Thursday, June 5, 2008

Rhubarb Custard Pie

This has got to be one of my favourite pies. The combination of sweet and tart, with the custard and rhubarb, is so perfect. My Grandma McDonald used to make this pie and this is her recipe. It is probably from one of her favourite cookbooks, Better Homes & Gardens or Mary Moore perhaps, but I'm not sure.

On Monday, I took the kids over to Farmer Jones' place to get eggs. I asked if he had any rhubarb that he would be willing to sell. Sure enough, we went back to one of his gardens and he cut me an armful. I happened to have my camera in the car and I was able to get Farmer Jones in action. Those are a couple of his bee hives in the background.

It has just come to my attention that there is a baking contest at our local Mount Albert Fair this weekend. I have a call in to find out the exact details, but I am considering entering this rhubarb custard pie. I may even enter my "prize winning pumpkin pie", just to see what happens! The baking contest is very small compared to the contest at the Harrow Fair, but I think it would be fun to give it a shot. Soon after the judges are finished, all the baked goods are auctioned off. That's good, because I cannot have another rhubarb custard pie in my kitchen, without some really, really good reason not to help myself!

Now, there are a few things you should know about this pie. Last spring, I made this pie and in my haste to have it ready for company, took it out of the oven too soon. The custard didn't set and the rhubarb didn't cook as long as it should have. I didn't make it again until a month or so ago, while visiting my sister in Niagara. I was really checking to make sure that the custard was set, and it seemed to take forever. At this point, Lori & I discussed what solution we thought we could come up with to bake this pie. That is how the half hour at 425 and the 1 hour at 350 came up. Yesterday, when I made the pie using our revised times and temperatures, I questioned whether the pie was actually done after 45 minutes of being at 350. I left it in longer, just to be on the safe side, but the crust was actually a little darker than I would have liked. The inside of the pie was perfect, however. To avoid such a dark crust, you can place a piece of tin foil over the crust after it reaches the perfect golden colour.

Yesterday, after I brushed the lattice crust with egg wash, I sprinkled the top with demerara sugar. This was a mistake because the little bits of sugar didn't dissolve the way the white sugar does, and the little sugar crystals basically burned on top of the pie, making it look like it had a bad case of spots. This didn't affect the taste, but it looks much better with just a light sprinkle of fine, white sugar.

Rhubarb Custard Pie
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. flour
3/4 t. nutmeg
dash salt
3 eggs, well beaten
4 c. rhubarb, sliced
2 T. butter
1 egg, mixed with milk for egg wash

In a large bowl, mix together sugar, flour, nutmeg, and salt. Add beaten eggs and mix until smooth. Stir in the rhubarb and mix well. Place in the unbaked pie shell. Scatter the butter on top of the rhubarb mixture. Top pie with a lattice crust (see note below). Brush the egg wash onto the crust and sprinkle white sugar over the crust. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for at least another 45 minutes, possibly even an hour more.

* When making a lattice crust, roll out your pie dough as you normally would. Cut strips about the width of your thumb. Start laying the strips on the pie in one direction. Don't press the dough down because you are going to want to lift the strips up to create the lattice. Starting laying the strips in the other direction, starting at one end of the pie and working towards the other. Over and under, over and under. It seems to be a lot fuss, but it really takes hardly any time to do and it is important for this pie as you want the steam to be able to escape and the custard to cook underneath.

* As for making a pie crust, use your favourite recipe or try my favourite. This probably sounds very unhealthy of me, but I like to use Tenderflake lard in my pie crusts. I have never had much luck with pie crusts made of butter, but now that I mention it, I should probably delve into the subject again and see what sort of results I get. The recipe that I use is the one on the back of the Tenderflake box. What got me hooked on this recipe was my time spent working at Elaine's restaurant in Windsor. There were lots of tarts on the menu and it seemed that most days one of us would be whipping up a batch of pie crust. Each batch makes almost 5 pie crusts, and it seemed that every pie or tart came out perfect every time. Here is the recipe...

Never-Fail Pie Crust

5 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 lb. Tenderflake lard
Place flour and lard in a large bowl. With your fingers, incorporate the lard into the flour until it turns into smaller bits.
1 egg
1 T. white vinegar
In a liquid measuring cup, beat the egg and vinegar together. Add enough cold water to make one cup. Pour liquid over the flour mixture and fold together with your hands. You may need a little extra water to get the flour incorporated. Divide the dough into 4 or 5 discs and wrap individually in plastic wrap. The dough will behave better if you let it chill for at least half an hour or so in the fridge. Any dough that you have left over will keep for up to a week in the fridge or you can freeze it until you need it. Double wrap the dough if you are going to be freezing it.

*When rolling out the dough, I use a piece of wax paper to roll it on. Once the dough is rolled out to the right thickness, I easily flip the dough over onto the pie plate, peel off the wax paper, and trim the edges.