I would like to say that my father is incorruptible. And I think essentially he is, perhaps with the one exception being if there is rhubarb involved. A rhubarb pie in particular. In which case you don’t even have to proactively bribe him. Just mention the idea that you are making a rhubarb pie and don’t be surprised if he washes your car, takes out your trash, or even cleans out your garage attic. (Thanks dad!) Let’s just say that my father has had a busy week, as I have made this rhubarb pie three times to get the recipe just right.
A recipe for rhubarb orange meringue pie was given to me by a friend of a friend (thank you Carol!) back in the fall and I’ve been dreaming about it ever since. Tart fillings work so well with meringue (think lemon meringue pie), why not rhubarb? With apologies to Carol, I have changed the filling substantially from the original. I love the tart bite of rhubarb, so there’s not as much sugar in this pie filling as you might expect. Taste the filling as you make it. Remember that the meringue has a good half cup of sugar in it and will sweeten the pie too. Add more sugar (or rhubarb if you want it more tart) to suit your taste. I’ve also included a little cinnamon and ground ginger to give a little more complexity to the flavor of the pie. I’m using tapioca flour (ground instant tapioca) as a thickener, but you could easily use corn starch (same amount).
The meringue technique includes adding a gelled corn starch and water mixture to the beaten egg whites. This technique comes from Shirley Corriher in Cookwise. It’s purpose is to help keep the meringue from shrinking, and will make a tender meringue that is easy to cut.
The first step I take when preparing this pie (assuming a pie crust has been made and frozen) is to take the eggs out of the refrigerator and separate them. They're easier to separate when cold. I then cover the whites and let them sit at room temperature while I blind bake the crust and get the other ingredients ready. Room temperature egg whites will be easier to whip into a meringue.
- 1 frozen pie crust (see pie crust recipe for instructions to make your own)
- 3 1/2 to 4 cups chopped rhubarb stalks (about 1 lb)
- 3/4 cup white granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp orange zest
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 3 Tbsp instant tapioca or 2 Tbsp tapioca flour/starch (can sub 2 Tbsp corn starch)
- 1 Tbsp corn starch
- 1/3 cup cold water
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (can use vinegar instead of cream of tartar, see method instructions)
- 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
- 4 large egg whites (room temperature)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Pre-bake the crust. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line the frozen pie shell with aluminum foil. Fill two-thirds of the way with pie weights (dry beans work well for this). Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven. Lift up the edges of the aluminum foil to remove the foil and pie weights from the crust. Poke the bottom of the crust all over with the tines of a fork. Return the pie crust to the oven, bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until it is nicely and lightly browned all over. Remove from oven and set aside.
2 Prepare the filling. Gently mix the cut rhubarb, sugar, orange zest, cinnamon, and ground ginger in a medium saucepan. Let sit for 15 minutes so the sugar macerates the rhubarb and liquid is released. Put the pan on the stove on medium heat. Stir in the instant tapioca or tapioca starch. (By the way, if you are using instant tapioca and you don't like seeing anything that might resemble tapioca, just run it through a blender to pulverize it into tapioca flour.) Slowly heat up the rhubarb until steamy. If you heat the rhubarb too quickly, the pieces will disintegrate into mush. The mush will still work in the pie, and taste good, but will look like pink oatmeal. You want to gently cook the rhubarb until it is a little tender, but not yet falling apart.
3 Preheat oven to 325°F. While the rhubarb is cooking, get started on the meringue. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and cream of tartar and set aside. (Note that the cream of tartar is not absolutely required, but as a dry acid, it will help the meringue keep its structure. If you don't have cream of tartar you can alternatively support the meringue by adding a teaspoon of white vinegar to the egg whites when you start to whip them.) In a small saucepan, whisk the corn starch and cold water together until the corn starch is dissolved. Heat on the stovetop and stir with a whisk until the mixture gets bubbly and forms a gel. Remove from heat.
4 Make sure that the egg whites you are using have absolutely no pieces of egg yolk or shell in them. Make sure that your mixer bowl for whipping the egg whites is spotlessly clean. Any residual fat from another baking project in the bowl will make it difficult for the egg whites to whip up into a meringue. Place the egg whites and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer. Start the speed on low and gradually increase the speed to medium. Once the egg whites are frothy, slowly add the sugar and cream of tartar mixture, one tablespoon at a time. Beat until the sugar is incorporated an the mixture forms soft peaks. Then add the cornstarch mixture, one tablespoon at a time. Increase the mixture speed to high, and beat until the mixture forms stiff peaks. Be careful not to over beat.
5 The filling needs to be piping hot when the meringue goes on it, so if it has been allowed to cool, reheat it until it is steamy. Pour the rhubarb mixture into the pre-baked pie shell, spreading it evenly along the bottom of the shell. Using a rubber spatula, immediately spread the meringue mixture evenly around the edge and then the center of the pie to keep it from sinking into the filling. Make sure the meringue attaches to the pie crust to prevent shrinking. Use the back of a spoon to create peaks all over the meringue.
6 Bake the pie at 325°F until the meringue is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. The pie can be refrigerated, but it is best served the same day.