Why I Bake Only One Pie a Year
Cake is celebratory. Cookies are comfortable. Ice cream is necessary for breathing. But pie? Pie is wistful. Almost melancholy. It makes you happy but reaches deeper into your soul somehow. It wakes up nostalgia and childishness but in a very settled way. I never giggle when I eat pie. I sit and sigh and find myself getting quiet.
That means it's the perfect mood food for being at home most days with a preschooler and a newborn.
But pie also takes time. Making the crust, letting it chill, rolling, mixing, crimping, baking, WAITING. Because if you cut into a pie right away, it's a goner. Speed, desperation, and overthinking have no place in the process. Pie is by nature slow and steady.
That means it makes zero sense for being at home most days with a preschooler and a newborn.
But Saturday's trip to the farmers market yielded the season's first rhubarb and our third gallon of strawberries. Despite the fact that I now have more children and fewer showers, it's time for strawberry-rhubarb pie. It's oddly sacred and life-giving to me, and I make this pie only once a year. Yes, it takes an entire nap, maybe two, but it's a personal tradition that I can't shake.
Sometimes we need to skip the lazy in order to bring joy to someone we love - like making your husband's favorite coconut cake that takes a million ingredients and forty zillion hours. But today I remember that it's okay to take time for myself, too. On this Monday, let's embrace the permission to take as much as time as we need to fill our souls - pie or no pie.
But, umm, pie is way better than no pie. My Monday proves it.
If you've never made pie, here's a giant breakdown. Or you can get one from a bakery and just go take a nap. I'm cool either way.
Brown Sugar Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
- 2 chilled pie crusts (I use this one times two)
- heaping 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- the zest and juice of one medium lemon (about 1 tsp. of zest and 1 1/2 tbsp. juice)
- 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups strawberries, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 1/2 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 3 tbsp. butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 egg
- turbinado sugar (optional)
This pie isn't hard. It just takes a little time, so decide to enjoy the time. The pie isn't overly sweet, but it has a lot of depth from the brown sugar, cinnamon, and lemon. If you like a super sweet pie, add another 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. And don't forget the salt. It's deliciously balanced, light, comforting, and my absolute favorite.
- Make your crust.
Mark Bittman's recipe is what I use for any pie crust - sweet or savory - and it's brilliant every time. It uses a food processor and is practically foolproof. Once you form the dough into discs, let it chill in the refrigerator for at least half an hour which is the perfect amount of time to gather and chop everything else.
- Preheat the oven and chop the fruit.
The oven should start at 425 degrees. We'll drop it later. There's no wrong way to chop the fruit, but remember that the smaller your pieces, the more juices they'll release during cooking. Which in Pie World isn't awesome. We want the juices to stay in the fruit and not the bottom of the pie pan. If you're not sure on size, think "generous bite-sized." It's better to be too big than too small. If the strawberries are on the smaller side, I leave them whole.
- Combine the filling.
Wait to do this part until your crusts have been in the fridge for the full half hour. Otherwise, the sugars will start to break down the fruit too soon.
In a large bowl, work the lemon zest into the sugar to release the oils and make happy lemon sugar, and then add the brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, salt, and give it a mix with a fork. Next, stir in the vanilla and lemon juice to make a kind of loose sand. Finally, add the fruit and gently mix with a fork or your hands. Be gentle to keep the fruit intact as much as you can.
- Roll and assemble.
Before you start rolling, put the egg in a small bowl, add a quick splash of water, and whisk it together. That's your egg wash, aka Pie Glue and Pie Shine. Set it aside, along with some kind of pastry or even a small grill brush, until you're ready. Now I'm sure there are a billion YouTube videos that show you how to roll crust. The trick is to have ample flour so nothing sticks to the counter and to turn the crust often as you roll. Be slow with a gentle touch. Roll out your first crust and place it in the pie plate. Brush the edges with the egg wash to help the two crusts stick together. Add the filling. Scatter the cubes of butter on top of the fruit. Roll out your second crust, and gently place it on top. Pinch the edges together, tuck them under themselves, and crimp with your fingers or a fork. Perfection has no place in pie, so just roll with it. As long as air isn't going to escape through the edges, you're in good shape.
- Final touches.
Brush the top of the pie with more egg wash and sprinkle with turbinado or any kind of raw sugar if you have it. Then cut a couple of slits in the top of the pie to allow air to escape. Don't feel pressure to get fancy with the slits. Martha does lattices and cut-out bunnies, but that doesn't mean you have to. Just use a knife and make three slits in the center. Totally awesome.
Bake in your preheated oven set to 425 degrees for 15 minutes. I do this to get that top crust an initial burst of heat and keep it from eventually getting soggy. After 15 minutes, turn the heat down to 375 and let it finish up, probably 30-40 minutes. The pie is done when the crust is golden brown with no raw dough spots and you see the filling bubbly and thick like shiny jam. Basically if you want to stick your face in it, it's done.
- Cool the pie.
You hear me? COOL THE PIE. Be all grandma-y and put it in a windowsill if you want, but fortheLOVE cool the pie. Not in the fridge either. Slow and steady cool. All of your efforts are for naught if you cut into it too soon or shock it with different temperatures. Four hours on the counter at least. I know. It's horrible. But a necessary part of the slow of pie. Don't think of it as a diva move; it's more like a sweet old lady who's just trying to cross the street.
- Eat and store.
It's best served at room temperature with vanilla ice cream. Have leftovers? Cover the pan and leave it on the counter for a couple of days. If you think it'll take you longer than that to it, either invite me over or store it in the fridge.
If you want to make pie, you can make pie. Even if it takes forever, even if it looks wonky, even if you screw it up... if you want to take some time for yourself by making pie, go for it.