Rhubarb Berry Pie + "pie therapy" and loss

A Rhubarb and Mixed-Berry Pie to officially kick off spring!

Rhubarb Berry Pie Recipe with an all-butter crust.

This is not the first time I've made a "therapy pie," and it certainly won't be the last.  Nearly a year ago, it was Apricot Raspberry Pie that I made after spending an entire month in bed with vertigo.  It was a Lemon Chess Pie that I turned to when I didn't know how to express myself after my grandmother passed away.  Last Monday it was Rhubarb Berry Pie after the sudden, unexpected loss of our beautiful, beloved French Bulldog.

Rhubarb Berry Pie Recipe with an all-butter crust.
Rhubarb Berry Pie Recipe with an all-butter crust.
Rhubarb Berry Pie Recipe with an all-butter crust.
Rhubarb Berry Pie Recipe with an all-butter crust.

Remy was a gorgeous, long-legged fawn Frenchie.  Unlike other bulldogs that are short and stalky, she was tall, lean, and very active.  She was fiercely loyal, playful but very protective with Everett, and always there for me when I needed her most.  She was my first dog and first real fur-baby of my own.  (If you're a dog-lover like me, click here to read her puppy adoption story.)  I'm not ready to get into too many details surrounding her death or the blurry days after, and I am not even sure that is something many of you would be interested in reading, but if you've been following the blog for a while or if you ever catch me on Instagram, then you know just how deeply I loved this dog.  She had numerous health concerns ever since she was a puppy, but always bounced back.  They all seemed unrelated, but now I'm not so sure.  Her energy levels had been declining, but we thought she was just growing out of her crazy puppy years.  She only started showing signs of feeling unwell just 48 hours before she passed.  We rushed her to the emergency vet on Sunday morning, but she would never come back home.  The vet ultimately declared that it was a blood clot that entered her brain that took her life.  At only 6 years old and just days after running around playing with bubbles with our toddler, you can understand our shock and disbelief while trying to comprehend it all.

I spent the better part of Sunday evening and Monday morning alternating between utter shock, spontaneous tears, and continuous heartache.  And while I've lost loved ones before, this was a completely different kind of grief.  My heart was broken.  Our daily rituals forever changed.  And even though we have an active toddler running around the house, it still seemed quiet and empty.  Thankfully Brett was able to stay home from work that day, because I didn't know what to do with myself.  Come Monday afternoon, I did the only thing I could think of – I made pie.

Rhubarb Berry Pie Recipe with an all-butter crust.

I recently read an article about the benefits of baking for other people.  From the first cakes I baked for my roommates back in college, to running a bakery, to baking just for fun with my son, I related to this article on so many levels.  My love for baking started in my early twenties, but it wasn't until I found myself career-less upon graduation that I found a passion for pastry.  Only a year later, when my migraines forced me to quit dancing, did I truly understand how baking (for me) was a form of communication and creative expression. From showing thanks to appreciation to sympathy, the article breaks down how baking for other people is a helpful way to communicate one's feelings towards another person.  It also goes on to explore how baking for yourself is a form of mindfulness.  Because it demands so much of our attention, baking is a form of therapy – a break from our worries, stress, and daily struggles.  When you must focus 100% on the task at hand (like with many types of pastry), it is hard to worry about other things.

Rhubarb Berry Pie Recipe with an all-butter crust.
Rhubarb Berry Pie Recipe with an all-butter crust.

Of course it would be nearly impossible to forget about Remy so quickly, especially with the lingering heartache that reminded me that something wasn't right, but there I was gathering ingredients, my favorite pie tin, and weighing flour like I've done time and time again.  We are creatures of habit – for better or for worse.  In fact, one of the things I worried about affecting me the most was the disruption of daily routine.  As I mentioned, I've lost lost loved ones before, but never anyone that lived and breathed in my own house.  So much of our days were dedicated to her walks, feedings, and afternoon play sessions with Everett.  How would I not feel her absence playing trains on the carpet with Ev?  What would become of our bedtime routine that for the past 6 years was kicked-off by her last walk of the day?  But for brief moments this therapy pie did help.  There is just something about feeling the pastry come together between your fingertips that can calm the mind and the act of patiently weaving lattice that relieves you of your worries, even if just for a second.  A bit of peace and clarity in times of struggle while the unwavering pastry occupies your mind.

Rhubarb Berry Pie Recipe with an all-butter crust.

Rhubarb Berry Pie

All-butter crust
2 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cup very cold butter, diced
½ cup cold water
¼ cup ice
1 tablespoon apple cider or lemon juice
1 egg
splash water
turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

1.  In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and sugar.  Place the ice in the water and set aside.

2.  Cut in the cold butter with a pastry cutter or by hand, rubbing the pieces of butter between your thumb, index, and middle fingers.  Once the pieces are no longer lager than about a peanut, begin to flatten the pieces of butter in sheets between your palms.  Be careful not to over-work the butter or let it get too warm.

