Did she bake a cherry pie, Billy boy, Billy boy?

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Pie-cherryIf you added up all my blogposts since 2003, you’d have something like 7,200 separate articles. Only about 650 are actually searchable on morganica.com right now. Tried to import the rest, but so far can’t figure out a way to do that without spamming the heck out of the 1,500 or so subscribers who asked to be notified when I publish something new. So…for the time being I’m getting reeeeeeealllly picky and just adding in the old posts that tickle my fancy. I’ll publish a couple a week; with luck, I’ll have most of the good stuff on this blog by, say, 2020.

This one is dated July 18, 2009.

Technically, no. But the pie she did make is delicious. Yum.

Robyn and Jeff and I met up at the Portland Farmers Market Saturday (I think I’m addicted to that place), did some breakfast, strolled the booths and stocked up on berries. (It’s nice to have a muscular cousin who can carry berry flats three blocks to your car, right in the middle of your shopping trip, so that you can keep shopping)

We were about to head for home when I saw a box of small, curiously translucent cherries. Regular bing cherries are a rich, opaque burgundy; these were unabashedly scarlet and glowed in the sunlight:

Montmorencies. Pie cherries.

Montmorencies are too sour for most people, but for me they’re the true cherry flavor, and they’re hard to find. These were fresh, heavy with juice and bore about as much resemblance to the stuff you find in a can of cherry pie filling as fresh chevre does to Velveeta. And I had a cherry pitter at home that hadn’t been used in about seven years…

Obviously, there was only one thing to do: Make fresh cherry pie.

I come from a long line of good pie-makers (my mom’s pumpkin pie is still my hands-down favorite), and it had been too long since I made pie. So I added cherries to poor Jeff’s load, picked up just-made creamery butter a couple booths down from the cherry guy, and went home to cook.

pienicecreamThought I’d share the recipe because it came out especially well and, except for the cherry pitting, it’s pretty easy. It looks long and maybe harder than it is because I’m adding a lot of side notes and (as anyone who reads this blog knows) I’m long-winded. But it’s not; the secret is to take your time and let refrigeration and resting do most of the work.

And besides, it gives me an excuse to photograph fruit, something I love doing anyway. 😉

Fresh cherry berry Redfruit Summer Pie
I know this started out as a cherry pie, but I bought four cups (2.5 pounds) of cherries and they looked kinda lonely in my pie plate even before they were cooked (cooking will reduce their volume by about a third, too). So I plowed through the kitchen and added any fresh red summer fruit I had. If I were going to make a pure cherry pie, I’d probably get 5 or 6 pounds of cherries.

Filling:

  • 4 cups fresh pie cherries. DO NOT think you can get away with Bings or Sweet Anns. Those are eating cherries, and the flavor is entirely different. Use Montmorencies or any true sour pie cherry, and try NOT to use the ones in the can, for heaven’s sake. If you can’t find fresh, buy a couple bags of frozen PIE cherries. (As I said above, they looked a bit skimpy by themselves, so if you want a true cherry pie, you’ll need to get more than four cups (or a smaller pie pan).
  • NOTE: If you just HAVE to use sweet cherries, add a whole bunch of fresh lemon juice and some lemon or lime zest. It’s still not the same thing, but it’s closer. I use up to a half-cup, but most people would be perfectly happy with 2-3 tablespoons.
  • 1.5 cups vanilla bean sugar. Easy to make–just get a vanilla bean, slit it up the middle, and bury it in a jar of white sugar for a week or more. Mine just lives in there as it’s a good visual clue to tell the sugar apart from kosher salt without tasting. I refresh the bean every so often.
  • 3 TBSP tapioca. I like tapioca (or arrowroot or cornstarch, but the cornstarch had made that one-way trip into the studio to be tested as a mold mix additive and I was out of arrowroot)–the filling is more sparkling and transparent, and lacks the slight pasty taste you can get with flour.
  • 1 apple, grated. This enriches the fruit flavor, believe it or not, and it’ll break down during baking so you won’t detect it. Its main purpose, though, is to supply pectin and firm things up when the pie cools.
  • 1/4 TSP almond extract. One of these days I’ll leave this out and see if it changes the flavor much–I’m not fond of artificial extracts.
  • 5 gratings fresh nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cardamom
  • Pinch of kosher salt–a SMALL pinch
  • At the last minute decide that 4 cups really isn’t enough when these cherries cook down and, thinking quickly, dump a basket of fresh raspberries into the mix. They’ll add a rich flavor in the background.
  • Next day, while you’re finishing off the filling, decide it’s still a bit skimpy and remember that you bought a basket of just-picked currants yesterday…pick through the currants and dump them in, too. Currants will add another tart, rich, almost wine-like flavor to the pie.

currantsmassed

BTW…you could also use this recipe with rhubarb, strawberries and even sliced peaches. Any of the blackberries (boysenberries, marionberries, etc.) would also work but make this a summer purplefruit pie. This filling recipe is excellent for blueberry pie, too, but the flavor is very different (I don’t think blueberries and cherries mix all that well in a pie). Make it with just blueberries (add a couple tablespoons of lemon juice and cut back on the sugar) and it’s heavenly.

