How I Make Rhubarb Pie

May 16, 2009
by Jack McNulty

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Rhubarb has a flavor somewhere between apples and cherries, which is where I found inspiration to create my own version of rhubarb pie.

I generally avoid spending endless hours scouring the net looking for ideas, inspiration or recipes. Books still seem a better option when I need to research anything food-related, but I do enjoy following several food blogs…and I have noticed a developing theme this spring – rhubarb is in!

David Lebovitz, pastry chef and entertaining author, recently offered his version of rhubarb tart in his popular blog, which relied on a simple compote of rhubarb and strawberries. Meanwhile, Kerrin Rousset wrote about a rhubarb ‘fruit’ roll-up in her award-wining blog MyKugelhopf. Visit some of the other major foodie sites, and I guarantee you will find plenty more how-to-make rhubarb ideas for compote, pies, tarts, fools, crumbles…

So why write about something that is already getting enough attention in the internet food world?

Well…I’ve always enjoyed rhubarb, but somehow it’s been more of an acquaintance to me rather than a true culinary friend. So now I’m taking another look…and I like what I see.  

Rhubarb spends most of its time masquerading as a fruit. Strangely, I like that.

Rhubarb brings out the best qualities in other foods. It puts forth a healthy dose of acidity, which of course provides balance to anything sweet. The acids also help carry aromas through the food – like a seasoning. I think this is one reason so many people like to match rhubarb with strawberries during the spring. Unripened strawberries are just bland tasting with undeveloped aromas and weak acids. But, add a bit of rhubarb and suddenly the flavor is transformed into something resembling good. I like that too.

Rhubarb is very seasonal – it’s here for about two months, then quietly fades away as true fruits begin to emerge. Again, I like that.

Rhubarb is not fussy. It is abundant, easy to clean, easy to prepare, easy to grow and quite inexpensive. All traits I really like.

But what I mostly like about rhubarb is its flavor, which I think is somewhere between a juicy apple and a tangy cherry…and this thought eventually led me to develop my own version of rhubarb pie.

So let’s get cooking…

The dough I use to make the pie crust for my rhubarb pie is a variation of my standard pie crust recipe I learned while working in France– only this time I include a bit of buckwheat flour. Rhubarb is a member of the buckwheat family, so it was actually a simple connection to make. I also like the earthy flavor characteristics and dark specks from the buckwheat, which give this crust a rustic appeal. As for the fat…well, I think it is very important to use real butter for this dough – and lots of it! The high butter ratio will certainly create a flaky crust, but that’s not all. The fat and butter flavor are actually needed to help balance the tartness of the rhubarb. I always make sure to allow plenty of time for the dough to rest after mixing the ingredients – at least 2-3 hours under refrigeration (it is also ok to keep this dough refrigerated for a couple of days, or to freeze it for about six months).

The Pie Dough

For a 23-cm pie, mix together in a large bowl 260 gr. all-purpose flour, 30 gr. buckwheat flour, 65 gr. powdered sugar and a good pinch of salt. In a separate small bowl, mix together one whole egg and one egg yolk. Cut 180 gr. cold butter into cubes, then add the butter to the flour mixture and work this everything together with your fingers until the butter and flour are well incorporated (you should have a mixture approximating the size of peas). Add the egg mixture to the flour and work together until the dough comes together. Knead slightly until the dough is smooth, then cut the dough into two equal portions. Wrap each portion in plastic and refrigerate (or freeze) until you are ready to make the pie.

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Getting Prepared

Take the dough out of the refrigerator about one hour before you want to make the pie (if you are using frozen dough, then make sure to defrost the dough overnight in the refrigerator). Butter a 23-cm pie dish well and set aside. This step is quite important, because the dough will not be pre-baked and a nice coating of butter on the pie dish will help create a crispy pie bottom (I really hate soggy pie crusts). Next, mix together 4 Tbl. of all-purpose flour, 4 Tbl. ground hazelnuts (used toasted breadcrumbs if you have nut allergies), 180 gr. sugar, 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1 tsp. ground ginger and 1 tsp. vanilla powder (easy to make yourself by drying a vanilla bean then pulverizing it in a food processor or coffee grinder). Finally, go ahead and slice about 500 gr. of fresh rhubarb into 1-cm thick pieces, then pre-heat your oven to 230° C.

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Making the Pie

On a well-floured surface, roll out one of the pie dough rounds until it is about 4-cm larger than the size of the pie pan. The dough should not be too thin – I like to keep it about 1/2-cm thick. Fold the dough in half and gently place it into the prepared pie pan. Unfold the dough to cover the other half of the pan, then lightly press the dough into the pan to eliminate any air pockets. Trim the edges of the dough, leaving a slight overhang, and then poke holes into the entire bottom of the dough with a fork. Take about one half of the sugar and spice mixture and cover the bottom of the pan. Arrange the rhubarb pieces on the sugar/spice mixture, making about two layers of rhubarb, then go ahead and add the remainder of the sugar/spice mixture to cover the arranged rhubarb.

Apply a light coating of egg wash (beat one egg with a spoon of milk) along the edge of the prepared pie dough , then set it aside. Roll out the second pie dough in the same manner as the first, then fold the dough in half, place it on the pie, and unfold the dough to completely cover the pie. Pinch the edges together using your thumb and forefinger to create an attractive rim. Coat the entire top of the pie with egg wash, then make a few slices into the top of the dough to allow some steam to escape during the baking process.

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Baking the Pie

Place the prepared pie into the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the pie, turn the heat down to 180° C, then apply another coating of egg wash to the pie. Return the pie to the oven and bake for an additional 35 minutes or until the pie is golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing the pie. Enjoy hot or cold.

And oh my…rhubarb pie with a glass of Moscato d’Asti…it’s beyond words even though I can’t stop talking about the combination…then Silvia simply looks at me and calmly retorts, ‘shut-up and eat’…

There is no better compliment.



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