Can we discuss pie rankings for a second here? I feel like strawberry rhubarb always gets a lot of the glory and attention when it comes to favourite pie talk, alongside other summery show stealers like peach and blackberry. Then of course there’s the wintery pies: the apples, the pecans, even the controversial pumpkins. And then there’s poor cherry; relegated to nobody’s top choice following too many syrupy, lackluster imitators that have precipitated it. I get – the unnaturally red fillings with a viscosity not usually seen in nature, all supported by a crust that feels equally jaded towards its contents.
But not this pie.
This luscious pie, just bursting with plump sweet cherries and faint traces of almond, will stand for being no one’s last pick. Almost reminiscent of cherries jubilee (a highly underrated dish that first launched my fascination with watching food get lit on fire), this pie delivers fat, deep purple cherries that have roasted in their own juices and become almost boozy in their caramelized sweetness, without becoming sickeningly so. Forget what you think you know about cherry pie, for this one is ready to transform even the most staunch critic into a swooning, dreamy-eyed convert.
Sweet Cherry Pie
Taken from Deb Perelman (Smitten Kitchen), with a tiny tweak here and there
Makes 1 double-crust pie (serves roughly 8-10 people)
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (measured correctly)
1 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, chilled
Filling and Assembly:
5 cups fresh sweet cherries, pitted (either by hand or with a pitter) – this is usually an entire large bag of cherries
4 tbsp cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
½ tsp almond extract
1 tbsp cold butter, cut into tiny bits
1 egg, well beaten with 2 tbsp water
Raw or coarse sugar, for sprinkling
Start by making the crust. Fill a liquid measuring cup with ice water and set in the fridge until ready to use. Cut the butter into ½ -inch cubes and return to the fridge to firm up for 10 minutes after having been warmed by the knife and your hands. In a large bowl (preferably a wide one that is not made of metal) combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Sprinkle the cold cubes of butter over the flour mixture and start cutting them in using either 2 knives or a pastry blender. Continually clean off the knives or pastry blender to avoid butter build up. Constantly scoop and redistribute the mixture as needed to ensure that everything is getting mixed in and cut up evenly. When the butter is the size of small beans, stop cutting. This won’t take as long as you think, and quite frankly it is MUCH better to stop cutting too early than too late. The butter “beans” will inevitably look uneven and this is okay. Just make sure you don’t have any pieces bigger than the diameter of a dime. If I see quite a few bigger chunks amidst the otherwise adequate butter pieces, I will sometimes get in there with my hands (which I have run under very cold water and dried off) and just quickly rub the big pieces between my fingers to break them up.
Drizzle about ½ cup of your ice water (minus the cubes of course) over the buttery flour. Use a fork to gather the dough together. Keep adding cold water, 1 tbsp at a time to help the dough come together. I find that I usually need to add several spoonfuls of water to get to this point. Avoid the temptation to over-add water as this can result in shrinkage down the road. As soon as the dough can come together without then falling apart (but before it becomes sticky and over-moistened), knead it into a large lump. Divide the lump into 2 pieces, flatten each one into a disk, then wrap each half in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour if not 2. Place the dough disks directly on a shelf on the fridge if possible for maximum chilling. If not using the dough within a day, place the wrapped disks in a freezer bag, remove as much air as possible, and freeze. I have used frozen dough up to a month or so after freezing and it’s been fine. Thaw the dough in the fridge for a day before using.
Once the dough is thoroughly chilled, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, gently stir together the cherries, cornstarch, sugar, salt, lemon juice, and almond extract. Set aside.
Roll out one of the disks (the bigger one if they are uneven) into a 13-inch round on a lightly floured surface. When rolling pie crust, ensure that you’re constantly turning the dough (to avoid parts of it sticking or getting rolled thinner than other areas) and lightly dusting any sticky spots with flour. Carefully transfer the round to a 9-inch pie dish. I find it easiest to delicately fold the dough in half one way, then the other way, then to place the point of the folded dough in the centre of the pie dish and unfold. You want to allow the crust to just slump into the pie dish – no tugging or stretching to get it to fit! It should be draped in with no areas of tautness or tension. Very lightly push it down so that it fits the pie dish. Trim the edge of the dough to about a ½ -inch overhang below the lip of the pie dish (don’t stress if some areas have a bit longer overhang than others – you’ll pretty it all up in a bit). Scrape the cherry filling into the prepared crust, discarding most of the liquid that has likely pooled at the bottom of the mixing bowl. Dot the cherries with the little bits of cold butter.
Roll the remaining dough into a roughly 12-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Now you get to decide what kind of top crust to bestow upon your pie. I’m partial to a lattice-top crust for cherry pie, but it does make it a bit harder to cut tidy slices from. Plus you ultimately get slightly less crust overall, so bad news if you like crust. A full crust will yield nicer slices with a more rustic, homey look, which is never a bad thing in pies.
To do a lattice-top crust, use a knife or a pasta cutter to slice 1-inch thick strips from the rolled dough. I used 10 strips for my pie, but you can cut more strips and make a more tightly-woven lattice if you like. Lay 4-5 parallel strips horizontally along the pie filling. Space the strips evenly apart. Fold every other strip halfway back. Place a dough strip vertically along the midline of the pie. Unfold the strips over the centre strip. Fold back the strips that did NOT get folded back the first time. Lay another strip down vertically, parallel to the midline, equidistantly apart as the horizontal strips. Place the folded strips back over this new strip. Repeat on this side of the centre strip until that half is finished. Do the same thing on the other half of the pie, folding over the opposite strips as were folded the very first time around.
To do the regular crust, cut a 13-inch circle from your rolled pie dough. Drape it over the cherry filling, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Fold the overhang under the bottom crust, pressing the edge to seal it and crimping the edges decoratively with a fork. Brush the beaten egg + water over the crust. Sprinkle with raw or coarse sugar. Cut some attractive steam vents in the pie crust using a small sharp knife.
Bake the pie in the centre rack of the oven for 25 minutes. At this point, you can place foil all around the edge of the pie if it’s browning too rapidly. You can also foil the whole pie, but just make sure you give the centre a chance to brown up at some point since it takes the longest to do so. I find it easiest to foil the whole pie and cut a circle out in the middle. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for another 25 minutes, until the crust is a deep golden brown and the filling is bubbling and juicy. Let the pie cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours before slicing, preferably closer to 4 hours. Delicious on its own or with a generous blob of whipped cream and toasted sliced almonds.