By Peggy Wolff, Special to Tribune Newspapers
June 13, 2012
Every summer when the sour cherry appears, my culinary nerves start firing. I could eat my weight in pie, cherry pie, that is, baked with those little red gems with the mouth-puckering taste. It is a cornerstone of my diet. Wavy shortcrust pastry top, sweet-tart filling, more crust, the outside hiding the oozing, thick and bubbly juices that lie within.
The craving arrives with the force of a cattle prod. In the early stages, I just give in, buy up what I can find, and go home and bake a pie.
I know sour cherries are a pain to pit. Whatever. Consider yourself lucky to find them at all because farmers are expecting a fraction of their normal crop this summer because of buds lost to frost. Though I am a lover of the fresh cherry, this season I have no disputes with the quick frozen sort. That pie still puts nearly any truck stop one to shame, containing more goodness and deliciousness than the sum of its parts.
Each year, the vast majority of the crop ends up not in the grocery store or the farmers market, but in cans and jars as pie filling. Call me a food snob, but I have never been able to rise above a deep and irrational prejudice against a pie baked with the gooey canned stuff. A pie with a canned filling is a gazillion miles away from the excellent one I can make at home or find at a diner far off the interstate.
That pie is the real deal, the culinary destiny of the Montmorency cherry baked in a showstopping irresistible flaky double crust. The top is as smooth as a confectioners' toffee candy; the edges are perfectly pinched; and the crust is stiff enough to hang together from the runny juices of the baked cherries inside.
Smell, that loyal sentry, warns me of the incredible sour-smelling sweetness. With full knowledge there could be pits, I open my mouth and close my eyes. My first bite encounters a brash sweet-tart flavor. And it lasts, even as my summer appetite picks up momentum. If I were blessed with a quick metabolism, I'd cut a second slice before I polished off the first.
I would defend this statement to the death: The Montmorency holds up better than any other cherry you can possibly find to bake in a pie.
Even if yours flops just a little, the results will be startling and good. And if you have more cherries than you know what to do with, make sour cherry compote, a simple chutney, a cobbler or a crisp. By the time you're tired of all that, the all-too-brief cherry season will be gone and fall will be here.
Prep: 35 minutes
Chill: 30 minutes
Bake: 50-60 minutes
Makes: 1 double-crust pie, 8 servings
Note: This recipe is adapted from one by Anne Willan, founder of École de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris.
2 3/4 cups flour (12 ounces)
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon plus a pinch of salt
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) vegetable shortening, chilled
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled
5 to 6 tablespoons cold water
4 cups pitted fresh tart cherries, or 6 1/2 cups frozen and pitted (will yield about 4 cups of fruit when thawed and drained)
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar (5 ounces), or more to taste
¼ cup tapioca
1. For the crust, sift the flour, sugar and salt into a medium bowl. Cut the shortening and butter into pieces; cut into the flour mixture with a pastry blender. Rub in the fat with your fingertips until the mixture forms coarse crumbs, lifting and crumbling to help aerate it.
2. Sprinkle the water over the mixture one tablespoon at a time, mixing with a fork. Continue mixing with the fork until the crumbs are moist enough to start sticking together. Do not use too much water or the dough will be sticky and the pastry tough.
3. Using your fingertips, press the dough lightly into a ball; wrap in plastic and chill until firm, a minimum of 30 minutes.
4. For the filling. Fresh cherries: combine with sugar and tapioca in a bowl. Taste; add more sugar, if you like. Frozen cherries: thaw, about 2 hours. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup cherry juice. Combine cherries, sugar and tapioca. Add reserved juice, keeping in mind that fruit differs in water content so if the mixture looks runny, you may only need a few tablespoons.
5. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Divide dough into 2 pieces, one slightly larger. Roll out larger piece to a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface. Invert a 9-inch glass pie dish onto the dough. Cut a strip around the edge of the dish, leaving a circle 1 1/2 inches larger than the dish. Transfer dough into the pie dish. Spoon in filling.
6. Roll out remaining dough; carefully place it on top of the pie dish, sealing the edges. Cut several slits in top crust.
7. Set pie on a baking sheet; bake until lightly browned and filling bubbles thickly, 50-60 minutes. While still hot, sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons sugar over the top. Cool.
Per serving: 474 calories, 20 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 23 mg cholesterol, 70 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 93 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.
Chocolate cherry cake squares
Prep: 35 minutes
Stand: 2 hours
Cook: 50-60 minutes
Note: Adapted from Gourmet magazine. The rich chocolate cherry flavor of this cake becomes more pronounced after a day or two.
3 cups fresh or frozen (not thawed) pitted sour cherries (1 pound)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup boiling water
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1. Toss cherries and any juices with granulated sugar and almond extract in a bowl; let stand at least 2 hours. Drain cherries, reserving ½ cup juice.
2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-by-13-inch metal baking pan, knocking out excess flour. Whisk hot water and cocoa powder in a small bowl until smooth; whisk in reserved cherry juice and vanilla. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt into another bowl.
3. Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture and cocoa mixture alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing at low speed until blended (batter may look curdled).
4. Stir in cherries and chocolate chips; pour batter into pan, smoothing top. Bake in middle of oven until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Cool cake completely in pan on a rack; cut into squares. Sift powdered sugar over the top, if you like.
Per serving: 506 calories, 23 g fat, 13 g saturated fat, 103 mg cholesterol, 71 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 261 mg sodium, 4 g fiber.