Friday, July 2, 2010
Cherries are now in such great abundance it’s fairly difficult to escape the desire to make that all-American classic, Cherry Pie. Who can possibly resist pie? It's the very next best thing to simply eating fresh cherries right out of the bag. I remember being with friends on our way up the coast in Northern California at this time of year to have a picnic. We stopped at a roadside stand when we scouted a hand-painted sign and saw beautiful big baskets of fresh cherries for sale. We bought a big bag and they were so incredibly good, they were gone before we arrived at our destination. All we had left was a bag of cherry pits and red-stained fingers. But if you purchase some beautiful fresh red cherries soon and you happen to have any left, consider making some delicious pie.
Fresh cherries juice nicely in the baking process, bubbling up just enough to steal your attention. These are individual pies so that pie crust lovers can have more than their fair share of flaky buttery morsels on their plate. You can share your pie if you’re feeling modest, but who knows when the next chance to enjoy fresh homemade cherry pie will come around once again?
- The pastry dough is handled very little in order to avoid activating the gluten in the flour, which will toughen the pastry.
- To finish mixing the dough, the method used is called fraisage, which is simply pressing the heel of your hand into the barely mixed dough and pushing it against the work surface to smear it. Use a bench scraper or metal spatula to scrape up the smeared dough and fold it back on itself. This is a great technique that essentially creates sheets of butter coated in flour, producing flaky layers of buttery dough. As with all pastry doughs, handle gently and be careful not to overmix.
- I used tartlet pans with removable bottoms that measure 3 3/4” in diameter and are 1 1/4” deep. Use whatever you have that will hold the contents with a good proportion of fruit.
- I added an optional Almond Crumble to the mix for flavor and texture. If you decide not to use it, you may want to add an extra couple of tablespoons of sugar to the cherry filling and increase the cornstarch to 2 tablespoons.
- When you're baking fruit pies be sure the fruit is bubbling vigorously to cook out the cornstarch or flour thickeners.
Makes 6 individual pies
2 C flour
1 T sugar
1/4 t salt
6 oz cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 C cold water
Almond Crumble (optional)
1/4 C flour
1 1/2 T sugar
pinch of salt
pinch of cinnamon
zest of 1/2 orange
1/4 C sliced almonds, chopped
1 oz (2 T) cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 lbs fresh Bing cherries, pitted
1 T cornstarch
1/3 C sugar
1/2 t vanilla
1/4 t almond extract
1 1/2 t lemon juice
milk for brushing on the crust
To prepare the pastry dough, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Add the butter pieces and use your hands to toss together. You want to coat each piece of butter thoroughly with flour as well as your hands. Pinch each piece of butter flat between your fingers, working quickly so as not to warm the butter. Keep tossing the mixture to be sure each piece of butter is coated well with flour. Add the cold water and mix gently with a fork or your fingers until the dough just starts to come together, tossing it lightly until it just starts to loosely cohere.
Gather the dough pieces on a clean work surface. Finish the dough by smearing parts of the dough across the work surface with the heel of your hand. Use a bench scraper or metal spatula to get under the smeared dough and gather and fold it back onto itself after each motion. Repeat this process again just a few times until the dough looks like it’s coming together and it feels soft, supple and not sticky. There should be small pieces of butter visible in the dough. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, one with a bit more than the other. The larger piece of dough will be used to line the tartlet pans, the other piece will be used to top the pies. Gently pat each piece into a disc and wrap tightly in plastic. Chill the dough at least 30 minutes.
Prepare the Almond Crumble by mixing the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange zest and almonds together. Cut the butter into these ingredients using your fingers or a pastry blender until the mixture looks like a streusel. Set aside.
When you are ready to roll out the dough, remove the larger packet from the refrigerator and rest on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper for a few minutes so it can soften just a bit to prevent cracking. Then roll the dough out to about 1/8” thickness, gently lifting and moving the dough after each roll and keeping the parchment lightly floured as needed. Brush off any excess flour. If the dough feels too soft, lift the parchment onto a flat pizza pan or baking sheet and chill again for about 30 minutes. Repeat with the second packet of dough.
Take the larger piece of rolled out dough and cut out 6 circles to fit the bottom of your tartlet pans. Line each pan with the dough and trim the edges. Chill while you cut out the tops.
Take the second packet of rolled out dough and cut out 6 circles to cover the top of each individual pie. Chill until ready to use.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Toss the pitted cherries with the cornstarch, sugar, vanilla and almond extracts and lemon juice. Add the Almond Crumble and toss until everything is evenly distributed.
Fill each pastry-lined tart shell with the cherry mixture. Remove the top circles of pastry dough and cut out steam vents on each one. Place one on top of each tartlet, pressing down tightly to seal the edges. Brush the tops of each pie with milk and dust lightly with sugar.
Place the tartlet pans on a baking sheet lined with parchment to catch any juices that might leak. Bake for about 25 – 30 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the juices are bubbling. Cool and remove from pans.