I realize we should be talking about apple pie, and getting ready for pumpkin and pecan (neither of which I am particularly fond of). But bear with me. It is so hot in Southern California at the moment that it feels as if Summer never left.
Even in this all year around produce blessed corner of the world, cherries have a very short season that goes from May to the end of June, so, for seasonally obsessed California a cherry pie in October is decidedly a big no no. But screw that.
At the height of cherry season I eat as many as my stomach can take. I make a wish as I spit out the first stone of the first cherry I taste, as I did as a kid, although I don’t drape twin cherries around my ears anymore, something that used to delight me to no end: my mother had a strict veto on ear piercings on little girls. Also down memory lanes are the epic climbs up cherry trees during the Summer, trying to catch some bounty before the harvest. So, you see, I am a bit of a cherry devotee.
And I love pies. Most cherry pies, though, are way too sweet for my palate. They end up being a cloying mess of red, too much sugar and sticky starch and always leave me unsatisfied. While I might buy cherries and irritably pit them all, one by one, cursing the mess, even in Summer I often use frozen cherries – there are really good varieties to be found and they work great in pies.
My only two secrets when it comes to pies are to keep the crust fairly thick and sturdy (thin crusts get soggy and are a waste of good, flaky dough) and to add booze, which cuts through the sweetness and lends a welcome depth to what are often single notes. Trust me on this one.
And if you happen to watch the new Twin Peaks and your mouth waters every time the cherry pie appears, this is for you.
1/2 C milk, cold (120 ml)
1 T apple cider vinegar
2 2/3 C AP flour (340 g)
2 T sugar
8 oz butter (227 g), very cold and cut into small cubes
1 egg + some milk for brushing
1 pound or more frozen cherries (about 500 g)
3/4 C sugar (170 g)
5 T cornstarch (36 g)
a pinch of salt
3 T cherry brandy (or plain brandy and even rum in a pinch, although I would use less)
- Combine milk and vinegar in a cup. In the mixing bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and mix, on medium, until the butter is the size of small peas. With the mixer running on low, add the milk/vinegar in a steady stream and mix until the dough just comes together. If it seems too dry add some more cold milk. The dough can also be made in a regular mixer or by hand, using a pastry cutter.
- Divide the dough and flatten it into two disks. Wrap and refrigerate for an hour (and up to a week).
- To make the filling, combine the cherries, sugar, salt and cornstarch in a saucepan and cook on medium heat until the cherries are completely defrosted and the sugar dissolves. Lower the heat and cook for about 20 minutes, until the mixture thickens but the cherries still retain their shape. Stir in the cherry brandy. Remove from heat and let cool.
- Heat the oven to 425F/220C. On a lightly floured surface roll out the first disk of dough into a 1/4 inch thick circle to fit a 9 inch pie dish. Refrigerate while you roll out the second disk: cut it into large strips.
- Pour the filling into the pie and arrange the strips on top, sealing them tight at the edges. Crimp the entire edge of the pie and brush the top with one egg mixed with a little bit of milk. You will have a bit of dough left over.
- Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Then lower the heat to 350F/175C and bake for an additional 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the filling bubbles over.
- This pie can be stored in the fridge up to 5 days – if you can make it stretch that long…