like.

After the pie and the candles, my sister, in her ever-so-tactful, unbrutish way, cornered and convinced me to use her computer to write down the recipe, immediately, before I forgot what I did. She wasn't taking any chances, she said. And so I went and typed out the recipe, because even though it was annoying--her suggesting (the audacity!) that I would surely lose the recipe or my head or something else by the time I got home--I knew she was right. There was an  incident involving a white cake last year. I've made a homemade rainbow chip cake for my sister-in-law three years and running--always with a different, unsuccessful white cake base, but last year I made one for Cedar's birthday too, and it was finally and thoroughly the best white cake I've ever made: moist and delicate and not too sweet. But I got the recipe from some random website, and I didn't write down any notes. So the one cake recipe everyone loved is lost. They won't let me forget it.

Here I am then making up for past sins, making sure I can follow my own recipe for the Rhubarb-Strawberry Pie with my very best pie crust. Here are the notes and measurements. Here is the sure-fire way to do it over and over again. Four times in the last month--each pie exactly the same--I think I've got it.


Rhubarb-Strawberry Pie

They say it everywhere, but I'll say it again: the best ingredients build the best pie. Don't get lazy and use sub-par strawberries or store-bought candied orange peel. Seriously. Make a different pie if you can't get your hands on the good stuff. Chocolate is always nice when fruits are out-of-season. Raspberry rhubarb is good alternative--because the frozen berries actually still taste good.

Pie Crust 
(adapted from Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts)

2 1/2 cups All-Purpose flour (even better if freezer-cold)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup European-style unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes  
1/4-1/2 cup ice water

Combine the dry ingredients in a food processor or with a pastry blender until well mixed. Add half the butter and process/cut until it resembles cornmeal. Add the rest of the butter and process/cut until it is pea-sized (if using the processor) or a little smaller (if cutting by hand).

Add small amounts of ice water while pulsing for the dough to just hold together when squeezed. It should no longer be crumbly without being gummy. If at any point in this process the dough warms, refrigerate the whole shebang for a half hour and then proceed. A cold pie crust is a happy pie crust.

When done, pour out half the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into a flat disk. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Repeat with the other half. (This makes it easier to roll out later.)

When the dough has chilled sufficiently, roll out into a pie-sized round and put in a pie plate. (I use glass.) Tuck under any extra crust on the sides. Cover with the plastic wrap again and refrigerate.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.


3 cups rhubarb, cut into 1" pieces (cut rhubarb in half if too wide)
3 cups thick-sliced strawberries
1/4 cup candied orange rind, homemade recipe here
3/4-1 cup sugar (my favorite has been natural cane sugar, a large-crystal sugar darker than other organic brands); if your strawberries are amazing and your sugar whiter, use the lesser
1/2 cup flour

Prepare the filling. Put all ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently until well mixed. Pour into the prepared pie shell, cover, and return to the refrigerator.

Make lattice top: roll out the second disk to the same size of the pie plate, only this time, cut the rolled-out dough into strips. Top with lattice in whatever odd pattern you like, tuck in extra on the sides, crimp edges, and refrigerate again.

When the oven is heated and you are ready to bake, beat an egg and brush the top with the wash, then sprinkle with a little more natural cane sugar.

Bake the pie at 350 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours, rotating halfway through. You may wish to put a cookie sheet under the pie to catch the drips. Let cool completely before serving. Enjoy!


  1. I am a witness: this pie is the best pie that I have ever tasted. Be sure to follow her dough-chilling tips for the most amazing crust ever. I suppose Martha can be thanked, too. But I dare you to make the crust as wonderful as Amanda's, to the perfect thickness, both chewy and flaky, and utterly delicious.

    1. Yes, Martha is to thank...but a little extra salt and sugar and a twist in technique made it surprisingly different. I've been making her crust for years, and this is the first time I've felt really good about it. Yeah!

  2. And it's not just the crust. The, so, perfectly good. My sister is not kidding. This pie is PERFECT.

  3. Lovely Amanda,
    I believe every word about how perfect this pie is. I picked up rhubarb to go with the strawberries from our farm share (and the few that will actually make it into the house from the garden) so that I can make THIS pie, THIS recipe, THIS weekend. It's my Mother's Day treat to myself. Thank you for sharing!