I apologize for my lack of posting last week. Took the husband and furkid up to Reno for a visit with the family and I was just having far too much fun to talk to you. The highlight? There was 'smores making by the firepit in my parents' backyard on a gorgeous, crystal clear night. There was getting smashed together on cocktails and wine and then stumbling around the neighborhood, attempting to take my dog for a walk. But the real highlight was definitely getting to hang with my 10 month old nephew, who is the perfect package of happy, hilarious, and adorable. The kid has what my sister calls "his badass face" for goodness sakes! It's badass.
Another highlight was a second go at Husband's Ultimate Birthday Cake. You may recall I made this for Husband's birthday a few months ago with much success. Too much success! Husband had been bugging me to make it for him ever since, and this trip finally seemed like a good time to do it. Something about having 4 other people in the house to help eat it quickly was certainly appealing. This was actually the first time I've followed one of my own recipes. Sure, I've written stuff down as I go, jotted down quick instructions to myself, or modified and adapted other people's recipes, but hearing my own voice come through as I followed this recipe step by step was kind of surreal. And kind of awesome! I kept thinking, "I know exactly what I mean!"
And having made this cake twice now, I can safely boast that it is awesome!!! Seriously. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but both my sister and my dad declared their disdain of the chocolate/raspberry flavor combination before trying this cake. [*GASP!* Blasphemy! Chocolate and raspberry are the ultimate! ULTIMATE! Ok, only my dad expressed disdain. My sister merely said she had never tried a chocolate raspberry dessert to her liking before. My sister - always the diplomat.] After they each tried a piece, however, it was a whole other matter. There was lots of raving. And not polite raving. Adamant, genuine, "I'm a believer!!!" raving. They both said the flavors were perfectly balanced - not too sweet, not too tart. And my mom, who was of the opinion that no cake could be worth that much effort, decided that this cake was worth that much effort, as long as someone else was making it. Anyone know the onomatopoeia for a head inflating? *Wooshooop!* Because that's what's happening right now. I just love cooking for my family. Part of the reason I'm so neurotic about feeding other people is that I get so worried that they hate my food but they're too polite to say so, so I just tend to assume no one liked anything and I was just this crazy food-pusher they couldn't get away from. But family is different. You can tell when they're lying. Mwhahaha!
And one more highlight - my discovery of pumpkin seed oil! Have you ever heard of it? Apparently it's common in Europe, and there's a European market in Reno where my mom can buy it. I'm, of course, kicking myself for not getting to that market to get my own bottle because it is some seriously nommy stuff. For dinner one night my mom grilled some veggies simply tossed with a little olive and pumpkin seed oils, then threw it all together with some brown rice and shrimp. I figured it would be tasty, but the pumpkin seed oil hit this meal out of the park. It was that secret ingredient that made all the flavors come together perfectly. Yum! Mom, if you are reading this, please bring me a bottle next time you visit!
But enough about cake and plant oils. I'm here to talk about pie. I've been sitting on this recipe far longer than I wanted to. It's still blueberry season, right? Well I highly suggest you run out and buy every last clamshell of blueberries you can find because this pie is worth it. I know, rhubarb usually goes with strawberries, in fact strawberry rhubarb is Husband's favorite pie, but one bite of this baby had him saying "Strawberry who?" No joke.
Pie crust. Let's hash it out and get it out of the way. Tender vs. flaky. Shortening vs. butter. Everyone has their own pie crusts tastes. Some people like all of one or another, some people have different ratios of both. I have by no means baked pie crusts extensively enough to give a definitive opinion on the matter, but I will say that of the crusts I've made so far, I am in the all butter camp. First, shortening doesn't taste like anything. People use it because it makes for a flakier crust. But here's the thing. I find butter crusts plenty flaky, and I actually prefer the more tender texture all butter crusts have. Not to mention their amazingly buttery flavor. You just have to incorporate the butter the right way, and maybe have a trick or two up your sleeve. Like booze! Have you heard of using vodka in pie dough? It's wet enough to bring the dough together, but it doesn't gum up the flour like water does. But vodka has no flavor, so I decided to try Goldshlager instead. I thought the cinnamon liqueur might infuse a little extra flavor into the dough. While it succeeded in keeping my dough light, I didn't get a lot of cinnamon flavor, so next time I might just stick with vodka. I'm on a budget, after all, and they unfortunately don't sell Goldschlager at Costco. The most important thing with a good pie dough is making sure everything is cold. I actually stuck the butter in the freezer until it was just frozen, which worked perfectly. I like to work the dough with my hands, but that always warms the butter too much. This way the frozen butter actually needed the heat from my finger tips to become workable.
To the novices out there who are completely intimidated at the thought of making pie: you can totally do this. Pie crust can be a pain, and if you want it perfect, you do have to be somewhat of an artist, but I maintain that anyone can make a decent pie crust. It'll probably be flawed, sure, but it'll be tasty, and isn't a tasty pie the real goal? Start off by reading Deb's tips for the logistics of proper pie construction at Smitten Kitchen. I always thought the hardest part was rolling it out. I remember my mom's many failed attempts to get her pie crusts from the mat to the pie plate in one piece. Turns out the secret is just lots of flour, and lots of turning. Easy!
