I’ve had a bit of an obsession with the idea of American pie since watching Twin Peaks in my yoof. Something about that classic diner environment and Special Agent Dale Cooper’s palpable enjoyment of those perfect slices of pie really captured my imagination. The diner’s waitress, played by Madchen Amick, may have also had something to do with it.
We got fully immersed into the pie thang whilst we were out in the States, and this recipe is in particular inspired by a visit to Mission Pie that was just down the road from our apartment in San Francisco. In the UK we’re used to the idea of eating something like this as a pudding, but out in the states, pie is basically a snack. Something you’d have in the afternoon with a coffee, and it’s usually served at room temperature with some whipped cream.
Both rhubarb and strawberries are bang in season, and there’s something about the combination of the two that really works. The filling almost fizzes on your tongue like a sherbert sweet. The lattice top looks cool, but the pie works just as well with a solid lid, so don’t be put off by the fiddly bit.
For the pastry
340g plain flour
20g caster sugar
240g cold unsalted butter
100ml ice cold water
For the filling
Juice of one orange
Juice of one lemon
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
140g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
Demerara / granulated sugar and egg wash to finish
Make your pastry first, as you’re going to want to rest it for a couple of hours. Weigh out and sift all your dry ingredients into the bowl of your mixer or food processor, and then cut up the cold butter into centimeter cubes and add to the dry. Mix on medium speed or pulse until you have a large breadcrumb type consistency.
Turn your mixer back on and add around three quarters of your icy water water. You want to add enough to bring the pastry together, but no too much so it’s wet. If it doesn’t look like it’s going to come together after a 10 seconds or so, add a bit more water until it does. Remove the pastry from the bowl and ‘pat’ together, then divide into two, shape into rounds and wrap both halves in clingfilm, and rest in the fridge for a couple of hours.
For the filling, first hull your strawberries, and depending on their size, cut them into halves or quarters. Then cut your sticks of rhubarb into slices about half an inch thick. Pop these in a bowl, and then prep the other elements. Juice one large orange and one lemon into a measuring jug. You should have about 100ml of juice, if you don’t, just top up with a bit of water. Pour three quarters of this into a heavy bottomed sauce pan, and add the sugar, the split and scraped vanilla pod and a pinch of salt, and bring to the boil stirring occasionally.
Whilst this is going on, mix the cornflour with the remaining juice mixture until you have a loose, milky paste. Once the juice and sugar has come up to the boil, add the cornflour mixture, and simmer it all together for a minute stirring continually. After a minute, pour the liquid over the prepped fruit, and toss it through. You want this to cool off before building your pie.
NB. If you leave your fruit for a couple of hours, it will have started to leech out it’s juices. Don’t worry about this. You want all that juice in your pie. If you’ve only left it a short time, the mixture will be drier, but the juice will come out during cooking.
Now to make this little beauty. You’re going to need a pie dish that’s around 24cm / 10″ across. Take your pastry out of the fridge, and let it warm up a little (10 mins or so) and then roll out the lid until it’s around 3mm thick and is 26 cm or 12″ across. Then pop it on a floured tray, or piece of parchment and pop it back in the fridge. Having cooler pastry will help when you’re making the lattice.
Then roll out the base, again to 3mm thick, so it’s big enough to line the bottom of the pie dish, and over hang by an inch or so. Spoon all the fruit and juice into the lined dish, making sure you’ve got an even distribution of rhubarb and strawberries.
Then take your egg wash, and brush it round the edge of your pastry. Now the lid. Like I said at the start, you can just slap the lid on, crimp the edge, and you’d have a perfectly good pie. Just cut a little hole in the centre of it to let the steam out during cooking. Or you could be a flashy bugger, and make the lattice lid, which isn’t nearly as tricky as it looks (there are loads of ‘how to’ tutorials for it on-line).
Take your pastry lid out of the fridge, and cut it into strips of around half an inch thick. Lay a series of strips around half an inch apart across the top your pie dish, and then fold back every other one to half way across. Then lay down the centre strip running at right angles to the others, and then place the strips you’d folded down back across. Repeat this process alternating between the strips you have folded back, until you have created a neat lattice. Gently push the ends of the strips onto the edge of the base, sticking them to the egg wash, and then trim the excess pastry so it is hanging around half an inch off the edge of the pie dish.
To finish the pie, turn the edge onto itself, and then crimp together with your fingers. Brush the lattice with egg wash, and then sprinkle with demerara sugar.
Bake at 185c for between 40 and 50 minutes, until the crust is golden brown, and the filling is bubbling nicely away. The final bit of the recipe is probably the hardest. Letting the pie cool before you start eating it. You need to let it cool down, so the filling can set up. If you cut it open when it’s warm, the filling and juices will all spill out all over the shop. So patience is key.
Once it’s cooled to room temperature, reward yourself with a large slice served with vanilla ice cream, or some sweetened whipped cream.