Let’s not beat around the bush—this is my absolute favorite pie. I’ve shared before that I was first introduced to rhubarb by way of a terrible dessert that my grandmother’s older sister made when I was a kid. Once Eloise had left for the night, Grandma Phyllis hung her out to dry during Balderdash, when she submitted as the definition to a squelchy word, “The sound you make after eating Eloise’s dessert.” Sisters through and through. I had rhubarb again as part of the pies made famous by the touristy gold-mining town near to where I grew up, but it was always cut with something: strawberries usually, blueberries sometimes, the occasional cherry bunch, or a ridiculously sugary crumb topping. More recently, I’ve enjoyed it paired with raspberry and with ginger, but rhubarb is absolutely my very favorite when it’s jumbled up with nothing.
Maybe the squelchy Eloise-type desserts of yore gave rhubarb a bad rap, but it never seems to be all that present on restaurant menus. Sure, most people I know love the heck out of it and find infinitely creative ways to use the plant, but I can’t think of the last time I saw a rhubarb dessert on a menu, unless it was strawberry rhubarb pie; even my own main dude, number one eater of rhubarb baked goods spilling forth from my kitchen, “can never remember whether I like it.” Fruity, zingy, earthy in a way—it’s one of the most distinct flavors around, and I’d love to see it get more of its due. In the meantime, this simple pie can be yours. The rhubarb profile is strong, brightened up with a touch of orange, and rounded out with a splash of vanilla. I’ve been experimenting with partially cooking fruit pie fillings, and it really helps nail the consistency here: broken down, but not mushy, juicy, but not runny, tart, but not puckering. And with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of rhubarb syrup? It’s just my favorite iteration of a slice of pie this time of year.
Rhubarb previously: rhubarb ginger jam, rhubarb ginger jammers, raspberry rhubarb crostata, and strawberry rhubarb pie.
Flaky pie crust
Makes two crusts, or enough for this double-crust pie. Feel free to substitute in your favorite recipe or technique!
12 ounces pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
8 ounces (two sticks) very cold butter
4 to 6 ounces ice water
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1. On a clean counter, dump your flour and salt; mix it around with a bench scraper. Chop one stick of butter into quarters, and cut it into the four with your bench scraper. When butter is about the size of lima beans, cut in the second stick, pulling, folding, and tossing with the bench scraper as you go, until the butter is about the size of quarters. Add the vinegar to the ice water.
2. Using your fingers, flick the water onto the butter-flour mixture, gently folding with the bench scraper all the while. You have added enough water once the mixture holds together when squeezed; it should be very shaggy.
3. Next, push the butter into the flour. Using the heel of your palm, push a small section of the dough down into the counter and away from you; this creates long layers of butter in your dough, which translates to long flaky layers in your crust. Use your bench scraper to scrape up the smear, and put it a bowl. Repeat until all the dough has been smeared and you have a bowlful of long, buttery layers. Push these into one mass, divide in half, wrap each in plastic, flatten into disks, and chill at least two hours, or better yet overnight.
For rhubarb filling
Inspired by Apt. 2B Baking Co.
8 cups rhubarb (from about 2 ½ pounds), chopped into half-inch pieces, divided
1 ½ cups granulated sugar minus two tablespoons
Zest of half an orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
¼ cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons butter cut into bits, optional
1 egg yolk, for brushing onto crust
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, large grain if you’ve got it
1. In a large, ungreased skillet, mix six cups of rhubarb, the sugar, your zest, and a pinch of salt. Over high heat and stirring gently all the while, cook the rhubarb until it releases its juices; this will only take about three minutes. Strain out the fruit, reserving the juices, and in a shallow bowl, mix the cooked rhubarb with the two remaining cups of uncooked rhubarb and the vanilla extract. Then, in a small bowl, make a slurry by whisking two tablespoons of the reserved, warm juices with the cornstarch until smooth. Fold the slurry into your fruit and pop the bowl into the fridge to cool for about a half-hour; reserve the remaining juice if you wish to make a syrup out of it.
2. While the filling cools, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Roll out one of your pie dough pucks into a 12-inch circle, and fit it into a 9- or 9.5-inch pie plate. Pop into the fridge to chill. Then roll out top dough to 12-inch circle, and if proceeding with lattice top, cut into 11 or 12 one-inch strips. I like to slide my strips onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and into the fridge while I ready everything else.
3. Once the rhubarb has cooled, pour the filling into your prepared pie shell. Dot with butter, if using, then weave your lattice across the top, fold the bottom crust up over the lattice edges, and crimp. This is my favorite lattice-top instructional site, although I prefer to use wider strips. Beat your egg yolk with a fork until smooth, then brush it across the lattice and crimp; sprinkle with the remaining two tablespoons of sugar. If you suspect that your pastry has warmed, chill the pie in the freezer for about 15 minutes, otherwise, slide pie onto a cookie sheet or foil to catch any drips, then bake at 475 for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake for an additional 30, until the top is golden brown and juices are bubbling. Cool for at least two hours before serving. Pie will keep for three or four days, covered, in the fridge or at room temperature. Put
4. If interested in turning the rhubarb juice into a syrup for using atop an a la mode slice, just simmer the juice in a small saucepan over medium heat for about ten minutes, until the concoction has thickened. Stir occasionally throughout, and keep an eye on it, because the syrup will turn to rhubarb caramel in a flash if you’re not careful (although that’s not exactly a bad thing).