Sorry for the segue…back to cooking:

piepitterPit each and every one of those cherries. It helps to have a cherry pitter, which shoots the cherry pit out of the center and leaves the cherry mostly intact.

If you don’t, halve the cherries–a messy business with juicy Montmorencies–and remove the pits with your fingers. (Then check all the cherries after you’ve finished. Somebody could break a tooth if you don’t.)

By the time you’re done the cherries will be exuding juice, probably down your arms to your elbows (and your cuticles will be brown. Get over it). Exacerbate the exudation (say that fast five times) by stirring in the rest of the filling ingredients. Cover and stick in the refrigerator, overnight if you can but at least an hour, to allow full maceration.

piefillingcookIn the morning, stir the filling mix again–the tapioca will have absorbed much of the juice and softened. Transfer about a quarter of the mix into a saucepan. Stick a colander over the saucepan and pour the rest of the mixture into it, letting the juice drain into the pan. Remove the colander and simmer the fruit over LOW heat, stirring frequently and squishing the fruit to release as much juice as possible.  (DO NOT LET THIS COME TO A FULL BOIL)

currantdanglesKeep going until the liquid reduces by about half–it’ll take about 30 minutes if you do it right. Let cool, and stir the now-gelid mass into the back into filling mix. Cover it and put it back in the refrigerator.

Note on currants: Not many people know or use these; they’re hard to find and they have to be individually plucked off their stems unless you’re juicing and straining them. But currants are one of the richest-flavored berries and they are absolutely beautiful. If I’m making a fruit something, I’ll frequently glaze it with currant jam–it kickstarts the flavor wonderfully. Even if you make a 100% cherry pie, think about adding fresh or dried currants (soften the dried currants in hot water, white wine or grape juice first) to enrich the flavor.

Pie crust
The trick with pie crust is to keep it really, really cold. When I start the final assembly of the pie filling, I also start chilling my tools; I put the rolling pin in the freezer, fill a glass with icewater and put it in the refrigerator, set a bag of ice cubes on the granite counter where I’ll be rolling the dough, cut up my butter and put it back into the refrigerator. This way everything is nice and cold when I start the dough.

  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1.25 sticks (3/4 cup) fresh unsalted butter, cut into quarter-inch cubes
  • 0.5 TSP salt (if you must use salted butter, leave this out)
  • 3 grates of fresh nutmeg
  • Very small pinch of cardamom
  • Small lick of almond extract
  • 4-6 TBSP ice water, and I do mean ice water. It MUST be cold.

If you’ve got a food processor, this goes pretty fast: First, open the bottle of almond extract, put your (clean) finger over the opening and give it a good shake. Smear whatever leapt onto your finger onto the inside bowl of the food processor. I like doing this (and adding a little of the spices) before I start actual mixing; it seems to marry the flavors in the filling and crust without being too obvious. If you’ve got hazelnut extract (good luck finding it), it’s even better.

A lot of pastry chefs use pastry flour, which has a lower gluten content. I used unbleached all-purpose because I like the flavor. I’ve also used whole wheat, which makes a much heavier crust but has a nutty flavor that’s right for some pies–it will NOT be as flaky.

piemisenplaceNow mix the flour and other dry ingredients together by dumping them in the food processor and pulsing up to a dozen times. Dump the chilled butter cubes on top of the flour and pulse only enough to break it up with the dry ingredients. Seven or eight short pulses MAX–if you overwork it at this stage the gluten will begin to develop and you’ll get unleavened bread dough, not pie crust.

Now begin adding tablespoons of ice water, one at a time, and giving it at most four pulses. Keep adding water and pulsing until the mixture starts creeping up the side of the food processor and looking a little lumpy. It should just barely hold together when you squeeze it HARD, and it will still feel very dry.

Only now do you remove the ice cubes from the counter and dry it thoroughly. Sift some flour onto the (very cold) counter. Dump the mixture out of the food process onto the counter and mound it up into a dry pile in the center.

Now fraisage the dough. Fraisage is a French dough handling technique that’s a lot easier than the old cutting-in-with-pastry-knife bit and it doesn’t activate the gluten as fast. Fraisage is intended to very, very evenly push the butter into the flour mixture where normal fork/food processor methods simply chop it up finer and finer.

In fraisage, the butter is smeared across the flour, creating a very, very even barrier of fat between particles. A fraisaged dough will be almost as flaky as puff pastry, and it will shatter apart in big flakes on the surface, but be tender inside, where it has access to moisture. If you try to do the same with a food processor, you’ll process so much that you overwork and overheat the dough, and are more likely to make that unleavened bread–tough and UNflaky.piefraisage

To do it, you push the heel of your hand into top of the crumble pile and smear it onto the counter, away from you. You want to make a thinnish film of dough across the countertop. My counter is black granite–I want the dark of the granite to show through the smear. The movement is VERY gentle, though–you’re not beating the dough, you’re massaging it.

