Thursday, April 7, 2011

Pie!!!

As far as the gustatory pleasures go, there is nothing better than pie.  I am a little hesitant making such a definitive statement.  I’m batting a few other things around in my head right now: chocolate, cheese, beer, chicken cannelloni with white and red sauce… Nope, pie still wins.  I had originally thought to make this entire blog focused on pie, but decided against it when I thought of the extra pounds I would end up putting on.

Pie!  Under one name there are endless variations and opportunities for creativity: flaky butter crusts, airy yeast crusts, sweet nut and cookie crumb crusts, flavorful cheese crusts. These crusts can hold flawless fruit-filling, creamy chiffon, indulgent custard, decadent chocolate, and rich, savory delights.  Pie evokes history; a rustic galette stirs imagined memories of being a peasant, eating on an oak table in the French countryside some time in the undefined past.   It’s part of tradition; the three pumpkin pies your father makes every Thanksgiving, even though there are now only three people gathered around the table.  It can be casual and unpretentious, an old-fashioned American apple pie, or elegant and sophisticated, a Tiramisu Black Bottom tart.  From a purely romantic point of view, nothing else showcases Nature’s seasonal bounty so well as pie.

To celebrate the magnificence of pie, we recently hosted a party.  I made four pies, a pumpkin, apple, banana-cream, and a strawberry-rhubarb tart.  I was originally feeling a little bad about making a pumpkin pie for an April party, but since it was hailing and 50 degrees that day, my guilt was assuaged.  Luckily for my husband and me, most of the pie was eaten between the ten or so guests.  The strawberry-rhubarb was devoured before the end of the night, and we sent the last two slices of pumpkin home with a only slightly protesting friend.  It was all too easy for us to finish off the banana-cream the next day.  Only the apple pie did not get completely consumed, and sadly a quarter had to be thrown out. 






Strawberry Rhubarb Tart – adapted from The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum

Thank you, Rose Levy Berenbaum, for the countless pies you must have made to get each one so perfect.  Every pie I made was from your book.  With much regret, I must return it to my local library and I have used all my renewals. But, I will be purchasing it soon.  I will have to check out your Cake Bible next.

Crust

The recipe for this crust is very methodical and a little time consuming, but the resulting pastry is impeccable.  I do feel rather bad about using so much plastic wrap and a freezer bag, so I’m working on a way to get the same result with a slightly different method.  If you want, just use your favorite all butter crust recipe.

8 T unsalted butter, cold
1 1/3 + 4 tsp of pastry flour or 1 1/3 cups of all purpose flour (she advises making your own pastry flour by combining 2 parts all purpose flour to 1 part cake flour)
¼ tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking powder – optional (be sure to uses a non SAS baking powder); if not using, double the salt
2 ½ - 3 ½ T ice water
1 ½ tsp cider vinegar

Divide the butter into two parts, 5 tablespoons and 3 tablespoons.  Cut the butter into ¾” cubes.  Wrap both portions in plastic wrap; put the large portion in the refrigerator and the smaller portion in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.  Put the flour, salt, and baking powder in a gallon size freezer bag and place in the freezer at the same time.

Chill a medium size mixing bowl.

Empty the flour mixture into a different bowl and whisk to combine the ingredients.  Take out the large portion of butter, and using a pastry cutter or rubbing with your fingers, blend the butter and flour until it resembles a coarse meal.  Put this mixture back in the bag, along with the butter from the freezer, and expel all air.  Next, take a rolling pin to flatten the cold butter into flakes.  These large pieces of butter are what make the crust so flaky and delicious.  Place the bag back in the freezer for about 10 minutes.

Empty the mixture into the chilled bowl, being sure to scrape the sides of the bag.  Sprinkle with ice water and vinegar, and toss gently.  At this point, I gently knead the dough by hand, just until it holds together and is a little stretchy.  Then, flatten it into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least an hour but preferably overnight.

Roll the dough and press into a 9 ½” tart pan.  Cover and put back into the fridge for an hour.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line the crust with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes.  At that point, remove weights and foil, prick crust all over with a fork.  Bake for about 10 more minutes or until golden brown.


Filling

1 large egg white, slightly beaten
1/3 cup currant jelly
4 cups rhubarb cut into ½” pieces or 4 cups quick frozen, no sugar added rhubarb, juice reserved
2/3 cup sugar
a pinch of salt
1 T cornstarch (2 T if using frozen rhubarb)
2 cups sliced strawberries


Brush the still warm, pre-baked pie crust with the egg white to moisture proof the crust.

Heat the currant jelly in small saucepan until bubbling.  Strain into a small cup and let cool until no longer hot.

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, salt, cornstarch, and rhubarb.  Let it stand at room temperature until the rhubarb gives some juice. (If using frozen rhubarb, add about a 1/2 cup of the reserved juice.  I used frozen and had lots of liquid left over, so just use your best judgment.)

Stirring constantly, bring the rhubarb mixture to boil over medium high heat.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You want the liquid thick and the rhubarb tender.  Remove it from the heat and let cool.  You can stir during cooling if you would like it smooth, or you can leave it alone for more texture.

Pour the rhubarb into the pie crust and arrange the strawberry slices on top in concentric circles.  Brush with the glaze (you can reheat the glaze to make it liquid again if necessary) within an hour of serving. Don’t expect any leftovers!

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