Can she bake a cherry pie?

  • A bowl of cherries. STAFF PHOTO/JOAN LIVINGSTON

  • Freshly baked cherry pie resting on a wooden trivet. Note the filling’s juice. STAFF PHOTO/JOAN LIVINGSTON

Staff Writer
Published: 7/20/2021 2:07:27 PM

Yes I can, and I only do it once a year because of the work involved when using fresh cherries. But even putting that much effort into a dessert doesn’t guarantee success as I found out recently.

I had planned to bake a cherry pie for a family gathering this past holiday. This dessert is what I would call a labor of love because each cherry must be pitted.

My task became easier several years ago when I bought a cherry pitter, a metal tool that works like a paper puncher. Before that I used a paring knife — yes that’s nuts, but true.

Still, when you want enough cherries to fill a 9-inch pie pan, it’s a messy chore even with a pitting tool. A colleague asked why I didn’t use canned cherries and frankly, I never thought of it. Cherries are in season, so why not?

That tedious chore done, I made the crust, using my Kitchen Aid mixer to evenly distribute two sticks of butter in flour.

I will digress with a story here. I had coveted a Kitchen Aid stand mixer for years but could not bring myself to buy one given the cost. But our daughter’s neighbor who was selling his home asked if I wanted his extra one. The mixer is nearly 40 years old and fulfills this cook’s dreams.

But back to the pie, once the butter and flour were combined, I removed the bowl and used a fork to mix in the right amount of ice water. I rolled the dough — a circle for the pan and a rectangle because I wanted to make the top a lattice as requested by a son.

I mixed the cherries with the amount of sugar and cornstarch called for in the recipe before the mixture was poured into the crust. Another digression: I don’t usually follow recipes and instead go by my culinary instincts. That might have been my undoing.

I fixed the lattice top and crimped the edges. Satisfied that this was a pretty pie, I slid the pan into the oven.

When the oven’s timer went off, I checked the pie. The crust looked fine but the filling at the center seemed a bit too juicy. Oh no. So I put the pie back in for another five minutes or so. The pie filling was still too liquidy, but my hope was that when it cooled, it would thicken. Did that happen? Nope.

But I served it to our family anyway.

When I cut the pie, each person got a lot of sweetened juice on their plate. The piece didn’t hold its shape although the crust was nicely crisp. Everybody got a gob of ice cream — dairy or vegan — plus my apologies.

No need. They loved the pie anyway.

It came down to the taste and not the texture. I should be happy with that, but I want a better outcome the next time. So, I did a bit of research after Googling something like “why was my cherry pie runny?”

This is what I found. There were opinions on what is the best thickener — quick-cooking tapioca (which I have never used), cornstarch and flour. I don’t believe that was the problem although perhaps I should have used more. Flour is actually my go-to thickener.

One source posted to give the pie a 10-minute dose of heat at 400 degrees before lowering to 350 if using cornstarch, which I did.

Second piece of advice: pay attention to bake times. The claim is that the cook will see the crust turning a light brown and think the pie is done when it isn’t. I’m not sure about that one. Was I in too much of a hurry to take out the pie?

Third point: let the cherries sit in sugar for a half hour and drain the natural juices that will gather before pouring it into the crust. This last piece of advice makes the most sense to me. And next summer when I’m planning to bake my annual cherry pie, I will keep it in mind.

I will spare you the recipe I used and give you the one for the crust that I adapted from King Arthur Baking.

All-Butter Pie Crust

2½ cups unbleached flour

16 tablespoons salted butter

¼ to ½ cup ice water

Pour the flour into a large bowl. Dice the butter into small cubes. Work it into the flour until it’s well distributed. You can use a hand pastry cutter or as I did, a mixer.

Using a fork, add enough ice water slowly so the dough starts to come together. Grab the dough with your hands. If it holds together nicely without crumbling, it’s done. If not, add a bit more water but be careful.

Gather the dough into a bowl and divide it in half. Pat gently into two rough disks — one for the top and bottom. You have the option to chill the dough for 30 minutes or roll it out right away. My preference is to roll the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap with a slight dusting of flour. If you are planning to make a lattice top, roll one half of the dough into a rectangle, using a sharp knife to cut the strips.


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