Move down the pile until you’ve smeared the whole thing, then scrape it off the counter, pile it up again as tall as you can get it (do not press down or compact the pile) and start the smearing process again from the top. The mixture should continue to feel coolish to the touch. If it starts feeling as warm as your hand, stop everything, scoop up the mixture into a bowl and stick it in the freezer for a few minutes.

If you’re doing it right, this shouldn’t happen. One issue in my kitchen: My favorite workplace is under a halogen spot which heats the counter; if you have a lowish ceiling like mine, try not to work directly under a light.

In two or three cycles your dough should have the consistency of a dryish pie crust, although when you pick it up chunks may fall off. Stop immediately.

Form the dough into a round, flat disk about an inch and a half thick, wrap it in saran wrap, and refrigerate for an hour or more. While it’s chilling, put the ice cubes back on the counter.

This dough is actually “made” in the refrigerator. While it’s chilling, the gluten settles down and the ingredients fully incorporate, so this step is critical. If you can refrigerate overnight it’s even better, but it also becomes so stiff that you usually have to let it rest on the counter for maybe a half hour before you can do much with it.

piefillingBTW, this dough loves to be frozen and will actually be better out of the freezer than made fresh. If I’m in the mood I’ll make four or five batches serially, using the freezer and a granite worksurface that fits in the fridge. That way I can continually swap dough and chill worksurfaces, and just spend the day doughmaking.

I tend to prefer making this recipe with lard or even bacon fat if I’m making savory pastry, but you can’t beat the pure butter version for fruit pies.

The chilled dough feels a little like earthen clay to work–if you feel it snapping back or it’s a tad on the rubbery side, it was probably overprocessed. It’ll be tougher in the finished pie, so don’t work the dough so long next time.

I can’t stand wooden rollers for piecrusts, they can’t be chilled. If you’re gonna make piecrust, get a metal or stone roller, or one of those glass bottle rollers that let you fill it with icewater. If you have to use a wooden roller, you may need to rechill the dough if it starts to get sticky. At all costs, avoid using flour to correct a sticky pie dough.

Now unwrap the first dough disk and roll out the bottom crust. The chilled dough should roll beautifully, just be gentle. Drape it into the bottom, very gently maneuvering it into the bottom corner of the pan–don’t stretch the dough. Add the filling, and stick thin slices of butter on top of the filling.

pienotopNow unwrap the second round and roll it for your topcrust. Brush the rim of the pie with water, put the topcrust in place and seal it to the bottom with your fingers. Flute the edges (this helps keep the juices in).

You don’t need to go overboard slitting the top crust, but you do need steam vents. I like to just make tiny stabs with a fork around the edge and in the center. Brush the top with cold water, sprinkle with granulated sugar. An eggwash makes this crust too tender for my tastes. Bake in the center of a 425F preheated oven for somewhere between 45 and 55 minutes.

piedoneOne note: The crust on this SHOULD be darkish golden brown. Because it’s got sugar on it, you may get a few darker spots…this is preferable to a pale pie. The crust will be a little bit crackly instead of completely tender–that’s what you’re aiming for. (My French friends accuse Americans of undercooking their pastry, which kills part of the flavor.)

Let the pie sit for 90 minutes or so to allow the pectins and tapioca to set up.

Serving
Normally, I can’t stand ice cream on any kind of pie, except maybe my brother-in-law’s apple pie hot out of the oven. But this pie is on the sour side, made with a bit less sugar precisely FOR a great vanilla ice cream. If you’ve got home-made peach, even better. If you prefer a tiny dab of whipped cream, or to eat the pie plain or unheated, add at least a quarter-cup more sugar to the filling–taste to see what you think.

2017-08-06T12:44:12+00:00

2 Comments

  1. Judith August 7, 2017 at 5:55 am - Reply

    Thank you for reposting this! I had read the recipe way back then in 2009, but didn’t have time to make it then, and other things pushed it out of it rightful place in the short cherry season. Tart cherry pie is my absolute favorite thing to eat. Family lore has it that I ran away from home at the tender age of 5 to go live with a neighbor who was baking cherry pie. As a somewhat obedient child, this was a a shock to the family. The pie crust sounds as though it would be worth the trouble, and I have both a bit of time and a counterful of just-pitted tart cherries, so I’ll go grate an apple (never tried that) and start the dough ingredients and equipment chilling.

  2. kathryncecelia August 6, 2017 at 2:41 pm - Reply

    Love your homey post. I just finished canning apple butter. It cooked on the stove top for three full days. It deepened in color to a rich browish amber. If you like apple butter, let me know… I’ll be in Portland in the near future and would bring you some. I like your pie crust recipe, but wanted to tell you my Aunt Myrt’s recipe has vinegar and brown sugar and will keep in the refer for two-three weeks, so one can bake pies over a period of time. Does your pie crust keep well? I agree with all you said about tartness. Too sweet is to be avoided with pies, is something I wholeheartedly agree with. Your energy amazes me. I still am challenged with my bilateral knee replacement, but you, dear girl, are my role model. I think “If Cynthia can do what she needs to, I can do this small thing.” And I do…blessings on you and may this journey bring you blessings.

Comments welcome! (thanks)

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