Strawberry-Rhubarb Vanilla Cream Pie with Ginger-Oatmeal Crust

strawberry rhubarb

This is one of the first recipes that I can actually call my own and I’m darn proud of it! It’s so much easier to spontaneously throw together dinner or lunch without a recipe, not so much with baking. I was inspired by the rhubarb sundae at Earth to Table Bread Bar and it was the perfect dessert for a spring potluck. Sadly, the occasion was a going-away party for some of my parent’s closest friends that are retiring to island life in British Columbia. The entire night everyone reminisced and told crazy stories while passing salad bowls, mixing rhubarb cocktails, and feasting on dishes made with love.

cucumber + salmon + dill

I started with the essential spring vegetable/fruit rhubarb, correctly categorized as a “herbaceous perennial”, more usefully categorized as “confusing red celery plant that gets put into desserts instead of salads”. My mother loves rhubarb and we’ve been poaching harvesting from our neighbour’s garden since we moved into the neighbourhood. If you ever saw two Asian women in the rain waving large chef knives in the garden, it was definitely my Mom and I. Plenty of cars passed by and slowed down as we hacked away at the crimson stalks, safari style.

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Rhubarb is quite tart and most people add cups of sugar to balance that fresh pucker-inducing flavour. Sometimes people go too far and make it sickly sweet – what’s the point of even using rhubarb if you’re drowning it in sugar? Rhubarb is quintessential spring – it should taste fresh above all else. Adding strawberries to sweeten is much more appealing, in my opinion.

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Not everyone likes rhubarb though – it’s definitely an acquired taste. After years of rhubarb pies and compote I’m a fan for life, but just in case I decided to make a Strawberries + Cream version of the pie as well. It worked out deliciously with the rich vanilla pastry cream and the thick, nutty oatmeal crust. You could even use the oatmeal + fruit combo as an excuse to eat it for breakfast.

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Strawberry-Rhubarb Vanilla Cream Pie with Ginger-Oatmeal Crust
(adapted from Serious Eats, Dorie Greenspan, and Chocolate & Zucchini)

Bake the crust and make the pastry cream first because both components need to chill. While they’re in the fridge you can prepare the fruit. The pastry cream is finicky part of this recipe, everything else is easy! Feel free to add more crystallized ginger, you need quite a bit of it before the taste actually comes out.

INGREDIENTS
For the Crust
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 to 3 tbsp finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup butter (melted)

For the Pastry Cream
2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1 + 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 + 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temp

For the Topping
1 large box (~1 lb) of ripe strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced
1 kg (2.5 pounds) fresh rhubarb stalks
2/3 cup unrefined cane sugar (1 cup for a sweeter tooth)
10-cm (4-inch) segment of a plump vanilla bean, or 2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract

INSTRUCTIONS
For the Crust

  • Mix oats, flour, cinnamon, crystallized ginger, sugar, and vanilla together in a large bowl. Pour melted butter over mixture and stir until completely combined. Press mixture into bottom and sides of pie plate (makes either one very thick crust or two normal crusts) and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Pastry Cream

  • Bring milk to boil in small saucepan.
  • Meanwhile, in a heavy saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended. Still whisking, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk – this will temper (or warm) the yolks so they won’t curdle. Continue whisking and slowly add the rest of the hot milk.

Put the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously, bringing the mixture to a boil. Boil for two minutes whisking continuously and remove the pan from the heat.
  • Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in bits of the butter, stirring until it is fully incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky. Scrape the cream into a bowl and create an airtight seal with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold. If you want it to cool quickly, put the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water, and stir the cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.

For the Poached Rhubarb

  • Trim both ends of the rhubarb stalks. Cut the stalks in 1-cm (1/3-inch) slices, unless they are pencil-thin, in which case you should cut them in 2.5-cm (1-inch) segments.
  • Put the sugar and 500 ml (1/2 quart) fresh water in a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a sharp knife, scrape the seeds from the inside of the bean with the dull side of the blade, and add them and the bean to the pan. Bring to a simmer, stirring regularly as the sugar dissolves.
  • Add a quarter of the rhubarb to the simmering syrup — resist the temptation to add more, the rhubarb won’t cook evenly if the pan is crowded — cover, and allow the mixture to return to simmering point. Once the syrup simmers, cook for just 1 minute, until the rhubarb pieces are soft (test with the tip of the knife, it should meet minimal resistance) but still holding their shape.
  • Remove the rhubarb with a slotted spoon, leaving the syrup in the pan, and transfer to a serving dish or container.
  • Repeat with the rest of the rhubarb, one small batch at a time. Add the syrup and the vanilla bean to the dish.

Assemble the Pie

  • Remove pastry cream from refrigerator and mix until smooth
  • Take chilled pie crust(s) and fill with pastry cream
  • Top with sliced strawberries and poached rhubarb, chill or serve immediately.

Apple honey-bourbon caramel pie for Uncle W.

