“Prince, you look sad. Get thee a pie.”
I made this raspberry-rhubarb pie to stuff into my face while watching Independent Shakespeare Company’s Much Ado About Nothing at the park. The filling is tart and bright like Beatrice and Benedick’s banter; the crust is rich and full of flakes like Leonato’s household. It’s a ridiculously satisfying pie for a ridiculously satisfying play.
Making pies isn’t all that different from telling a story, and this pie is an excellent mirror for Much Ado About Nothing. Every character responds differently to the pressures of the plot, and every element in a pie responds differently to the heat of the oven. The most interesting part of a story and a recipe is the ways in which characters and ingredients combine and play off of one another through the conflict/oven. Nobody wants to watch Don John be a dick to his brother with no preamble and nothing at stake. His dickery is much more interesting when he uses his brother’s sense of honor to pit him against sweet, maidenly Hero on her wedding day. But before the play reaches that dramatic wedding scene, the characters need to mix together, form relationships and alliances, and plan for a future that can be threatened by Don John’s plots. So too must the ingredients for the pie crust be stirred, cut, mixed, chilled, and rolled out before going in the oven.
There are two main romances in Much Ado About Nothing: Hero/Claudio and Beatrice/Benedick. Beatrice and Benedick steal the show, like the rhubarb-raspberry filling of the pie. But their romance wouldn’t be possible without the machinations of Hero, Claudio, Leonato, and the rest. Beatrice and Benedick’s love is given structure and poignancy by the romance and trials of Hero and Claudio, much like fruit fillings are supported by pie crusts.
(Note: All the screenshots in this post come from Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, which is a ridiculously joyful interpretation with an unparalleled butts-to-rhyme ratio. There is a sample under the Read More link.)
Thanks, Kenneth Branagh!
“Speak, cousin; or, if you cannot, stop his mouth with a pie, and let him not speak either.”
Hero is the flour in this equation. She’s a maidenly and virtuous, but a bit of a blank slate.
From the beginning she’s mixed in with her gentlewoman Margaret who is, well, the salt.
Don Pedro is the butter of the pie crust. Butter mixes with the flour before the water, just like Don Pedro woos Hero before giving her over to Claudio. Don Pedro, like butter, is also rich as fuck. Plus, he’s played by Denzel Washington, so he has to be the part of the crust everyone swoons over.
Leonato is the water. Water binds together the flour and fats to create an incorporated dough—just like Leonato’s approval creates a social contract between Claudio and his daughter, Hero.
Claudio is the shortening. When shortening melts in the oven, it disrupts the network of flour and water to create flakes in the crust. Claudio’s decision to publically confront Hero at their wedding after being tricked into thinking she’s cheating on him creates the high stakes in the second half of the play. His accusations drive apart Hero and her father, just like melting shortening breaks up the network of gluten in a water-flour mix to make flakes.
And incompetent constable Dogberry, of course, is the egg wash at the end—he adds a bit of shine and seals the whole story together.
On the filling side, Beatrice is the raspberry. She provides a lot of the water that responds to heat by bubbling. As soon as somebody wrongs her cousin, Beatrice is down to fight.
Benedick is rhubarb—completely tart, stiffer than Beatrice, and less reactive to heat. He only challenges Claudio because of pressure from Beatrice, just like the rhubarb only breaks down because of the raspberry juice bubbling around it.
The villainous Don John, along with the societal expectations around women’s sexuality, make up to oven/conflict of this story.
“Oh God, that I were a man! I would eat his pie in the market-place.”
This recipe is adapted from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan. Our act structure is as follows: mix and chill the pie dough, make the filling, roll out the pie crust, construct the pie, and bake. The most important pie-making principle is to use your fridge. I would love to tell you that you can skip waiting for pie components to cool down, but you just can’t. Sorry. The flakes won’t form if the fat melts before it hits the oven, just like the play doesn’t work if Claudio and Don Pedro have their meltdown over Hero’s infidelity before the wedding.
