When the fourth of July is creeping around the corner, and there just so happens to be an influx of Bing cherries in your house, it is important to make a sweet cherry pie.
Now for the past 23 years, I've turned up my nose at cherry pie, disregarding it as the ugly step-sister to the more widely accepted apple pie. I always thought of the photograph on the Pillsbury pie crust box and the accompanying recipe that called for a seemingly 50 pound can of cherry pie filling, it's unnaturally red fruit suspended in some sort of gelatinous goo. Nasty. I can recall one instance of a homemade pie at a church picnic and I thought I'd give it a go...big mistake. The cherries were terribly sour and when I slid my slice from the pan, a pool of watery juice immediately filled the bottom like a cherry tidal basin. There was no way on earth that bottom crust wasn't soggy.
But a trip to Deb's this week got my proverbial wheels turning, a recipe for sweet cherry pie that boasted a sweet red filling and an all-butter crust, because "All butter equals all flavor!" as Deb says. I have to agree, most bakers will tell you that vegetable shortening is the only way to get a flaky crust, pay them no mind, they're lying. And we all know what happens to people who lie about pie crust. Besides, the idea of scooping freezing cold, solid white fat into my crust strikes me as awfully unnerving. I mean, what is that stuff? Thinking about it, I suddenly had Poison's Sweet Cherry Pie song in my head, and it sort of made me want to do an 80's big-hair-body-swirl type thing, but then I realized the lyrics weren't very ladylike. Eeek.
The compulsion to add sweet cherry pie to my repertoire came at 1:30 p.m. yesterday, which is quite unfortunate since I don't get off work until five. Then it occurred to me: cherries have pits, and I am a woman without a cherry pitter. Oh my. Now the very thought of halving those tiny stone fruits for hours with an itsy-bitsy paring knife nearly made me panic, and I spent the ride home considering how I could make it happen: Could I roll them under my palm? Too squashy. Can I use a toothpick? Considering the last time I made kabobs, probably a bad idea. Given my latest penchant for macabre cooking, this wouldn't be so bad, right? But all my worries were in vain, I arrived home to find Mom had already washed, de-stemmed, halved and pitted five cups of Bing cherries for me. God bless her.
Usually I shy away from homemade crusts, the challenge of keeping flecks of butter visible and the incessant waiting that comes with constantly chilling the dough makes me fussy and wanting to get on with it. But if we're doing this, we're doing it right, yes? Yes. This dough recipe is so easy it'll make you weak in the knees and wonder why you've wasted your time and money on the store-bought stuff that burns in three seconds flat (I've never been one for fumbling with tin foil scraps, desperately trying to keep the edges from going completely black). The result will make you feel incredibly accomplished, I promise. And this is quite fool proof, I assure you, and I've been a fool on more than one occasion.
All-Butter Pie Crust
1 cup ice water
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold butter, cubed (I freeze mine the night before)
You could do this with a pastry blender, but I find my forearms lack the stamina to make it happen, so I use the food proccessor. Blitz together your dry ingredients for a moment or two, then add the cubed butter. Give it a whirl in spurts, you want the mixture to look a bit sandy with pieces of butter the size of peas.
Down the tube, add 4 tablespoons of the ice water and pulse to combine, add more ice water a tablespoon at a time until it forms a ball. Turn it out onto a lightly floured countertop, roll to a ball, cut in half, and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Toss them in the deepfreeze for an hour or so, you'll only need half an hour if your butter was frozen.
Now then, onto the filling, the stuff of life. Depending on how sweet your cherries are, you could scale back the sugar a bit and punch up the acidity, it's a bit flexible that way. I am still swooning over the complexity of what I though would be so standard tasting, it was sweet and dense, with a nutty aroma shot through from the almond extract. It was perfect in every way, a glammed-up version of something so humble, a housewife in stilettos.
Sweet Cherry Pie
Adapted from SmittenKitchen
Dough for a double-crust pie (see above)
5 cups pitted fresh cherries (2 1/2 pounds unpitted)
5 tablespoons cornstarch
2/3 to 3/4 cup sugar (adjust this according to the sweetness of your cherries)
1/8 teaspoon salt
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits
1 egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons water
Coarse sugar, for decoration
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Stir together the cherries, cornstarch, sugar, salt, lemon and almond extract gently together in a large bowl, I used a rubber spatula since my cherries were already quite ripe.
Roll out half of the chilled dough on a floured work surface to 13-inch round. The easiest way to get as close to an actual circle as you can, roll from the center up, and the the center down, then turn it 1/4 and repeat. Gently place it in 9-inch pie pan (if you have a metal pan, use it instead of glass; the glass Pyrex plates don't conduct heat very well and your bottom crust won't crisp up), either by rolling it around the rolling pin and unrolling it over the pan or by folding it into quarters and unfolding it in the pan. Trim edges to a half-inch overhang.
Spoon filling into pie crust, discarding the majority of the liquid that has pooled in the bowl. Dot the filling with the bits of cold butter.
Roll out the remaining dough into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface, drape it over the filling, and trim it, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Fold the overhang under the bottom crust, pressing the edge to seal it, and crimp the edges or press them together the tines of a fork. Brush the egg wash over over pie crust, then sprinkle with coarse sugar.
Cut slits in the crust with a sharp knife, forming steam vents, and bake the pie in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake the pie for 25 to 30 minutes more, or until the crust is golden. Let the pie cool on a rack for at least two hours before serving. It will be hard to wait, but it will be worth it. The cornstarch will thicken up the filling as it cools-it's especially good with vanilla ice cream.
And for Elizabeth Anne:
Apple Cake Tarte
From Molly Wizenberg
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
5 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into a few pieces
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced very thinly
3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 large egg
Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade attachment, combine the sugar, flour, and baking powder. Pulse to mix. Add the butter, and pulse until no large lumps remain. Add the vanilla and the egg, and blend well, until it resembles cornmeal. Dump it into the prepared springform pan. Nudge it around with your fingertips to distribute it evenly, and then gently press it along the bottom of the pan. You’re not trying to really tamp it down; you just want to compact it a little. At the edges, let it curve up ever so slightly, like a tart shell with a very low, subtle rim. Arrange the apple slices over the base in a tight circular pattern. It may seem as though you have too many apple slices to fit, but keep going. Really squeeze them in. Slide the pan into the oven, and bake for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the topping. Combine the ingredients in a small bowl, and whisk to blend well. After the cake has baked for 45 minutes, remove it from the oven, and spoon the topping evenly over it. Bake for another 25 minutes or so, until the topping looks set. Transfer the pan to a wire rack, and cool for 20 minutes. Then run a thin knife around the edge to release any areas that may have stuck, and remove the sides of the pan. Cool completely before serving.