Rejoice, for rhubarb season is upon us! Well, at least that’s what I was thinking when I saw rhubarb in the grocery store for the first time this spring. Why the excitement over rhubarb, you might ask? Because that means it’s time for strawberry rhubarb pie!
As a kid, I didn’t like strawberry rhubarb pie. It was too tangy and bitter. Why bother when there was cherry pie and blueberry pie and all manner of other delicious summer pies to chow down on? In fact, I thought I didn’t like it all the way up until four years ago or so when the Mister asked me to make it for him the first year we were together for his birthday. (This was in response to the question of what his favorite type of cake was. I knew I had a keeper right then. Mmmm, pie.) Anyway, it turns out that strawberry rhubarb pie is a real pain in the ass to make. You have to peel the rhubarb (if you’ve never done that, imagine using a potato peeler to try to get a layer of skin off celery), and if it doesn’t set properly, all is lost. Sweating in the air conditioning-less kitchen on the hottest day of the summer over my first ever strawberry rhubarb pie, I knew it must really be love.
Anyway, several hours and a shower later, we had dinner and sampled a couple of pieces. Turns out, I like it, I really like it! Despite the effort of it all, strawberry rhubarb pie is divine, just the right amount of sweet and tart for a grownup’s taste buds.
So last summer, when I entered a pie baking contest right at the peak of strawberry season, I knew what I had to do. I ended up cobbling bits and pieces from several recipes I found floating out there on the Internet (and even borrowed from a crumble featured in Bon Appetit) to come up with this, my most delicious creation. It may be a little untraditional for the flavor, but I went with a crumb topping instead of a proper top crust. (Mostly because I struggle with making pastry dough look pretty, but who doesn’t love crumb topping?) And wouldn’t you know it, I took third place out of twenty or so pies in the competition. I won a toaster oven and bragging rights for my trouble.
Enough with the build up. I present to you now…
BaseballChica03’s (ahem, AWARD-WINNING) Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
1 (heaping, sifted) cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon shortening
1/2 vanilla bean
2-3 tablespoons cold water
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons old fashioned oats
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter
Toasted crushed hazelnuts
1 1/2 cups strawberries
3 cups rhubarb
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
Mix flour and salt in medium bowl. Cut a whole vanilla bean in half widthwise; set one half aside for the topping, then slice it lengthwise and scrape the seeds and mix them in with the flour and salt. Cut in shortening using a pastry cutter until it looks like a meal (pieces the size of small peas or smaller). Add cold water 1 tablespoon at a time until it just starts to stick together.
Roll the dough into a ball on a floured surface; chill for at least 15 minutes (but the longer the better).
When you’re ready to go, roll out the pastry – again, on a floured surface – until it’s a couple of inches bigger than your pie plate. Fold the pastry into quarters (in half, then in half again) and gently set it into the pie plate. Trim the overhang, and flute the edges if desired.
In a small bowl, combine the oats, flour, and brown sugar. Scrape the seeds from the remaining bit of the vanilla bean, and mix it all together with the above. Cut in butter using a pastry cutter until it’s blended well. (I actually usually end up using my fingers for this part.)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Slice the strawberries – you can just quarter them the usual way, but I like to do horizontal slices because they lay better in the crust. Peel the rhubarb, then cut it into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces, depending on how thick the stalks are. (And THROW OUT THE LEAVES – rhubarb leaves are poisonous, so keep them away from pets, small children, and curious food-snatchers while you’re preparing) Now, you can skip peeling the rhubarb if you want. There’s debate over whether you should, and if it’s cooked right, it won’t kill you or anything. But I find it to be a little stringy in a pie if it’s not peeled first.
In a large bowl, combine the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, tapioca, salt, and orange peel. Be sure to mix them up so the fruit is coated well. Here is where I preach about the wonders of tapioca. Some folks will tell you to use cornstarch, but I will honestly never go back to it in a fruit pie again after using tapioca. I was wary because I’m not a tapioca pudding fan, and don’t even get me started on bubble tea. I was worried that it would leave a distinctive flavor behind. But I am here to tell you that tapioca holds everything together amazingly without an aftertaste. My blueberry pies aren’t runny/starchy! Just do it. You won’t regret it. Anyway. Back to the instruction.
Let it sit for 10 minutes to let it stew and get juicy. Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust. Carefully spoon the crumble topping on… well, top, making sure you cover up all of the filling. (Keep the hazelnuts set aside for now, but don’t worry, I didn’t forget them!)
Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Reduce heat to 350 and bake for an additional 30 minutes or so, until the topping is a nice, golden brown. When there’s about five minutes left, sprinkle the toasted hazelnuts on top of the pie. You don’t want to put them on any earlier, or they will taste burnt.
Cool for at least half an hour to let it set, although I find that the pie set much more easily with the crumble crust than it does with the lattices I’ve used in the past (including on that first pie for the Mister).
Eat and enjoy! I particularly like strawberry rhubarb anything with vanilla ice cream.
As a disclaimer, I can’t personally vouch for whether this pie is any good. I’ve only made this particular version twice. I developed it last summer, and for some reason, rhubarb disappeared really early last year. I think it was too hot. Anyway, I have yet to actually try a piece of it because nobody saved me a piece – not even a teeny sliver! – either time. I will say that when I made strawberry rhubarb crumble with hazelnuts on top, it really added a delicious depth of flavor to it. And this year… to hell with the rest of them! I’m going to take the first piece.