Saturday, December 27, 2008


Cherry Pie

The cherry season properly begins in December in New Zealand. As such, and most being red, cherries are associated with the festivities of Christmas. A Christmas gift this year, from my good friend the sassy Sauciere Queen Lily, is 2 kilograms/4 pounds of Dawson cherries, which were flown up from Cromwell (in the South Island, where cherry trees do particularly well). 2 kilograms is rather a large quantity, and given that cherries do not store well, unlike apples, one has to put them to good use almost immediately.

When presented with such a quantity, it is no wonder that people often turn their hands to making a jam; this is a practical way of handling a glut of cherries. Partial as I am to jam, I have never preserved fruit and will not do so on my own (too scared of doing a poor job and creating an environment for nasty bacteria - perhaps making jam will be my new year's resolution, given that cherries and berries are plentiful for a good while). Other than enjoying them in their natural state, I have a few ideas on what to do with them.

In keeping with the spirit of Christmas, I decided to promptly make an American cherry pie. Actually, good old-fashioned cherry pies typically use canned sour cherries, so I am deviating a little, but not so much as to do away with the original intention and purpose of the cherry pie - to use a substantial amount of them in one fell swoop and to highlight the unusual flavour of the cherry.

The typical filling for cherry pies is made with a large amount of sugar, and the pie itself is typically served à la mode, which is to say with vanilla ice cream. This is probably because sour (tart) cherries are often used and the sweetness of the sugar and ice cream temper the cherries. It seems practical to use sweet cherries in the first instance, as they are generally the most available in New Zealand, and they also require less sugar in the filling. Of course, one does not have to serve ice cream with cherry pie at all; crème fraîche would do the opposite of vanilla ice cream with a naturally sweet cherry pie, for it would act as a mildly tangy foil against the cherries. Dawson cherries can have a slight puckering effect, so I have gone completely middle of the road - a little sugar in the filling and served with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Cherry Pie

For the pie crust (a sugar crust):

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
113g/4oz unsalted butter, diced
5 tablespoons ice cold water

1) Mix flour and sugar together very well.
2) Mix butter into flour mixture with tips of your fingers until incorporated in sand-like granules.
3) Add water, one tablespoon at a time, until dough coheres. A smooth ball should result.
4) Halve the dough, wrap each half in cling-film, flatten dough out to a disc shape, then place in the refrigerator for at least 30 mintues.
5) Roll out one half of the dough on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin.
6) Place into a greased (lightly coated with butter and flour) tart shell or shallow pie dish of 22-25cm/9-10" and allow for some overhang.
7) Put in the refrigerator until you are ready to fill it.
8) When the pie is ready to be filled, roll out the other half of the dough and cut into strips, approximately 2cm/just under 1" wide. You can then use the strips to weave into a lattice or twist to cover the filling. Of course, you could just roll out the dough as normal, place over pie, then crimp the overhang and chop off the excess. If you do this, cut slits in the pie top to allow steam to escape. You can also brush with egg wash for colouring.

For the filling:

Lemon juice from 1/4 medium-sized lemon
4 cups cherries, stoned (or halved then stoned, if you do not have a cherry stoner)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornflour/cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1) Put lemon juice and cherries into a bowl. The lemon juice prevents cherries from browning.
2) Add sugar, cornflour, brandy and vanilla extract. Stir well to combine. The cornflour prevents liquid from seeping into the pastry and helpd hold the contents of the pie together when it is cooked.

To complete:

1) Pre-heat oven to 200 C /400 F. Put a lined baking sheet on the middle rack.
2) Remove pie dish/tart shell with dough in it from refrigerator and line it with pie filling, as close to one layer as possible.
3) Cover pie with preferred topping per Step 8 of Pie Crust instructions. You will see that I twisted my strips and simply lay them over the filling. I then used a rolling pin to simultaneously join the strips at the overhang and to remove the excess.
4) Place tart shell/pie dish in oven on baking sheet.
5) After 20 minutes, turn temperature down to 180 C/350 F.
6) Bake for further 40-50 minutes until pie crust is bronzed and filling is bubbling away. For good measure, loosely place foil over the pie after 30 mintues to prevent charred-like appearance.
7) Allow to cool slightly before serving.

