The best way to eat cherries? Fresh, straight out of the greengrocer’s brown bag. Preferably while sitting on a park bench, people watching. Wet wipes would be handy, but the stains are a small price to pay for such a delectable, short lived summer treat. For years, I argued with some, err, liveliness on the sin that was a cooked cherry. Why would you do that? It only gets gooey, losing that taut texture to it’s tight, glossy skin; it just about manages to contain the burst of juiciness under it. Also, crucially, a lot of my experience of cooked cherries were those horrid, vile, slimy, sugar coated glace cherries. I apologise if this was, or is, a passionately loved treat. I was that weird kid, sitting in a corner, plucking out the chemical tasting candy peels and the glace cherries and to be perfectly honest, that hasn’t changed. Another sample was canned cherry pie filling. I had it once at an acquaintance’s house, where it lay slumped, thickly, over a no-bake cheesecake. Good manners dictated I eat and pretend to enjoy it in her house. Nature demanded I vent my disgust in my own home!
I’ve grown up in some ways and long held stances weaken. I have come to understand, that what I inherently disliked about cooked cherries, was that almond extract back note that seemed to emerge when subjected to heat. Same reason for not being a shop bought marzipan lover. I adore almonds, love ‘em, but am not fond of the soapy-metallic note of the extract. Bitter almonds and apricot kernels share the same flavour notes as the seeds of cherries and I think, chemicals too. I would imagine heat draws out the oils in cherries that are similar to the ones in bitter almonds. That’s why cherries pair so well with almonds and explains why I don’t like them cooked.
So why make a cherry pie? Well, because I know when someone else I know, knows better, you know? My Scottish pal and editor-in-chief Mhairi and I got to talking recipes and she gave me her cherry pie recipe. I trust this woman’s palate (and more besides) implicitly. If she says it’s good, that’s because it is. I made it. I photographed it all. I kept thinking that this mammoth effort was all for naught. This pie wasn’t going to change nature. It did. Spectacularly so.
Mhairi’s original calls for lemon zest and juice. I used orange instead. The cherries I had were sweet but tart enough, so using sweeter orange as a flavour partner was perfect. If your punnet of cherries are quite sweet, then I would go with the lemon for some lip smacking contrast. She recommended a high fat ratio shortcrust and that gave the flakiest, butteriest pastry base. The cherries had softened, releasing their glorious dark purple-maroon juices but still retaining a hint of bite and texture. The almond note was there, coming in softly a second after the fruity flavour, but with the citrus camaraderie, they gelled together, instead of jarring, in the way that an almond-orange cake would. I imagine that lemon would work in the exact same way. The end result was that I couldn’t stop eating it. Two fat slices later, I came up for breath, with a stained white shirt!
The Scotsman got a generous slice with vanilla ice cream after dinner. I asked him as he was devouring the third huge forkful, ” Anything to add?”. He brought the plate to his eye level, peered into the purple coloured heart of the pie slice, finished his mouthful and said, ” No, it’s really good just as it is.” Man speak translated to – It’s Bloomin Marvelous!
I am pleased to be proven wrong. Cherry Pie, with all it’s homely American connotations, has finally reached my home, albeit through a Glasgow route. Wherever it entered from, it’s not leaving.
Mhairi’s Cherry Pie
For the pastry
200 gm all purpose, plain flour
140 gm very cold butter, cubed
1-1/2 tbsp of ice cold freshly squeezed orange juice or the same of ice cold water*
Pinch of salt
*If using lemon instead of orange, add the zest of one lemon and use ice cold water.
For the filling
1 kg of stoned, fresh cherries
70 gm caster sugar
30 gm of plain flour
2 tablespoons orange/lemon juice
Zest of half an orange or one whole lemon (optional, I added orange zest to mine)
25 gm butter
First, start with the pastry. In a roomy bowl, add sifted flour and cubed butter. Freeze for 15 minutes. Take out of the freezer and rub the butter cubes and flour gently between your fingertips. Continue until there are no large chunks of butter and the mix looks like large breadcrumbs. Add the salt. Add the liquid (either juice or water) a little at a time, just enough to bring the pastry together. I do this by holding my fingers in a stiff, claw like position, and moving my arm firmly around the bowl, bring in the flour and liquid to form a rough dough. Start with just under a tablespoon, adding more only if required. Tip the mix out of the bowl, knead swiftly and gently to bring it together to form a dough, wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for at least one hour. As it’s a high butter ratio pastry, it will soften quickly when you work with it, so it needs to have a decent chill before you begin. If you see flecks of butter in the dough, that’s perfect as this is what gives pastry flakey layers.
You can also make pastry in the food processor. Pulse the butter and the flour together, until they resemble breadcrumbs. Still pulsing, add the liquid, and pulse, till it looks like it’s just about to start clumping into balls. If you pinch some of the crumbly dough and it holds together, it’s ready. If the dough doesn’t hold together, add a little more water and pulse again. Don’t add too much water as that will make the dough tough. Tip it onto a clean worksurface. Knead gently and swiftly, until it comes together as a dough, wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for an hour.
After an hour, take your dough out of the fridge. If it’s quite hard, leave it for 10 minutes to soften a little so as to roll out easier. I prefer rolling my dough between sheets of clingfilm or wax paper as it doesn’t require extra flouring and reduces the mess. If you do it this way, remember to remove the paper/film on the pastry from time to time, so that it can roll out properly. Roll your dough to about 4mm thickness and line a 20-21 cm, lightly buttered pie dish, using the baking paper or clingfilm to help lift and place the pastry into place. Trim the edges and place the pie dish back in the fridge while you weave a latticed pastry topping with the remaining pastry. Preheat the oven to 180-200 deg C.
For the lattice, weaved pastry top – This picture tutorial explains how to do it. I did mine on wax sheets, which I then placed on a baking sheet and left in the fridge to rest. I then turned the wax paper over the filled pie and cut the excess as needed.
For the filling – Mix all the filling ingredients together, except the butter.
Take the lined pie dish out of the fridge and fill with the cherry mix, dot with blobs of the butter, levelling the filling as best you can. Take the lattice pie topping and place onto your filled pie dish. Trim off the edges, and fold the base pie pastry edge, over the trimmed edge of the latticed pastry to give a neat finish. Brush the pastry with a beaten egg.
Put the pie into the oven and place another sheet under the pie in case any of the juices spill over. Bake until the pie is a beautifully golden colour, the juices are bubbling and the cherries have softened, about 30-40 minutes. Start checking at 25 minutes. Leave to cool though this pie is best eaten with some warmth still hugging it. It does reheat perfectly too. Dust with icing sugar before serving with ice cream (chocolate ice cream could work here, if you are a Black Forest Gateau lover), or cold, cold cream.
Final touches : An update
In post consultation with Mhairi, she casually mentioned two optional extras. I could kick myself for not thinking of it, though it’s perhaps more suited to autumnal tastes.
When you’ve done the lattice work, brush the pastry lightly with some egg wash and sprinkle over some demerera sugar, mixed with cinnamon over the lattice before you place it on the pie. This will give a fabulous crunchy texture to the pie.
Alternatively, dust the cooled, baked pie with a mix of icing (confectioner’s/powdered) sugar and cinnamon.
Either way, will be heavenly!