I have been baking with my mother from the time I could walk, and some of our very favorite things to make, to this day, are pies. Although I would be the first to say that all desserts induce happiness, I think that pie is one dessert that defines comfort all by itself, nourishing the palate, and nurturing the soul. In our house, we abide by the saying: Pie fixes everything. Pies are a frequent conclusion to dinners in our household, having their place and time for every occasion.
Pie should have an elegant side, allowing itself to be transformed into crostatas or individual tartlets—perhaps with a hat of ice cream or a coiffure of billowy whipped cream (Marie Antoinette would approve)—and presented on your favorite plates. However, pie should also have a strictly casual demeanor; it should be able to be eaten away from the kitchen table, and be enjoyed instead in the sanctity of your favorite armchair or atop your picnic blanket (both without the constraint of forks and dishes).
Either way, it’s homey.
We recently bought a “toaster pastry” cutter that makes adorable rectangular scallop-edged pies, perfect for eating out of hand, no matter where you are. Pie is now “picnic perfect.”
Cherry pie remains one of my most favorite treats, and there is no better time to make it than when the heat of high summer turns the sour cherries as red as Dorothy’s slippers. But there are two problems. Number one, I cannot wait that long. And number two, unless you are fortunate enough to live near a sour cherry tree, fresh sour cherries are quite difficult to find. But no tears!
We make these pies with a blend of dried sour cherries (we order ours from Sahadi market in Brooklyn, NY), sour cherry juice (from the organic grocer), and a jar of sour cherries (not pie filling) from the grocery store. The amalgam bubbles away on the stove until it’s reduced into a extravagantly thick, dark, molten ruby jam, whose sinful tanginess makes you regret the fact that you didn’t make a double batch to have on your toast the next morning. Sandwiched between blankets of thin pastry crust, whose tender, golden crispness disperses into flurry of buttery flakes when you take a bite, then drizzled with a squiggle of lightly-sweetened cream cheese glaze, these little pies can make any day just that much better.
P.S: Our pastry dough comes from Julia Child, who holds canonized status in our home. I have yet to come across a better crust.
- Makes about 6 pies
- Pastry Dough
all purpose flour
unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
chilled lard (We prefer lard to hydrogenated shortenings, but shortening will work fine)
1/2 - 3/4 cups
ice water (all depending)
- Luscious Cherry Filling
about 1/2 cups
dried sour cherries
about 3 cups
sour cherry juice
jar of pitted sour cherries, drained (about 16 oz.)
about 1/4 cups
sugar (We like our pies with a nice tang, especially because of the glaze. If your teeth are sweeter, add as much sugar as you see fit.)
gratings of fresh lemon zest
cream cheese (Neufchâtel is great too!)
1- 1 1/2 tablespoons
confectioner's sugar (more as you wish)
spot of pure vanilla
cream (more if necessary)
- Make the pastry dough: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the dry ingredients together, then add the cold butter and lard. Give 7-9 quick pulses, or until the fats are just bigger than peas. Turn on the processor and add the water in a stream down the feed tube while the machine runs, just until the dough has started to collect together in a mass around the blade. Turn the dough out onto your work surface, and use the heels of your hand to smear the dough out all over (about five or six strokes are perfect); the goal is to create flaky little layers of butter in the dough, while keeping it as cold as possible- this is called a fraisage. Gather the dough and form into a disk. Chill for at least one hour. (This can also be done by hand, rustic style: cutting the fats into the dry ingredients with your fingers or a pastry blender, then adding the ice water and proceeding as usual).
- Make the filling: Mix the dried cherries with the juice, zest, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium/ medium-low, and continue to simmer until the cherries have plumped beautifully, and the mixture is reduced by about half. Add the drained cherries. Using an immersion blender, or taking about 1/3 of the mixture out and putting in the food processor, lightly puree some of the cherry mixture. The idea is to get some of the cherries broken down to thicken and hold the filling together, while leaving a nice textural element to the filling. Just eye it and call it a day. Continue to cook the filling until it has reduced down to a lovely thick jammy compote. Cool the mixture completely (if it is only very slightly warm, you can get away with it, but you just don't want to melt the crust).
- Assemble the pies! Divide the chilled dough in two, and roll out each half. This is a matter of preference, we like a thinner crust, about 1/8" thick. Cut out rectangles (or other simple shapes) by hand, or with a toaster pastry stamper (ours measures approximately 3 1/2" x 4 1/2". Be sure to cut out an even number of shapes, so they can be paired together. If you have leftover dough scraps, you can cut out little shapes (stars, hearts etc.) to decorate the pies with, or to brush with melted butter or an egg wash, and then sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar and nibble on with a cup of tea. Lay the pastry shapes onto parchment lined baking sheets. Brush the edges of the rectangles with an egg wash (whisk an egg with a spot of cream or milk) and spoon on the filling; keep the filling within the border of the egg wash (about 1/2'' from the sides), mounding it some in the center. Lay a pastry piece atop a piece with filling, pressing lightly around the edges to seal. Use a table fork to gently tamp down the edges all around the pastries. This will help seal them, and also leave cute crimp marks. Brush the sealed pastries with egg wash. Decorate with dough shapes if you're feeling artsy. *Note, if you are skipping the cream cheese glaze, I would give the pies a nice sparkly sprinkle of sugar (turbinado or regular).
- Refrigerate the pies for about 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Bake the pies for five minutes. Then turn down the oven to 375 degrees and continue baking for about another 20 minutes, or until the pies are golden brown all over. Some cherry filling may have seeped out in a couple of places, which should luxuriously bubble about around the edges and contribute beautifully to the appeal.
- Cool the pies some before adding the glaze. They are sublime warm with the glaze, which will start to melt into a translucent creaminess (if you were- or still are- a Toaster Strudel lover, you will be in dreamland). They are also fabulous served tepid (picnic style!!!) with the glaze. The decision is yours, though you'll probably want to sample one in each way just to make sure. . .
- Make the cream cheese glaze: Stir together the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and cream until well incorporated. The mixture should have the texture of a soft icing. Adorn the pastries with the glaze at your pleasure: you may wish to spread it all over, drizzle it with the tines of a fork, or use a pastry bag (or a plastic bag with the corner snipped), and go for it. The glaze will set up, which allows for perfect packing into picnic baskets or lunch boxes. I have found that the glaze holds fine at room temperature. The pies, glazed or not, will keep for 2-4 days well-wrapped at room temperature, but they freeze beautifully. Just wrap the pies, put them in a sealed plastic bag before setting them in the freezer. Bring them back to life in a 375 degree oven until warm and crisp again.