[4th of July baking, July 2011.]
Suddenly, am obsessed with making pie. I’m not sure why this is exactly — maybe because it’s been so warm-hot here, and July just feels like it should be pie and cold glasses of unsweetened mint tea and maybe a scoop of vanilla ice cream, too — because I don’t really consider myself to be much of a pie person. There’s too much crust for me (and it’s really take-your-chances if the crust involved will be any good), the fruit’s hard to get right, the squidge factor, etc., etc. I will bake pie on occasion, sure, but it usually comprises an olive-oil crust and apples from the tree — simple and fine. Nothing much to write home about, though.
But did you know? It’s summer. It’s honest-to-god summer right now in San Francisco and I am soaking it in. The sun is shining in July! I keep expecting the fog to descend, as it usually does around this time of year, and have scarves at the ready just in case. But for these sweet, sweet moments all is bright, clear skies and short sleeve shirts and, though no-one is more surprised by this than myself, a need — nay, a compulsion! — to bake pie.
In truth, I haven’t baked a summer pie in a few years. The last time, a coworker had brought in piles of peaches and we were to have a lunch barbecue; I offered to make pie, of course. And — I failed fairly miserably at it, though my coworkers very nicely ate it all up and didn’t complain. Maybe in actuality it wasn’t that bad, but to me it was sub-par. The crust was a tad soggy, the peaches too sweet. All rather blah in general. So I sort of tucked away the idea pie-baking for awhile, though I will crank out a few serviceable apple or apple-pear pies around the holidays and even a pumpkin last November, all made with my trusty butter-free crust that rarely lets me down. A little whole-wheat pastry flour combined with white, a little olive oil, a little ice water and I’m golden.
Yet … uninspired.
Enter summer 2011 and I’ve been galvanized to tackle pie again — but this time I want it to be proper, stick-to-your ribs, summer fruity old-fashioned pie. Old-fashioned pie, to me, involves luscious fruit that bubbles and oozes as it bakes under a tender, flaky crust that shatters a bit when you cut into it and is lightly browned on top. It is never mushy. It will cool on the windowsill sending a tempting aroma throughout the house and woods, luring bears and black labs alike. It should bring to mind splintery picnic table benches and clear lake water and soft serve ice cream and lazy, hammocked afternoons reading in the shade. In a word, it’s summer.
After the spring’s flurry of cake-baking, somewhere in the back of my mind I vowed, darn it, that this would be the year I finally conquered pie once and for all — no underbaked crust, no half-arsed attempts at fancy fillings. Just simple, delicious, no-nonsense pie. What’s more, I would actually enjoy it. And it would have to be very good — good enoughthat I would want to eat more than one piece.
So, how to put this? Without much thinking about it, I baked a pie for the 4th of July that wildly surpassed all my expectations. It was not mushy. The crust was perfection! It was sweet but not-too, with rhubarb from the garden and beautifully ripe strawberries and a hint of cinnamon. There was a bad moment when I rolled out the dough and it stuck to the waxed paper I’d carefully put down on the counter (note to self: go for just the flour on counter trick, damn the clean-up later. It makes for a better rolling-out.) and I had to start again, but it all turned out fine. And yes: I would’ve had seconds but we’d eaten the whole thing — this, my first-ever strawberry rhubarb pie and my first real pie-baking in nearly three years.
I could quit while I’m ahead, I suppose, but rather am feeling completely the opposite. I cannot help but to envision my next attempts and am focused currently on the idea of cherry pie, latticed of course, that shall be served with lemon ice cream. I may bake one tonight, in fact. After all, right now it feels like summer both in spirit and in actuality.
I We all deserve a treat.
[Near the bay, July 2011.]
The weekend was: sun and bare feet and the dog and chasing chickens and lots of coffee at Toby’s. It was shorts and a swim in Tomales Bay even though it was cold, and clear skies from first thing in the morning ’til the last at night, hitting tennis balls on the lawn and drinking champagne on the deck just because, old friends and homemade pesto for dinner, and owl-watching as dusk came down through the trees, hearing their eerie screeches throughout the night.
It was magic.
So was this pie.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
4-6 Tbsp ice water
Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl. Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter, fork, or simply your hands. Mix and crumble together until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water 1 Tbsp at a time, tossing and stirring with a fork until it just holds together. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in fridge at least 1/2 hour. Remove and let warm up a bit about 5 minutes before you plan to roll it out.
3 1/2 cups 1/2-inch-thick slices trimmed rhubarb (1 1/2 pounds untrimmed)
3 1/2 cups hulled, halved strawberries
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water (for glaze) *I omitted this step
Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine first 7 ingredients in large bowl. Toss gently to blend.
Roll out 1 dough disk on floured work surface to 13-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter pie dish (glass or pottery). Trim excess dough, leaving 3/4-inch overhang.
Roll out second dough disk on lightly floured surface to 13-inch round. Cut into fourteen 1/2-inch-wide strips. Spoon filling into crust. Arrange 7 dough strips atop filling, spacing evenly. Form lattice by placing remaining dough strips in opposite direction atop filling. Trim ends of dough strips even with overhang of bottom crust. Fold strip ends and overhang under, pressing to seal. Crimp edges decoratively.
Brush glaze over crust. transfer pie to baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Bake pie until golden and filling thickens, about 1 hour 25 minutes. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely.