Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mini Strawberry-Rhubarb Pies

Every now and then we think up an idea that at the time seems brilliant and amazing, and no matter what, we HAVE to go through with it.  This happens to me all the time.  Last summer, I got the idea of making a sour-cherry lattice top pie stuck in my head.  I just HAD to make one.  Mind you, I had only made pie before that in my life, and it had a crumble for the topping; it wasn't even a double crust pie!  I'm not really sure how I figured that I would be able to put together a lattice crust given that I had practically no experience with pie dough.  Other fun factors that added to this situation was that I decided to try a completely brand new pie crust recipe, despite having made a pie crust successfully before.  I'm not sure why I didn't choose to simply reuse that recipe that I knew worked, but I just HAD to try out a new recipe for some reason.  To make matters even more fun, I also didn't have a cherry pitter...and I still don't (this fact will change soon, I'm sure). I decided to give myself the added pleasure of pitting about 2 pounds of cherries by hand.  These were clearly all great decisions on my part.  

In any case, I spent a decent chunk of time pitting all the cherries with a toothpick (it actually works rather well if you don't own a cherry pitter), and I spent a decent amount of time struggling with that new pie crust recipe. It was hard enough to roll out and get it to fit into the pie dish, so I remember dreading the actual weaving of the lattice was just not a pretty sight.  To say that the pie was a complete failure was an understatement.  The pie dough that I had made was just NOT cooperating with me at all, and no matter what I tried to do, it just kept cracking, so weaving a lattice was impossible.  I switched to making a double crust pie, and thought that everything would work out, but of course, it didn't.  The cherry filling oozed out everywhere while the pie baked, and the pie crust was just awful.  It was a very disheartening afternoon in my kitchen, and it left me placing lattice-top pies on my "scary baking" list.  

Fast forward to a couple of days ago.  I had some rhubarb and strawberries in my kitchen, and I wasn't sure what to do with them.  Sure, sure, strawberry and rhubarb is like the most classic  (and delicious) spring flavor combinations, and pie is definitely one of the more popular ways to go about cooking the two together, but I just didn't want to make a strawberry-rhubarb pie.  I wanted to make something different!  I had no idea what to make though, but I knew that when I found the recipe/inspiration, I would just know that it was the one.  I looked at muffins, cobblers, galettes, crisps, but nothing seemed just right.  When I saw a recipe for mini strawberry-rhubarb pies though, I was sold.  This was the one!  It didn't matter that originally I didn't want to make a pie, or that these mini-pies had a lattice covering their tops.  They looked yummy, were adorable, and I just HAD to make I did.

Let's just say that things turned out much better this time around!  I was very pleased with the mini pies that I got at the end; they looked so great!  I'll be honest though, and admit that these mini strawberry-rhubarb pies took a good amount of time to make, and they do require effort, as there are a lot of steps to them.  It's worth it though!  None of the steps are particularly difficult, there's just a lot of them, and a lot of down-time as you wait for the dough to chill in the fridge.  I really liked the recipe for the pie dough that I used, as it wasn't overly sweet after it was baked, it was nice and flaky, and the best part was that it was very easy to work with. The dough came together easily, and it didn't crack at all as I was cutting out the dough rounds and strips for the lattice, and even weaving the lattice was easy!  I just love when pie dough cooperates.  The filling for the mini-pies was just as good as the pie dough was.  Sure, dicing all the strawberries and rhubarb was a little annoying, but it was totally worth it, as the filling was probably my favorite part of the overall mini-pies at the end of the day.  

These mini-strawberry rhubarb pies were a huge success in my book.  Not only were they delicious and adorable in their own right, but they left me wanting to tackle that sour-cherry lattice top pie again.  I'm gonna get it right soon enough!  I think these mini strawberry-rhubarb pies would be a perfect dessert to welcome summer at a Memorial Day barbecue this weekend; just place them in pretty cupcake liners for easy handling. If you top them off with a little whipped cream, or even a mini-scoop of vanilla or strawberry ice cream and serve them à la mode, I'd say that would be a winning dessert!

Mini Strawberry-Rhubarb Pies
recipe from Martha's Pies and Tarts


For the Crust

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cold shortening (5 tablespoons total)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, diced and chilled
6 tablespoons ice water
nonstick baking spray
2 large eggs, for egg wash

For the Strawberry-Rhubarb Filling

12 ounces (about 2 cups) fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into a tiny dice
5 stalks rhubarb, trimmed, and cut into a tiny dice
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup orange-flavored liqueur 
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar


Begin by preparing the crust.  In a food processor, briefly pulse together the flour, granulated sugar, and salt to combine.  Add the cold shortening and cold butter, and pulse until the mixture begins to resemble small peas, about 10 seconds or so.  Add the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing just until the dough begins to come together and form a ball.  Dump the dough out onto a work surface, and divide the dough in half. Form each half into a flat disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (1 day max).

To prepare the filling, combine the strawberries, rhubarb, orange zest, orange juice, orange liqueur, and granulated sugar in a large bowl.  Toss together, and let stand.  

After at least 1 hour has passed, evenly spray two cupcake tins with nonstick cooking spray.  Remove the dough from the fridge, and on a floured surface and with a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough so that it is about 1/8 inch thick.  Use a 3 1/2-inch round cutter to cut out 18 rounds of dough (gather and re-roll the scraps of dough as needed).  Press each dough round into the cupcake tin.  Gather and re-roll the remaning scraps of dough, and cut out 1/4-inch strips of dough that are the length and width of your cupcake tin.  If at any point the dough becomes too warm and difficult to work with, form a new disk of dough, and refrigerate until it becomes a little easier to work with.  Arrange the strips on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper, and refrigerate the strips and mini-pie shells until they are firm, about 30 minutes. 

Strain the fruit mixture from the liquid (you won't need the liquid for the rest of the recipe).  Place about 2 tablespoons of the strawberry-rhubarb filling into each mini-pie shell. Lightly beat the eggs to create an egg wash, and brush the edge of each mini-pie shell with the beaten eggs.  To create the lattice tops for the pies, arrange the strips over the cupcake tin.  To do so, arrange 2 strips of dough lengthwise across the cupcake tin for each row of mini-pies.  Then, place 2 more strips of dough going crosswise over the cupcake tin, weaving the strips into a lattice by folding the lengthwise strips backwards.  If this seems a little confusing, it'll make sense when you actually try it out yourself, trust me!  For instance, if you are using a standard 12 cup cupcake tin, you'll have a total of 14 strips for that tin; 4 pairs of strips going across (8 strips), and 3 pairs of strips going down (6 strips).  Use a smaller round cutter or sharp knife to trim away the excess dough from the strips around each mini-pie, and gently press the strips into the shells to seal them. Brush the lattice with a little egg wash, and sprinkle with sugar.  Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

Right around the end of the 30 minutes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and position a rack in the middle of the oven.  Bake the mini-pies in the preheated oven, placing the cupcake tins on a baking sheet (in case any pie overflows, the baking sheet will help prevent a mess from forming in your oven!), until the tops are golden brown, about 60-70 minutes.  With a wooden skewer, remove the mini-pies from the cupcake tin while they are still hot; if you wait until they have cooled slightly, the fruit juices may harden and cause the mini-pies to stick to the cupcake tin, making them much harder to remove.  Transfer the mini-pies to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.  

Makes 18-20 mini-pies.

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