Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Welcome to the Pie-Biting Frog

Welcome to the Pie-Biting Frog! I'm dedicating this blog to my quest for great pie, my cooking, and my food explorations in Houston TX and the rest of the U.S./world. I recently found the picture that has become the title of the blog at an antiques store in Brian TX and took it as a sign to set up this blog. The fact that they are not too far away from a pie bakery called Must Be Heaven doesn't hurt either. 
 I learned to bake pies from my English Nana who took the ship from Liverpool to America as a WWII war bride. Strawberry rhubarb pie with a flaky crust is probably my signature pie. Rhubarb is common to folks living in the northeast because it is one of the earliest spring pie fruits (although technically a vegetable because it's the stem of the plant). Most Texans have never tasted rhubarb before and maybe they've heard of Bebop-a-rebop Rhubarb Pie ala Prairie Home Companion. The sweet-tart combination of rhubarb and strawberry is classic spring like agro dolce strawberries in balsamic vinegar for Italians. Rhubarb stalks also freeze well, but secrete a lot of liquid as a pie filler. I like to use tapioca, rather than cornstarch or flour, as my binder. One doesn't have to cook out the "floury" taste and you can even make a tasty gel of a tapioca filling and serve with ice cream if you are low-carbing or gluten-free.
 Here's the finished pie with a blackbird (one of my collection of pie birds).
 Strawberry Rhubarb pie

3 cups of chopped rhubarb stems, fresh or thawed
8 large strawberries cut into eight pieces
¾ sugar
¼ cup orange zest sugar
1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
3 Tbsp tapioca*

Pastry (two-crust)
2 cups King Arthur all-purpose unbleached flour
2/3 cup Spectrum organic shortening (0% trans-fat free), leaf lard, or mixture with Kerrygold butter**
6 Tbsp water
½ tsp sea salt

Mix thawed rhubarb and or berries with sugar, orange zest, grated ginger, and tapioca. Allow to sit for 1 hour to overnight in refrigerator to release juices from the rhubarb stems and the strawberries.

For pastry cut shortening/butter into flour and salt with a knife or pastry blender until pea sized. Add water. Pat in the ingredients (avoid kneading or gluten will develop). Split into two portions. Roll the crust to 11-12 inch diameter for the bottom crust on plastic wrap for easy transfer to the pie plate. Roll out the top slightly smaller.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Pour the filling into the bottom crust. Top with the upper crust and roll the edge from bottom to top to seal and prevent leaks. Alternating pinching motions of the crust edge to create points add additional sealing. Cut steam vents into the top of the pie. Place on top of a sheet pan to catch any drips. Bake 350F for 1 hr until the filling is molten.
*The tapioca acts as the binder in place of flour or cornstarch.
**All shortening will produce a flaky crust, adding some butter will add some flavor.

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