When Erlend and I moved into my new house at the end of last summer, we were excited. Although we loved our one bedroom attic apartment, we were looking forward to more space in the house and a yard. Our very own yard! After several years of living in the heart of big cities like San Francisco and Denver, it seemed like the biggest privilege to have so much personal green space where we could plant and do whatever we wanted. Although I'm personally not that into gardening — I have whatever the opposite of a green thumb is — it's something that Erlend's been interested in for some time now.
Fast forward to a year later. Erlend has been working his little heart out to turn our paltry garden into one of the lush, verdant spaces that seem to be everywhere else. But man, oh man, is our yard fighting back. Almost every plant, vegetable and flower that he's planted has either died, eaten by some incredibly aggressive squirrels, or become diseased. To wit — the rhubarb that I insisted he plant succumbed to some kind of rot less than 2 weeks after planting, and the pretty roses that came with the house seem like they're headed in that same direction.
Understandably, Erlend's pretty bummed about this. He cursed furiously as he dug up the moldy rhubarb, and he desperately begged one of the plant experts at the nursery to find a way to save the roses for nearly 2 hours. Truth be told, I was pretty impressed with his fight. Because the failing garden is just another thing to add to our constantly-growing list of things that are always broken or terrible around the house. Over the last year, I'd watched several things around the house break or get destroyed by negligent roommates. At first, each broken door, latch, whatever seemed like such a personal insult or affront — why was this house breaking on me, especially after such a successful inspection? But it's just the way houses are, especially ones that are a century old and haven't had their plumbing and wiring updated since the 1950s. While this is something I've come to terms with over the last year — that is, spending a significant amount of money on something does not necessarily mean it will work out — this is the first blow of this kind for Erlend.
So in honor of our steadily failing garden, with its dying rhubarb and roses, this recipe's for Erlend:
Just because we can't have them in our yard, doesn't mean we can't have them anywhere else, am I right?!
Rhubarb is a naturally sour and tart fruit, so I cooked fresh springtime rhubarb with sugar and just a touch of orange juice to sweeten up the filling. Although rhubarb is traditionally paired with vanilla in desserts (see this rhubarb panna cotta tart or these rhubarb shortcakes), I replaced the vanilla with a teaspoon of rose water instead. The result is a sweet but still tart rhubarb filling with a lovely, subtle floral note encased in a flaky and buttery crust.
Some baker's notes:
- Rose water is available online, or in the international/Middle Eastern section of grocery stores. A teaspoon doesn't seem like much, but rose water is pretty potent and can be overpowering if used in excess. Don't be heavy handed and add more! It will make the filling taste too perfumey.
- To make the pie crust, I used my friend Noah's trusty pie crust recipe with vodka. Instead of adding water or milk to the flour and butter, the recipe adds vodka. Unlike water or milk, vodka doesn't promote gluten formation and it helps the crust stay much flakier and more tender.
- The temperature of ingredients is especially important in this recipe; be sure to use cold ingredients when you're instructed, otherwise your pie dough will be really, really difficult to work with. This is especially important when making hand pies, which requires you to cut out circles from the pie dough several times. If at any point your dough is too sticky and soggy, stick it back in the fridge or freezer to chill for a couple of minutes until it is easier to work with.
- To cut out each pie, I used this 5-inch round cookie cutter. To get the cutouts on each pies, I used these micro cookie cutters. There are a ton of other fun varieties available on Amazon too! When stamping out the shapes, it works better if you stamp closer to the center of the pie. If you stamp too close to the edges, the rhubarb filling has a tendency to leak out. On that note, don't be tempted to overfill the hand pies — a teaspoon and a half of rhubarb filling should suffice, unless you want leaky and sticky hand pies.
- a 5-inch round cookie cutter (see baker's notes)
For the Rhubarb and Rose Filling:
(enough for around 24 hand pies)
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- the zest from 1 medium orange
- 1 pound rhubarb stalks, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch segments
- 1 teaspoon freshly-squeezed orange juice
- 1 teaspoon rose water
(enough for around 24 had pies)
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, very cold and cut into small cubes
- 1/4 cup water, very cold
- 1/4 cup vodka, very cold
- 1 egg, gently whisked
- First, make the pie filling. In a small bowl, combine 1/3 cup granulated sugar and the zest from 1 medium orange. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar — this will help release the oils from the zest and turn your sugar into fragrant orange sugar.
- Transfer the sugar and orange zest to a medium, heavy-bottomed sauce pot and add 1 pound sliced rhubarb, 1 teaspoon orange juice, and one teaspoon rose water. Cover and cook at medium low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- After 15 minutes, increase heat to medium and remove lid. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring constantly until the rhubarb has broken down and thick enough that you can run a spoon across the bottom and a trench forms. Spread mixture on a large plate and chill in the fridge to cool quickly. Keep cold until needed — it is thicker and easier to scoop when making the hand pies.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons granulated sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt until well combined. Add 1 cup cold, cubed unsalted butter and use a pastry cutter to incorporate into the flour until the butter has incorporated completely and has been reduced to pieces no larger than a pea. The end mixture should have a texture similar to cornmeal.
- Sprinkle 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup vodka over the mixture. Use a rubber spatula to gradually gather the mixture into a ball; if the mixture seems dry, add another 1 tablespoon or two of vodka. When you can make the mixture into a ball with your hands, do so. Divide the dough into 2 halves, wrap in plastic wrap, flatten into 2 small disks, and refrigerate for 45 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400 (F). Prepare two baking trays by lining with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Prepare the dough by checking to see if it has chilled. At this point, if it has the texture and consistency of saltwater taffy, it's ready to be rolled. Liberally sprinkle a work surface with flour — I used around 1/4 cup's worth. Work with 1 disc at a time. Unwrap the dough and place it on the work surface, sprinkling its top with flour. If the dough is hard, let it rest for a few minutes. If the dough seems too sticky at first, add flour liberally. Use a rolling pin to roll with light pressure, from the center out. Roll the the dough to about 10 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick.
- Use a 5-inch round cookie cutter to cut out pie dough circles. If using micro cookie cutters, stamp out the smaller shapes. If not, use a knife to cut a small vent close to the middle of the circles. Working quickly, place 1 teaspoon of rhubarb and rose filling in the center of each circle. Again, don't be tempted to put more than a teaspoon in — it will be hard to seal without leakage. Fold the circles in half, sealing the rhubarb and rose filling in. Press the outer edges of the half circle to seal with your fingertips, before using a fork to crimp the edges tightly. Transfer each half moon to the baking sheet, spacing an inch apart. Brush the top of each hand pie with the whisked egg. Repeat with remaining dough, including the second disc from the fridge.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until puffed and golden. Once finished baking, transfer to a wire cooling rack and cool before serving.