We have two huge rhubarb plants in our garden, and in mid-late May when the bright red stalks are at their tenderest, I make this pie. Rhubarb pie fillings are often soft and runny. The rhubarb contains so much water, you either have to add too much thickener or coax the rhubarb to release its liquid before thickening it. What’s the answer?To solve this problem, I mix the rhubarb with the sugar. Over time, the sugar draws out the excess juices. This takes place overnight, while you’re sleeping, and by the next morning, the rhubarb’s ready to be put into the pie. After baking and cooling, you can slice into this pie and the filling will stay put.
Be sure to make this pie when rhubarb is tender and bursting with flavor. The pastry is half butter and half lard. Cider vinegar helps prevent excessive gluten formation. You will not taste it at all.
Rhubarb topped with the sugar and whole cloves.
Rhubarb and sugar mixed together.
The next morning, the rhubarb is immersed in its released juices. The next step: turn the rhubarb into a colander set over a bowl to drain off the juices.
Drained rhubarb mixed with the thickened and cooled cooked juices, spread into bottom crust, and butter pieces scattered on top.
Top crust covers the filling and the edges of top and bottom crust are pressed together and fluted. Brush water on the pastry and sprinkle with sugar for a crusty top. Make slits for steam to escape.
Baked pie with nicely browned top and some thickened juices visible.
A serving of fresh rhubarb pie. See how flaky the pastry is? And the filling is moist and slightly tart and stays put.
2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) cold lard or chilled vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (4 ounces;1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
6 tablespoons ice water
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
2 pounds trimmed rhubarb stalks, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (8 cups)
2 cups granulated sugar
4 whole cloves
Finely grated zest of 1 large orange (about 2 tablespoons)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- To make the pastry, put the flour into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the salt and lard and pulse 4 times for about 1 second each to cut the fat into smaller pieces. Add the butter and pulse 4 more times.
- In a glass measuring cup with pouring spout, combine the water and cider vinegar. Start pulsing the food processor very rapidly (a fraction of a second each), while you add the liquid in a steady stream through the feed tube. After 25 to 30 pulses, the dough should almost gather into a ball. Do not process until it actually does.
- Lightly flour your work surface (a canvas pastry cloth is ideal),and scrape the dough onto it. Gently press the pieces of dough together to form one mass. Divide it in two, with one piece slightly larger than the other. Flatten each piece to a 1-inch-thick disk, wrap securely in plastic, and refrigerate overnight.
- To make the pastry by hand, place the flour in a large bowl and stir in the salt. Add the cold lard and butter pieces, and use a pastry blender to cut in the fats until the texture resembles very coarse meal. Combine the water and cider vinegar. Slowly add it to the fats and flour while tossing the dry ingredients with a fork. Stop when the dough just gathers into a ball. Shape into two disks and wrap as directed above. Refrigerate overnight.
- To make the filling, combine the rhubarb, 2 cups sugar, and cloves in a large bowl. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight. Refrigerate if your kitchen is warm. The next morning, stir to dissolve any remaining sugar granules. Set a wire strainer over a bowl and transfer the rhubarb and juices to it. Let drain for about 1 hour. Measure 1 1/4 cups of rhubarb juice. Add water, if necessary, to make volume. Put the juice into a heavy medium saucepan and add the orange zest, orange juice, and cornstarch. Stir with a whisk to put the cornstarch in suspension. Cook over medium heat, stirring gently and constantly with a heatproof rubber spatula until the liquid boils and thickens. As the liquid heats up and approaches boiling, the cornstarch thickens in isolated patches forming translucent clumps. This is perfectly okay. Just keep stirring gently and eventually the entire mass will thicken a lot and look translucent. Continue to cook and stir gently 2 minutes more. Do not stir rapidly; it may cause the sauce to thin out. Remove the pan from heat, stir in the vanilla, and cool until tepid.Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and set a heavy baking sheet on it. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Roll the larger piece of pastry on a lightly floured surface to a 13-inch circle. Fit the dough loosely into a 9-inch pie plate, preferably heatproof glass. Do not stretch the dough. Nudge it into the pan from the edge so that it fits onto the sides and bottom of the pan snugly. With kitchen shears, trim the overhanging dough to within 1/2-inch of the pie plate edge. Refrigerate. Roll the second piece of pastry on the lightly floured surface to a 12-inch circle; let it stand while you complete the filling.
- In a large bowl, fold together the drained rhubarb and tepid cornstarch-thickened rhubarb and orange juice. Spoon the filling into the prepared crust, and spread it evenly with a rubber or metal spatula. Scatter the pieces of cold butter over the filling. Brush the edge of the bottom crust lightly with water and cover the pie with the top crust, pressing the edges to seal. Trim away the excess top crust pastry with scissors, leaving 1/2 inch of overhang. Press the top and bottom edges of the crust together to seal. Fold this double edge of pastry underneath itself going all around the pie to make a standing rim and flute. Brush the top of the pastry lightly with cold water and sprinkle it evenly with the 1 tablespoon granulated sugar. Make a few slits in the top crust with the tip of a paring knife.
- Place the pie on the baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes at 450 degrees. Then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees, and continue baking another 45 to 50 minutes, until the crust is well browned and you can see thickened juices bubbling through the slits. Cool the pie on a wire rack for several hours before serving. If you cut the pie too soon, the filling may run. I like to cool the pie for 2 to 3 hours, then refrigerate it for 2 to 3 hours. This pie is delicious slightly cold. Vanilla ice cream goes very well with this pie. Refrigerate leftovers.
Makes one 9-inch pie, about 8 servings.