Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sweet Gratitude, Sour Cherries

As I was gone on my Grand Northwestern Tour, my longsuffering roommate, Cyd, had to hold down the fort for some eight days, caring for all the creatures and keeping them and all the plants alive until my return. Also, she begrudgingly took me to the airport at 3:30 in the morning, and picked me up after a full day's work upon my return. So I figured I owed her a special thank-you gift.

We bought a couple of pints of fresh sour cherries from Trader Joe's on the way back from Maine, but since we also brought back wild blueberry pie from Maine, I didn't make a cherry pie before I left for my second of back-to-back vacations. So Cyd pitted the cherries and chucked them into the freezer until I got home. Now I have a good cherry crumb pie recipe already memorialized on this blog, but I sort of just made this one up as I went along. Naturally, Cyd said it was the best one I've ever produced, and maybe the best she's ever had. So I thought it best to try to recall what I did and preserve it in text.

One change I made was to try a different pie crust. When visiting old college chums in Boise on the first leg of my journey out west, my dear friend, Letha, made a couple of excellent quiches for brunch, and I was impressed by the homemade crusts. When I asked about them, she said it was the basic Betty Crocker recipe which had never failed her. Now I tend to favor half-and-half crusts, with butter for flavor and shortening for flakiness. The Betty recipe is strictly shortening, but as this pie has a buttery crumble topping, I think it worked very well together. I also took a note from Ruth Reichl, former editor of Gourmet, and blind-baked the crust before making the filling. To paraphrase Ms. Reichl, fresh sour cherries are too fleetingly seasonal and precious to risk dishonoring them with a soggy crust underneath!

The other thing I did was probably a mistake. The cherries were still frozen and I was impatient, so instead of just cooking the juice with thickeners and adding the cherries right before filling and baking the pie, I thought I'd try cooking everything together. Well, as you may guess, the fresh cherries not only thawed, but quickly cooked down to mush. So I ended up adding a (drained) jar of Morellos from Trader Joe's so that the pie would have whole fruit in it. (If you don't have a TJ's near you, use a can or two of Oregon brand pie cherries.) Actually, having the two types of cherries may have added an extra layer of flavor, so maybe it was a tasty mistake!

The best thing about this pie was the crumbly topping. I consulted a few different recipes online, then made my own way with it. It threatens to be overly-sweet by itself, but when paired with the sourness of the pie cherries, it's just perfect. And the texture is along the lines of ground-up shortbread cookies. Yummy!

Sour Cherry Pie with Almond Crumble Topping

Pie crust was that Betty Crocker classic made by hand with a pastry blender:

1 cup all-purpose flour (I used half white whole wheat)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon cold vegetable shortening
2 to 3 tablespoons cold water (start with one tablespoon, then add a bit at a time until it just holds together)

Chill the dough for 45 minutes, then roll out and fit into a pie pan. Blind bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, then uncovered for maybe another 10 minutes at 350 until a pale golden color and baked through.

Cherry Filling:

2 pints fresh sour cherries, pitted (and maybe another can or two/one jar of drained pie cherries)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons corn starch
2 tablespoons butter

Cook everything above until thickened. (Or better yet, cook everything BUT the cherries along with about a cup of juice, then add the drained cherries after the filling is thick.) Then add:

one jar of Trader Joe's Morello cherries, drained
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Pour into the blind-baked pie shell.

Almond Topping, mixed by hand with a pastry blender (crushing up the almonds as you go):

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sliced, toasted almonds
6 tablespoons softened butter
pinch of cinnamon

Pile the crumbly topping evenly on top of the pie. Cover the edge with a pie shield or tin foil and bake about 40 minutes at 350 until the filling is bubbling up and the topping is GB&D. Let cool for at least two hours before cutting and serving.

2 comments: said...

Great !!! I will ask my wife to try this dish in this weekend !

peter kenneth said...

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