3.  Working with only a couple tablespoons at a time, add in about 6 to 8 tablespoons of the water along with the vinegar.  Stir together using a wooden spoon or even just a clean hand in the bowl.  The dough should appear fairly shaggy and not sticky.  Once you can squeeze a few pieces together and they hold, the dough is done being mixed.  Do not over-mix.

4.  Divide the dough into half and shape each piece into a disk.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours, or overnight (preferably).

5. Once ready, bring one disc out of the refrigerator and allow to rest for about 10 minutes.  Liberally flour the work surface and begin to roll out the dough, working from the center out – rotating the dough after each roll.  Roll the dough until about ¼ inch thick and about 12 to 13 inches in diameter. 

6.  Gently roll the dough around the rolling pin and transfer to a 8 or 9 inch pie tin.  Fit the dough into the bottom of the tin and up the sides, allowing for about an inch of overhang.  Trim with kitchen sheers and place back in the refrigerator.

7.  For the lattice top, repeat step 5.  Using a ruler and a paring knife, cut 8 strips about 1-inch wide.  Cut a 9th strip slightly wider and then cut it into thirds.  Gently braid the three strips together.  Place all the strips and the braid on a baking sheet or cutter board and place in the refrigerator, along with any leftover dough.

8.  Meanwhile, make the filling (recipe to follow).

9.  Fill the chilled pie crust with the filling.  Remove the cut strips from the refrigerator and begin creating a the lattice pattern, carefully weaving over and under each strip of the opposite direction.  Slip the braid in where one solid strip should be in a regular lattice pattern.  Allow for some excess dough on the end of each strip, then trim.

10.  Fold up the excess dough from the bottom crust over the ends of the lattice strips.  Press into the rim of the pan.  Crimp with the tines of a fork.

11.  Return the pie back to refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

12.  Just before heading into the over, create an egg wash by whisking together a whole egg and a splash of water.  Brush the egg wash over the entire top of the crust.  Cover with plastic and place the egg wash in the fridge.

13.  Place pie in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes.  Keep a close eye on the pie and place a baking sheet on the rack underneath the pie to catch any juices that might start bubbling over.  After about 40 minutes, quickly yet carefully remove the pie from the oven.  Give it another quick brush with the refrigerated egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.  Return to the oven and back for another 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.  The juices should be bubbling between the vents when done.

14.  Allow the baked pie to completely cool before slicing and serving, at least 4 hours or overnight.
 

Rhubarb Berry Filling
3/4 lb fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup ripe strawberries, sliced
1 cup frozen raspberries (unthawed)
2/3 to 3/4 cup granulated sugar (depending on the sweetness of your berries)
a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice
pinch salt
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
 

Combine all of the ingredients together in a large bowl.  Gently toss to combine but try not to break up the berries.  Pour into the chilled pie crust when ready.

 

NOTES: 

– After fully assembling the pie, but before the egg wash, I froze my pie.  To do so, chill then wrap the pie in a double-layer of plastic wrap before freezing.  When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven and bake from frozen. Add the egg wash before entering the oven.  You may need to add 10 to 15 minutes to the bake time.  Do not freeze the pie in a glass pie pan!
– For the perfectly clean slices in the pictures, I let the pie cool at room temperature for a couple hours or so, then wrapped well in plastic and refrigerated over night.
– Try to leave about 1/2-inch of space between the filling and the top of the pan.  If not, the juices will probably bubble over the top like mine did.  Personally, I don't mind the messiness.  Just be sure to place a baking sheet in your oven to catch any juices or they will smoke and burn.

Rhubarb Ginger Layer Cake

Layers of slightly spiced ginger cake smothered with a rhubarb buttercream frosting.  Inside, silky cream cheese filling is rippled with poached rhubarb.  The perfect cake to make when those coveted red stalks of rhubarb begin to arrive at the market!

Rhubarb Ginger Layer Cake

I’ve had a life-long dream to live in a city.  Growing up deep into the suburbs but being fortunate enough to travel since a young age, it was established pretty early on that I was destined to be a city girl.  When I’d vacation to different cities, I’d image myself living there – walking to get my morning cup of coffee, picking up groceries at the local market, taking the dog to the park, and enjoying meals out on a terrace somewhere attached to my eclectic yet chic apartment.  Being in the middle of it all, with restaurants, shops, nightlife, and culture just steps outside my door, is where I always thought I’d end up.

New York City has always been my favorite, and after college I assumed I’d end up there at some point – perhaps not permanently, but at least a few seasons.  After getting married and starting up my bakery, I pretty much gave up on my big-city dreams… Instead, we lived in Midtown Sacramento.  Sure there were coffee shops and a few great restaurants walking-distance from our townhouse, but I began to grow impatient of the city’s slow growth and always having to drive everywhere (although my parents still live there part-time, and the city it really stepping it up lately!). 