You know those uncles that you only see once a year, bringing you the coolest gifts and telling the corniest jokes? That’s my Uncle W. He has lived everywhere, from the busy commute of England to the pyramids of Egypt to…Kazakhstan (memorably described as “the armpit of the world”). His international lifestyle means I only get to see him during his annual visit to Canada, which happened to be right after I came back from school. I was beyond excited to start baking in my mom’s kitchen. It’s utterly luxurious compared to my student housing kitchen (ample counter space that’s clean? A huge pantry of well-organized ingredients? And most importantly – a brand new KitchenAid stand mixer?!). So when I called Uncle W. to ask him what dessert he wanted for the family dinner that night, I was hoping he’d go for something exotic or challenging, something that I’d been holding myself back from making during the school year. I was thinking “maybe a mango panna cotta, or salted caramel banana cream pie, or fruit flan made with frangipane…” and then he says “Oh I know! Apple pie!”

…apple pie?

“Umm…you just want regular old fashioned apple pie?”
“Yeah that sounds great! See you tonight!”
Click.

Well then. I offered the entire dessert world on a platter but the man still chose the ubiquitous apple pie. Who was I to say no? If I had to make apple pie he definitely wasn’t getting it the regular old fashioned way.

I used the Perfect Apple Pie recipe from seriouseats.com which I’ve been dying to try since it was posted. Kenji, the recipe developer, goes into the science of apple pie – the apples which give the best structure, enzymatic activity of apple juice, the secret to perfect pie crust. It all culminates in one of the best pies I’ve ever made.

But it wasn’t enough – this couldn’t be a normal apple pie, I wanted flair! I decided to introduce honey-bourbon caramel to the apples. Caramel and apples go way back, they’re like the people who have been friends since the fourth grade. Except now caramel has gone off to college in Kentucky and come back boozed up and ready to party. The bourbon cut the sweetness of the caramel and added complexity; I only added 2 tbsp and could barely taste it so next time I’d probably put in a bit more to bring out the flavour.

The golden pie crust was super buttery and flakey, shattering under my fork to reveal the spicy tender apples mixed with smoky sweet caramel. Needless to say, Uncle W. loved it and we all fought over the last piece. Nothing like family lovin’ to make your desserts taste better.

We ate the pie so fast I couldn’t get a picture of a slice

Easy Pie Dough (from Serious Eats)

Ingredients
•    12.5 ounces (1.56 cups) all-purpose flour
•    2 tablespoons sugar
•    1 teaspoon kosher salt
•    1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pats
•    6 tablespoons cold water

Procedures

  1. Combine 2/3rds of flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse twice to incorporate. Spread butter chunks evenly over surface. Pulse until no dry flour remains and dough just begins to collect in clumps, about 25 short pulses. Use a rubber spatula to spread the dough evenly around the bowl of the food processor. Sprinkle with remaining flour and pulse until dough is just barely broken up, about 5 short pulses. Transfer dough to a large bowl.
  2. Sprinkle with water then using a rubber spatula, fold and press dough until it comes together into a ball. Divide ball in half. Form each half into a 4-inch disk. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling and baking.

Apple Honey-Bourbon Caramel Pie (adapted from Serious Eats and Sassy Radish)

Ingredients
•    3 pounds Golden Delicious, Braeburn, or other baking apples, peeled cored, and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
•    3 quarts boiling water
•    1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling over crust
•    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
•    1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
•    1/4 teaspoon allspice
•    1/4 teaspoon salt
•    1 tablespoon cornstarch
•    1 recipe Easy Pie Dough
•    1 egg white, lightly beaten

Honey Bourbon Caramel Ingredients:
•    1/2 cup brown sugar
•    1/4 cup mild honey
•    2 tbsp bourbon
•    2 tablespoons water
•    3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Procedures

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and place a heavy rimmed baking sheet on it. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place apple slices in a large bowl or pot. Pour boiling water directly over top. Cover and set aside at room temperature for ten minutes. Drain apples well and transfer to a large bowl. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally. Add sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, salt, and cornstarch and toss until apples are evenly coated. Set mixture aside.
  2. Bring 1/2 cup sugar, honey, bourbon and water to a boil in a 1 1/2- to 2-qt heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then wash down any sugar crystals from side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil without stirring, swirling pan occasionally so caramel colors evenly, until dark amber, about 5 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and add butter, swirling pan until butter is melted. Be careful here as the caramel will hiss and spatter. Pour over apples and toss (caramel may harden but will melt in oven – promise!).
  4. Roll one disk of pie dough into a circle roughly 12-inches in diameter. Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. Add filling. Roll remaining disk of pie dough into a circle roughly 12-inches in diameter. Transfer to top of pie. Using a pair of kitchen shears, trim the edges of both pie crusts until they slightly overhang the edge of the pie plate. Use the thumb and forefinger on your right hand to crimp the edges of the two pie doughs together. Cut 5 slits in the top with a sharp knife for ventilation.
  5. Use a pastry brush to brush an even coat of lightly beaten egg white all over the top surface of the pie. Transfer pie to sheet tray in the oven and bake until light golden brown, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 375°F and continue baking until deep golden brown, about 25 minutes longer. Remove from oven and allow to cool at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.