In my mind, I bake for other people. The cookies and brownies and cakes and ice creams and tea breads – I tell myself they’re my way of treating my husband and children to something decadent, yet wholesome, and full of love. But it’s all a charade, because I’m the one with the sweet tooth. My children – happily, mind you – prefer apples and blueberries to brownies, and Husband has nothing resembling a sweet tooth and nearly never eats dessert.
Unless it’s sour cherry pie.
Apparently, for my mid-Atlantic and South-reared spouse, cherry pie is the stuff of grandmother and country fairs and blissful summers. Me? I’d never eaten it; in my mind, it’s most associated with Agent Dale Cooper and the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer, and with a rather vulgar Warrant song from my middle school days.
But this must have been a good cherry season, because for three solid weeks, the markets had these perfectly shaped, brilliantly red tart cherries. And I bought them, over and over again. And I pitted them (which ends up being rather mindlessly relaxing) and mixed them with a bare minimum of thickeners and seasonings, and I piled them into tangy cream cheese pie crusts, and I understood.
Real, fresh sour cherries are a magical thing – and the pies, scented with almond and cinnamon, really do conjure the sense of American summer at its purest, most carefree best.
If sour cherries are still in season where you are, jump on them and try this out. Alternatively, if you find frozen sour cherries, that would be a great way to bring the sense of summer into a cold winter kitchen. And, last and least, yet still a good bet, look for Oregon-brand canned sour cherries, packed in water.
By the way, this is my new favorite pie crust. While not the crispiest, flakes, the dough is very easy to work with, has a pleasant tang, and is tender.
Cream Cheese Pie Crust
(Makes 1 single crust; Make 2 in separate batches for the cherry pie)
(adapted from Martha Stewart’s Pies & Tarts)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into small pieces
2 teaspoons water + 1 teaspoon cider vinegar, chilled
Combine flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to mix. Add butter and cream cheese to flour mixture and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some larger pieces remaining. Add water mixture to dough in a slow, steady stream, pulsing until mixture just begins to hold together. Turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap, and wrap. Press dough into a disk using a rolling pin. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour or overnight. (Dough can be frozen for up to 1 month; thaw before using.)
For the bottom crust, roll to a 12-inch round about 1/8-inch thick, and fit into a 9-inch pie pan. Refrigerate. For the top crust, roll out to a 12-inch round about 1/8-inch thick, and either cut into strips to form a lattice, or just use as a solid top. I like the lattice, since it shows off the gorgeous filling. Place on plastic wrap and refrigerate, flat, until firm and ready to use.
Sour Cherry Filling
(adapted from various sources, but Cooks Illustrated gets the credit for the Minute tapioca)
6 cups pitted sour cherries
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup Minute (quick-cooking) tapioca
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and let sit about 15 minutes while crusts chill and the oven preheats.
Preheat oven to 375-degrees. Roll out bottom crust and fit into pie pan. Roll out and make lattice top on firm surface. Chill both about 15 minutes.
Once crusts are chilled, pour filling into bottom crust and dot top with 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits. Top with lattice, crimp & bake about 1 hour – longer if your cherries were partially frozen.
Once cool, you can brush the top crust with melted apricot jam and sprinkle with sugar, but I left the lily ungilded.