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tbsp salt
3 oz cold unsalted butter
5 1/2 oz cold vegetable shortening
1/2 cup ice water
12 oz raspberries (I used fresh, but frozen would work too)
2 stalks rhubarb
1-2 lemons (depending on desired tartness–don’t worry, you’ll get to taste test)
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp cold water
1 tbsp butter
Sugar to sprinkle on top
Stand mixer with paddle attachment (Crust can also be made in a food processor or by hand with a pastry cutter, but that’s a whole different animal.)
Your choice of silpat, pastry mat, or parchment paper
Stir the flour and the salt together in the bowl of the stand mixer. Cut the butter into little pieces, about a half-tablespoon each.
Toss the butter on top of the flour and turn the mixer on to its lowest setting. This is Don Pedro wooing Hero for Claudio. To everyone’s surprise, this actually works! I personally would not have settled for young Dr. Wilson after being promised Denzel Washington, but unlike Hero, I am not noted for my virtue. Your butter and flour are sufficiently combined when there aren’t any giant lumps of butter in the mixture and the flour forms little pebbles like this:
Cut up the shortening into small pieces and turn the mixer back on, again to the lowest speed. Drop in the shortening piece by piece while the mixer is in motion. Hero accepts Claudio pretty quickly; similarly, the flour/salt/butter/shortening mixture should have the right curd-y texture by the time the last piece of shortening has been whirled around a few times. The mixture will look like this:
Grab that cold water. My tap water isn’t very cold, so I actually put in ice cubes to cool it down further. If you go this route, scoop out the ice and pour out any extra melt water before adding it to the mixture. Pour the water on top and mix just until the dough holds together. The water is Leonardo, Hero’s father. According to Shakespeare, it’s okay to have your liege lord all up in your engagement, but you don’t want your dad getting too involved.
Put down some plastic wrap and throw a little spare flour on top. Then scoop all the pie dough onto the plastic wrap and squish that amorphous blob of youthful desire into a structured plan for a wedding, a week hence.
Divide your dough into halves and wrap them in plastic wrap. One of these bundles is going to be the bottom crust, and the other the top. Throw them in the fridge for at least two hours. Don Pedro, that nosy motherfucker, decided that the best way to spend the time before the wedding was to make Beatrice and Benedick fall in love. In accordance with his wishes, we’re going to turn our attention to the filling while the dough cools. I recommend making the filling right after putting the dough in to chill so that it has time to return to room temperature.
Rinse the raspberries and chop up the rhubarb into approximately raspberry-sized pieces. Put half of the fruit in the pot and the other half in a heat-proof bowl or dish.
Zest one of the lemons and throw the zest into the pot, along with the sugar and flour. Put the pot over medium heat and poke it around with a wooden spoon while it heats up. Beatrice and Benedick needed to be chased around orchards and gardens to get past knowing each other of old and to into each other’s pants in the present day; so too does the fruit need to be constantly stirred until it reaches a soft boil.
Pour the contents of the pot over the uncooked fruit in the bowl. Taste some of the syrup and add lemon juice until the filling is just about as tart as you can handle. I used two whole lemons, but if you like a stiffer, less-watery filling, you might want to only use one. Let the filling cool down to room temperature, either on the counter or in the fridge.
Once your dough has cooled for a full two hours, prep your crust-rolling space. I like using the kitchen table instead of the counters. I, like Leonato’s short daughter, am too low for a high praise. My rolling pin gets better leverage on a lower surface. Tall people are inscrutable and can work wherever they like. If you have a silpat or pastry mat, put that down; if you, like Don Pedro’s company, have just returned from an unspecified war without any such fancy things, use parchment paper. Rub a little flour onto your work surface, your rolling pin, and your hands. Then unwrap one of your bundles of pie dough and drop it in the middle of your work surface.
I find that rubbing flour directly into the surface of the dough is much more effective than just dropping flour on the rolling pin. Put flour on the rolling pin too! Put flour everywhere! Dough is sticky shit, and I encourage all efforts to curtail its tyranny.
When you roll, start from the center of the dough and work outward. If you want to get really fancy, always work in the same direction, and pick up/turn the dough in between each roll. That is some master class level shit though, and I don’t bother with it most of the time. Do pick up the dough at least once or twice while rolling–this will help it from sticking to the work surface.
