Sunday, August 9, 2009

Life's a Bowl of Fresh Sour Cherries

It's ironic that summer is the time to make fresh fruit pies. The fruit is in season and at its peak, but the idea of turning the oven on in August can be off-putting. Other than borrowing a neighbor's oven, there's not much you can do about this. I suggest you crank up the a.c. (my not-so-green solution), bite the bullet, and start baking. A little perspiration never killed anyone (o.k., maybe one or two, but that's not so bad, all things considered). Here's a recipe for a classic cherry pie, with a fat-laden flaky crust, just like Mom used to make (someone's Mom, anyhow). I suggest you have a cherry-pitter on hand before making this pie. I misplaced mine (it's somewhere, but I'll be damned if I could find it), and was forced to pit the cherries using a paring knife. My hands should be stain-free sometime in December, I predict.

Lattice-Topped Classic Cherry Pie

Flaky pie crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch chunks and frozen
3/4 cup solid vegetable shortening, frozen
6 to 8 tablespoons ice water

Cherry filling:
5 cups (about 1 1/2 lbs) fresh sour cherries, pitted
1 cup demerara or organic cane sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Sugar for sprinkling on top

Make the pie dough:
1. Place the flour and salt in a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade and pulse on and off until combined. Scatter the butter pieces and the shortening, in large chunks, over the flour mixture. Pulse the machine on and off until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 6 tablespoons of the ice water and process until the mixture just starts to come together. (If the dough seems dry, add the remaining 2 tablespoons water as necessary. Do not allow the dough to form a ball on the blade, or the resulting crust will be tough.)
2. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, divide it in half, and shape each half into a thick disk. Wrap the disks separately in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours.

Roll out the bottom crust:
3. Lightly flour a large work surface. Allow the dough to soften at room temperature just until it is pliable (about 20 minutes). Place 1 disks on the floured surface and sprinkle some flour over it. Roll the dough from the center out in every direction, flouring the work surface as necessary to prevent sticking. You want a round about 1/8 inch or slightly less thick and about 3 inches greater in diameter than the pie pan you are using.
4. Transfer the crust to the pie pan by rolling it loosely around the rolling pin and unrolling it carefully over the pan. Press the dough first into the bottom of the pan and then against the sides. Patch any holes or cracks with dough scraps. Trim the edges of the dough with scissors, leaving a slight overhang. Pinch the edges of the dough to create a slighty thicker border. Refrigerate the crust while you make the filling.

Make the cherry filling:
5. In a large bowl, combine all the filling ingredients, stirring them well. Set aside.

Roll out the lattice top:
6. Invert a jelly-roll pan on a work surface. Cut a sheet of parchment paper to fit the pan bottom precisely and place it on the pan. Roll the remaining dough disk into a 12-inch square. Using a fluted pastry cutter or a knife, cut the dough into twenty-four 1/2-inch wide strips. Place 12 of the strips, 1/4 inch apart on the parchment-lined pan. Turn the pastry strips so they are positioned vertically to you. Fold every other strip of dough in half, toward you. Place one of the reserved strips of dough horizontally across the unfolded strips. Now unfold the strips back to their original position and fold back the alternating strips. Place another strip of dough across and continue this process until you have place 6 horizontal strips. Turn the pan 180 degrees and repeat the process. Refrigerate the lattice top for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
7. Pile the cherry mixture into the pie crust. Dot the filling with the butter. Moisten the rim of the bottom crust with water. Gently force the chilled lattice top onto the pie, pulling the parchment paper and pan toward you while pushing the lattice top onto the pie with your other hand. Crimp the edges and brush the edges and lattice with eggwash, if you want. Sprinkle the top of the pie with 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake for 45-50 minutes; you may need to cover the edges of the crust with foil to prevent overbrowning. The pie is done when the filling is bubbling and looks thick (not like juice). Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve slightly warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for the best flavor.