Like I’ve mentioned time and time again, my husband and I fell completely in love with the city of Vancouver.  We used to come visit a few times a year to enjoy both the city life and the beautiful outdoors. We’d stay at my parents’ place long enough to see ourselves living there and not just being tourists.  Most significantly, we never needed a car and could walk EVERYWHERE!  Eventually, we decided just to go for it and move here. 

Rhubarb_Ginger03.jpg
Rhubarb Ginger Layer Cake
Rhubarb Ginger Layer Cake

Now I know Vancouver isn’t the biggest city out there, but it has turned out to be just perfect for us.  A city made of glass that reflects the water, mountains, and gorgeous parks that surround it.  The best of all worlds, if you ask me.  And unlike NYC, this is the kind of city I could see us living in for a long time. 

Did I mention how much I enjoy walking everywhere?  Now that the weather is clearing up and the sun is staying out much later, I am already finding myself outside a lot more – toddler and pup in tow.  One my all-time FAVORITE activities to do in the city is to walk to the farmer’s market.  While some people might dream of owning a four-bedroom house with a pool, my dream is to be able to push the stroller to a local farmer’s market with my little man from my home. 

Deep into the West End, just about an 8 minute walk away, we have own little local market.  Last year, when Brett had class on Saturday mornings, Everett and I would go there every weekend together. He was just starting to enjoy solid foods around this time last year, so it felt great knowing exactly where his food was coming from.  We would hunt for the freshest berries, juiciest plums, and most vibrant stalks of rhubarb. 

Whenever I see rhubarb for the first time each season, I snatch it up like it’s gold!  You never really know when it won’t be there anymore – or at least not as fresh as the stalks at the local markets.  This cake is the end product of one such haul. 

For this cake, I combined warm, spicy ginger with tantalizing, tart rhubarb.  A small amount of freshly grated ginger packs a deceptive amount of flavour, quickly transforming and elevating a simple butter cake into something a bit more complex and exotic.  The rhubarb is poached in blood orange juice with more ginger and real vanilla bean seeds.  Once cooked down, the tart rhubarb blends perfectly with tangy cream cheese for the filling and is an excellent contrast to the silky sweet frosting.  The vanilla-flecked buttercream becomes beautifully blushed with the natural color of the rhubarb.

Rhubarb Ginger Layer Cake

Ginger Butter Cake
3 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
5 large egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
1 ¼ cup whole milk

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare three 8-inch cake pans and set aside.

Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the butter until smooth.  Add in the sugar and mix on medium for 3-5 minutes until light and fluffy.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl.  With the mixer on low, add in the vanilla and egg whites – incorporating one at a time.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

With the mixer on low and in alternating batches, add in the dry ingredients and milk.  Mix on medium for no more than 30 seconds after all of the ingredients are added in.

Evenly distribute the batter into the prepared pans.  Bake for about 23-26 minutes or until done and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.

 

Poached Rhubarb
3 – 3 ½ cups chopped rhubarb (about 350 grams)
½ cup blood orange juice
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

Chop rhubarb into 1-inch long pieces.  Place rhubarb and all of the ingredients into a medium saucepan.  Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Once the juices begin to boil, reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for about 15 minutes until rhubarb breaks down and begins to thicken.  Remove from heat.

Strain the rhubarb pulp with a mesh sieve – reserving the liquids separately.  Set both aside.

 

Rhubarb Cream Cheese Swirl Filling
½ cup cream cheese, softened
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
2 ½ cup confectioner’s sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup strained rhubarb

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the cream cheese and butter until smooth.  Add in the sugar and vanilla.  Mix on low until all of the ingredients begin to come together.  Turn mixer up to medium and mix until smooth.  Stop the mixer and gently fold in the rhubarb.

 

Rhubarb Buttercream Frosting
4 large egg whites
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup rhubarb puree
rhubarb syrup – to taste

Puree the remaining strained rhubarb until smooth.  Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the egg whites and sugar.  Place a few inches of water in a medium saucepan and heat over medium.  Place the mixing bowl on top of the saucepan to create a double boiler.  Heat egg white mixture until it reaches 155 F degrees on a candy thermometer – or until hot to the touch.  Once hot, remove the bowl and carefully return it to the electric mixer.  Fitted with the whisk attachment, mix on high until the outside of the bowl returns to room temperature – about 8 minutes.  Stop the mixer and swap out the whisk for the paddle attachment.

With the mixer on low, add in the vanilla and butter – a couple tablespoons at a time.  Turn the mixer up to medium-high and mix until smooth.  Turn mixer down to medium-low and mix in the rhubarb puree until combined.  Add 1-3 teaspoons of the rhubarb syrup, if desired.

Assembly

Place one of the cake layers on a cake board or serving dish.  Spread on half of the rhubarb cream cheese with an offset spatula.  Top with the next layer of cake and repeat.  Frost cake with rhubarb buttercream and decorate with sugar peals, if desired.

Recipe as seen in Cake Central Magazine, Sept 2015.