Stop rolling when you have a vaguely circular shape that extends about an inch further than your pie plate on all sides. It doesn’t have to be perfectly round–you’ll be pinching off the excess anyways.Test the size by putting the pie plate on top.
If anything goes wrong during construction, remember: put the dough back in the fridge. If the dough starts leaking butter, put it back in the fridge. If it keeps tearing, put it back in the fridge. If you’re too frustrated to function and you just want to throw the stupid fucking dough against the stupid fucking wall, put it in the fridge instead. Retrieve the dough after 15 minutes and try again.
The easiest way to transfer a round piece of dough into a pie plate is to carefully fold it in half twice and put that wedge shape in the pie plate with the corner in the middle.
Unfold the dough carefully. If the it tears, squish the edges back together. The bottom crust doesn’t have to be pretty as long as it’s structurally sound. If there’s truly ridiculous amount of dough hanging over the edge of the pie plate, you can pinch it off.
Grab the filling and gently spoon it into the bottom crust.
Cut up that last tablespoon of butter and put the pieces on top of the filling. Set the filled bottom crust aside, and grab the second half of the dough from the fridge. Roll it out just like the first half, fold it into quarters, and put it on top of the filling. My top crust tore. Yours probably will too. Don’t worry about it!
Top need vents anyways to let out steam in the oven, like Leonato needs a helpful friar to prevent him from murdering his daughter. If the dough tears while unfolding, pretend it was intentional and cut other vents to match.
Pinch the top and bottom crusts together along the edges. You can crimp them if you like, or just pinch. My attempt at crimping was a minor disaster, as was my attempt at writing it up, so I would recommend YouTubing a tutorial. Epicurious has a good one here.
There’s one more step before the wedding can start! The constabulary has to accidentally do their job by discovering that Claudio and the prince were tricked into believing that Hero enjoyed the sexy fun times that really belonged to Margaret. The watch in this case is represented by an egg wash. Make up the watch/wash by whisking together an egg and a tablespoon of cold water. This will seal the edges of the pie crust, just like the evidence of Don John’s villainy seals up the plot, and add a nice shine to the top crust. Paint the egg wash over the top of the pie crust, paying particular attention to the edges of the pie, and sprinkle sugar over top.
Cut the vents if you haven’t already, and put the pie in the fridge for 20 minutes to let the butter and shortening cool down one last time before they completely lose their shit in the oven. While the pie is chilling, preheat the oven to 375F.
Carry the pie with utmost caution from the fridge to the oven. There’s plenty of drama in Much Ado; we don’t need to turn the pie into Hamlet by fumbling and getting blood all over the floor. Bake the pie on a middle rack in the oven for 40-50 minutes.
Here’s what happens in the oven:
- Claudio is a dick and calls Hero a slut in front of everyone she knows
- Don Pedro is a dick
- Don Jon is a dick
- Leonato is a dick
- Benedick is actually not a dick
- The friar from Romeo and Juliet comes out of retirement to tell Hero to pretend she’s dead
- Everyone goes with it
- Beatrice and Benedick confess their love
- Beatrice orders Benedick to stab the shit out of Claudio
- Don Jon flees Messina
- Leonato forgets that Hero is only fake-dead, and tries to fight Don Pedro and Claudio
- Benedick tries to fight Claudio
- Dogberry informs everyone that he is an ass, and also that Hero got slandered to fake-death by Don Jon
- Claudio cries some tears of manly regret and makes a Shame Plaque for fake-dead Hero’s fake grave
- Leonato invents a niece
- Claudio agrees to marry her
- The fake niece is actually Hero, who is no longer fake dead
- Bad poetry saves Beatrice and Benedick from a lifetime of pretending they don’t actually love each other
The pie is done when everybody but Don Pedro is married, the top crust a toasty gold-brown on top, and you can see the filling bubbling through the vents.
Let the pie cool on a rack, have an impromptu double wedding, and enjoy!
THE MESS REPORTS
“If I had my mouth, I would bite this pie.”