Now the filling. I'm swooning just thinking about it. I actually set out just to make a plain blueberry pie, but when I had all the berries in the bowl, I knew it was lacking in volume. I had by chance bought some frozen rhubarb at Sprouts a few weeks ago because I was curious (also, it was on sale - impulse buy!). I had never seen frozen rhubarb before, and neither had the cashier who rang me up. She asked if it was good, and I told her I'd have to let her know. I figured, what the hell, and threw it in with the rest of the filling. I guess it was fate because this is easily the best pie I've ever made - including strawberry rhubarb! It was just the right balance of sweetness from the blueberries and that touch of sour tartness from the rhubarb. I love the sweetness of blueberries, but find a little acid to break up their flavor really brings them up a notch. And the deeper sweet flavor of the brandy brought everything together perfectly. But the real secret was the tapioca starch. All purpose flour is normally used in pies to help thicken the filling, but tapioca starch does a much better job of making a glutenous mixture. Got that trick from Alton Brown. I buy tapioca starch at the Asian market, but I'm sure it can be found at other specialty markets. If you don't have any, just use regular AP flour.
It may be an ugly pie, but it was darn delicious. When Husband and I were ready for dessert all conversation would cease while consumption was happening. Unless it was one of us chiming in to say how good the pie tasted. But usually it just came out as approving grunts and groans.
crust adapted from Smitten Kitchen
filling adapted from Joy the Baker
For the crust (both top and bottom):
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 TB ice cold water
Goldshlager (or vodka)
For the filling:
18oz fresh blueberries
12oz bag frozen rhubarb, thawed (or about 2 cups fresh rhubarb, chopped)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup tapioca starch (or substitute AP flour)
zest of half a lemon (about 1/2 tsp)
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of kosher salt
3 TB brandy
1 TB milk
To make the dough:
- Cut the butter into small pieces and break them apart. [I like to cut the stick lengthwise, turn it 90 degrees, and then cut it lengthwise again, so I have 4 long sticks. Then I cut regular tablespoon-size pats, so I end up with a bunch of 1/4 TB pieces.] Put the well-separated pieces into a bowl and place it in the freezer for about 30-40 minutes, or until they are just barely frozen through.
- In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the frozen butter and gently work it into the flour with your fingertips. Since it’s frozen, you’ll have to kind of smush it out. Use your finger muscles! The butter will be incorporated enough when you have small pea-sized bits of butter left.
- Add the very, very cold water and stir it into the mixture. This shouldn’t be enough moisture to bring the dough together, so add the Goldshlager 1 TB at a time until the dough will just form into a ball. Divide the dough evenly into two balls. Wrap each ball tightly in plastic wrap and squish it into the shape of a round disc, like a giant hockey puck.
- Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, but overnight is okay too.
- In a bowl, combine the blueberries, rhubarb, sugar, tapioca starch, lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon, salt, and brandy. Mix until everything is incorporated and the fruit is well coated. Set aside.
- Remove one hockey puck of dough from the refrigerator. On a very well floured surface, roll out the dough evenly until it is big enough to cover your pie plate, plus a 1/2 inch or so. This is best achieved by constantly turning and flipping your dough so it doesn’t stick to your surface. Don’t be afraid to add too much flour, you can’t. Transferring to the pie plate can be tricky. I like to fold the dough in half, and then in half again, and then transfer the quarter wedge to the plate and carefully unfold it. But use whatever method you like.
- Gently press the dough into the plate and trim off any dough overhanging more than a 1/2 inch over the plate. Using the excess bits to fill any holes or imperfections you have. Remember, you won’t see the bottom crust, but you’ll taste any spots where there’s missing dough. Pour the blueberry mixture over the bottom crust and set aside.
- Remove the second hockey puck of dough from the refrigerator, and roll it out the same way you did the first one. When it is big enough to cover the pie with at least a 1/2 inch overhang, figure out what’s going to be the center. You need to make vents in the top crust for the steam to escape. I cut a hole about the size of a shot glass in the very center, but it can be anywhere. You’ll want at least one. I also cut a few smaller holes around the edges. When the dough is properly ventilated, carefully cover the pie, and again trim any excess. Tuck the two crusts under so it is flush with the plate. Using your fingers or a fork, crimp all the way around the edge of the pie so it’s sealed. Cut a few more vents in the crust. Put the pie in the refrigerator to chill for about 20 minutes.
- While the pie chills, preheat your oven to 425 degrees and move the rack to the lower third of your oven. If you’re worried about filling bubbling over and making a mess you can put a cookie sheet under the rack to catch any drippings.
- Beat the egg and milk together and brush evenly over the top of the chilled pie, making sure none of it pools.When the oven is ready, bake for 30 minutes, then knock the heat down to 375 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes. If the pie starts to get too brown before it is finished baking, cover it loosely with foil (I did this about 45 minutes in). The pie is finished baking when the crust is golden brown and the filling is thick and bubbling.
- Let the pie sit and fully cool before cutting into it to give the filling time to come together, at least 4 hours. Don't jump the gun, you'll regret it!