The pie crust is perfectly crisp and not at all damp (presumably on account of the sugar). The cherries are inherently slightly tart, but cooking them releases the juices, which gently bubble and amalgamate with the brandy, making for a mouth-filling sensation. Of course, if you prefer a slightly bitter edge, use kirsch instead of brandy - of course, you do not have to use any alcohol at all. A bitter edge can also be achieved by adding ground cherry stones to the flour. The bronzed crust and sparkling pie filling are cheerful, making a gorgeous addition to any Christmas table.

Ahead for us Kiwis (and those visiting New Zealand) is the ripening of many cherry varieties that will become available until early February. My particular favourites are the pale, sweet Rainier and dark, juicy Lapins, which are within reach around my birthday.

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What would I give for a bowl of ripe, fresh cherries (that'd be a very welcome change from all those gingerbread cookies we've been eating!)
Happy Holidays, Shaun!!
Beautiful cherry pie. Happy New Year to you and your nearest and dearest Shaun.
Hey Shaun,

I hope you and Eric had a lovely holiday season. The very best to you both for 2009.

what a lovely pie! hope you had a wonderful holiday season.
Hi Shaun,
It's been a while since I dropped by. Happy New year! I hope that the start of 2009 has been terrific so far. I am still trying to catch up with my sleep and also trying to work off the festive pounds ;-)

This cherry pie looks delish. Love the pretty strips on top. Cherries are my fav stone fruits. I got my hands on a bucket of cherries, so I made cherry jam (with homemade kirsch from a German friend) last month & gave it away as Christmas presents. Pitting them by hand was not so bad, I thought it would take ages, but luckily the cherries were very ripe, so the pits slid off easily.

Good luck with the jam making this year. Maybe start with marmalade as the natural pectin makes it easier for it to set. Setting is usually the main problem people have with jam making. I don't like to add artificial pectin.

Take care, Nora
A beautifully twisted lattice, Shaun. I've not baked a cherry pie yet (lazy that I am about the stoning), but this will change with a trick I recently discovered, to push down to impale them on a star-edged pastry tip.

I couldn't possibly decide which variety of cherry I favor; sweet and tart both have sublime merits. Good thing tarts are used for pies since those inky-blood black ones are too eagerly wolfed down. : }
Pille ~ What you would give for a bowl of ripe cherries, I might give for gingerbread. I would practically always choose to smell the aromas of winter cooking and baking instead of those of summer. However, it is tough to beat stone fruit on a gorgeous, lush summer's day. Compliments of the season to you and K!

Kelly-Jane ~ This is a simple cherry pie, really, but I think it best that way so as not to lose the gorgeous flavours of cooked cherries and their juices. I was going to add a drop of bitter almond extract but forgot to do so. Other than that, I would not have considered anything else. I will get a cherry stoner, though!

Anthony ~ Darling, happy holidays to you and Andy. Want some pie?

Sara, darling ~ Thank you much. It tasted better than it looks in the photographs, but I will say that the twisted lattice makes for a nice visual effect in person. People were impressed with the appearance of the pie, though it was not techically difficult to achieve.

Nora B. ~ No worries, sweetheart! I keep meaning to stop by your place, too! I have already given up on the idea of making jam. The thought of buying jars and sterilising them prevents me from preserving fruit. I love the sound of your cherry and kirsch jam - your friends are very lucky. A great gift idea. I wish you and Q all the best for 2009.

Susan, lovie ~ The pastry tip idea is a good one, but suppose, then, the size of cherry becomes important. I think that I will get a cherry stoner, as it seems to make life easier. The only change I'd make to the pie is the addition of bitter almond extract. I suppose it seems rather silly to have a favorite type of cherry, but there is a difference in them all. I'll make the most of their short season, probably just be ingesting them in their natural state.
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