This recipe had me at first glance, which occurred on my early morning commute last Wednesday, while I sat bleary eyed in an El train’s carpeted plastic scoop seat, iPhone in hand. As is my Wednesday morning ritual (a real midweek treat, actually), I pulled up the New York Times dining section on my phone. I quickly spotted a link for Melissa Clark’s recipe for a twice-baked sour cherry pie. I opened the link, swooned over the recipe and its accompanying photo, and passed the phone across the aisle to Kevin. I took his resulting wriggling eye brows and broad grin as assent.
The pie would be ours.
If my initial interaction with the pie was new-fangled and high-tech, the experience of actually making the pie took a turn for the old-fashioned. Which is fitting, I think, because what’s more old-fashioned than homemade fruit pie? I’ve yammered on about my love of pie making in the past (ahem) and you were patient then, so I won’t put you through it again now. Instead, I’ll just note that standing at your floured kitchen counter, sleeves rolled to the elbow, apron knotted at your back and rolling pin gripped in your hands, with only a humble disk of dough and bowl of fruit sitting before you, knowing that the two will, in no time, become a glorious pie is something that is fantastically nostalgic and old-timey.
And, then there’s this: we picked the cherries ourselves. We woke up on Saturday, hopped in the car and, after fueling up with a bagel, traced the shore of Lake Michigan, first southbound out of Chicago and then curving northward up into Michigan, until we reached cherry country. We arrived at the orchard and, armed with buckets, we wandered the rows of squat tart cherry trees, eyes peeled for the glassy red orbs dotting the branches. We plucked and plucked until the buckets were full. Then, we headed to the barn near the orchard, where we stemmed and cleaned the cherries before sending them through a big, antique cherry pitter. I’d say this all qualifies as old school, no?
With a sack of pitted cherries in tow, all that stood between us and a pie was a quick stop for ice cream and a drive back to Chicago. Oh, and a lack of instant tapioca, which brings this story back to the information age. On the drive back home, I tapped a query into Google: instant tapioca replacement cherry pie. Well, whaddayaknow: another cook had the same question just last week—with regard to the very same pie—and had raised it on Chowhound, where the answer (corn starch) came back in a jiffy.
Melissa Clark / New York Times
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, more for rolling out dough
3/8 teaspoon kosher salt
15 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
1 cup sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons instant tapioca
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 pounds sour cherries (about 6 cups), rinsed and pitted
1 tablespoon kirsch or brandy
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Demerara sugar, for sprinkling
1. To make dough: in bowl of a food processor pulse together flour and salt just to combine. Add butter and pulse until chickpea-size pieces form. Add 3 to 6 tablespoons ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until mixture just comes together. Separate dough into 2 disks, one using 2/3 dough, the other using the remaining. Wrap disks in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour (and up to 3 days) before rolling out and baking.
2. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place larger dough disk on a lightly floured surface and roll into a 12-inch circle, about 3/8-inch thick. Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. Line dough with foil and weigh it down with pie weights. Bake until crust is light golden brown, about 30 minutes.
3. While pie crust is baking, prepare filling. In bowl of a food processor, combine sugar, tapioca and cinnamon (use more tapioca if you prefer a thicker, more solid filling, and less if you like a looser, juicier filling). Run the motor until tapioca is finely ground. Place cherries in a bowl and add sugar and tapioca mixture. Drizzle in kirsch or brandy and toss gently to combine.
4. When pie crust is ready, transfer it to a wire rack to cool slightly and reduce heat to 375 degrees. Remove foil and weights. Scrape cherry filling into pie crust.
5. Place smaller disk of dough on a lightly floured surface and roll it 3/8-inch thick. Use a round cookie cutter (or several round cookie cutters of different sizes) to cut out circles of dough. Arrange circles on top of cherry filling in a pattern of your choice.
6. Brush top crust with cream and sprinkle generously with Demerara sugar. Bake until crust is dark golden brown and filling begins to bubble, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Transfer pie to a wire rack to cool for at least 2 hours, allowing filling to set before serving.