It’s April and the rhubarb season has begun – an indicator that spring (I mean the real spring, not the sunny-cold-windy-rainy April early spring) is around the corner. Traditionally, we Swiss use rhubarb mostly for sweet recipes such as rhubarb pie or rhubarb compote. Like all Swiss, we bake a lot of pies, and the beautiful rhubarb from my local, beautiful Oerlikon Market just seemed perfect for it.
A national dish
Pies are a national dish in Switzerland. We often eat them as a main meal, even the fruity versions. Many people, especially the older generation and we in our childhood, eat/used to eat them on Friday which is traditionally the meat free day in Switzerland. In my family we used to eat them for dinner, often accompanied by a salad. My husband’s family used to eat it for lunch – they ran a Zurich butchery and his grandmother used to bake pies for the entire butchery staff on Fridays. For the fruity versions, besides rhubarb other popular fruit are: apples (grated or sliced), cherries, apricots, Zwetschgen (a kind of plum) or raspberries – you can either use fresh fruit or frozen fruit straight out of the freezer; I don’t recommend using defrosted fruit as the fruit loses its shape and it gets too juicy, but if they are used straight out of the freezer it works perfectly. As for savoury pies, popular ones would be cheese, onion and bacon, spinach, leek, tomato or broccoli.
And the dough – you can either make your own dough which doesn’t take much time at all and is a lot tastier than the shop-bought one, or you just buy a dough from the shop, ideally the flattened one for a super quick, mess free pie preparation – I often have a packet of frozen fruit in the freezer and a shop-bought dough in the fridge. With this setup it takes me about 7 minutes to make a pie and put it into the oven.
A whole lotta names
I think the amount of regional names for the word pie shows how popular they are in Switzerland. In High German pie is called Wähe. In Basel and Zurich, hence close to the German border, we call it Wäje or Waje. Around Bern/Fribourg they call it Chueche, which in Zurich we would call a cake. Around Appenzell/St. Gallen it’s called Flade, which again in my Zurich dialect only exists as Chue-Flade, alas a cow poo. In Thurgau and Schaffhausen they call it Tünne (which for me is a very strange word, supposedly it comes from dünn (thin) as a Swiss pie is rather thin), in Graubünden Turte, which I in Zurich woud call a fancy round cake with icing and things (Torte). Last but not least, the Swiss French call it gâteau, the Swiss Italians torta or crostata, the Rumansch tuorta. Phew!
Recipe for rhubarb pie (or any other fruit pie)
Either use a shop bought Kuchenteig (pie dough), ideally the 32cm flattened, round one, or prepare your own dough, recipe here.
- 3 tbsp semolina or grated hazelnuts or grated almonds
- 850 grams rhubarb, peeled if necessary, and cut in small pieces (or any other fruit, fresh or frozen)
- 2dl milk
- 1dl cream
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 3 tbsp sugar
Pre-heat oven at 220 degrees Celsius.
Put a baking parchment onto a round pie tin of 32cm diameter. Put flattened dough onto the parchment. Using a fork, make holes into the dough (this helps for a beautifully crunchy crust).
Spread the semolina or grated nuts evenly onto the dough – this layer is very important as it soaks up the surplus fruit juice while baking. If you don’t put any semolina or nuts underneath the fruit, you’ll end up with a very soggy pie.
Place rhubarb on top. Only for rhubarb, because it’s a very sour fruit: spread 3 tbsp of sugar over the fruit (I wouldn’t do this for any other fruit).
In a bowl, mix the milk, cream, egg, cornstarch and sugar together. Pour mixture over the fruit.
Bake for 45 minutes on the lowest rack of the oven (the right temperature and the lowest rack are very important for a crunchy pie crust).
Take out of the oven, let it cool down a little and serve it like this if it’s for a main meal, or if you’re eating it as a dessert you could also add a dollop of whipped cream to make it a bit more indulgent.