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Recipes and Stories

30 July 2013: A Bowlful of Cherries and Cherry Pie

Bourbon Cherry Pie, from Essentials of Southern Cooking (fall 2013)

Cherries have been at their peak over the last couple of weeks and, this year, have been unusually sweet and juicy. Luckily, when they’re seasonal and at their best, their cost per pound is correspondingly at its lowest. And since they’re a favorite summer fruit in our house, there has almost always been a bowl of them on our kitchen table, ready for grabbing by the handful.

As delicious as they are, however, there’s only so many one can eat out of hand, and flaming cherries jubilee is spectacular but far to rich to have more than a couple of times during the season. Of course, I could put them up, if I had the time or space for storing preserves, but I don’t. So: I’ve been content to nestle them in buttery pastry. Come to think of it, there’s probably no better way to enjoy them.

Basic Pastry for Pies and Tarts

As long as you use good ingredients and don’t overwork the dough, pastry is not at all difficult to make, and it makes all the difference in the world between a good pie and a great one. As Southern food maven Nathalie Dupree always tells her students, the ingredients here are not expensive, so if your first try is not perfect, who cares? Just practice until you get it right.

Makes 1 9-inch double crusted pie or 2 open-faced 9-inch pie shells

10 ounces (about 2 cups) Southern soft-wheat flour or soft wheat pastry flour
½ teaspoon salt
4 ounces (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) chilled unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) chilled lard cut into small pieces
½ cup ice water

1. Sift or whisk together the flour and salt in a large work bowl. Add the butter and lard, handling them as little as possible. Work them into the flour with a pastry blender or 2 knives, until it’s the texture of raw grits or polenta.

2. Add 1/3 cup ice water and lightly stir it into the flour. Add more water by tablespoonfuls until the dough gathers into a clump, but is still loose and not sticky. Lightly dust the dough and your hands with flour and gather it into a ball. Wrap it with plastic wrap and refrigerate half an hour.

3. Lightly flour a cool, smooth work surface (marble, wood or plastic laminate) and roll out the pastry for use as directed in the individual recipe.

Food Processor Pie Dough: Once you make pastry in a food processor, you’ll never do it any other way. The only tricky part is to keep from overheating the fat. To help prevent this, chill the steel blade in the freezer for 5 minutes before using it. Fit the chilled blade into the processor and put in the flour and salt. Pulse a few times to sift, then add the butter and lard. Pulse until the flour reaches the coarse polenta stage. Add 1/3 cup of ice water and pulse again until it is mixed. Then add water in tablespoonfuls, pulsing to mix each addition in, until the dough just gathers into a rough ball.

Now, about the pie: Bourbon is a natural paring for cherries, far superior to brandy or cognac in Cherries Jubilee. In a pie, it mellows out tart sour cherries and gives kick to delicately sweet ones. Of course, cherries are the main event here, and bourbon cannot completely cover the taste of indifferent fruit, so use only the ripest and best that you can get. If they are very sweet and completely lacking tartness, the bourbon may need the help of a squeeze of lemon juice to give the pie the right balance. Here's my recipe, from my next book, Essentials of Southern Cooking, due out in the fall of 2013.

Bourbon Cherry Pie
Makes 1 9-inch pie, serving 6

1 recipe Basic Pastry (above)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups pitted and halved dark cherries (about 2 pounds whole cherries)
2 tablespoons bourbon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450° F. Divide the pastry in half and roll out 1 half 1/8-inch thick. Line a 9-inch pie plate with it and prick the bottom well with a fork, but don’t trim off the excess dough. Sprinkle the bottom with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Roll out the remaining pastry and cut it with a knife or fluted pastry wheel into ½-inch wide strips.

2. Toss together the cherries, remaining sugar, a tiny pinch of salt, bourbon, and butter in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle in the flour and toss to mix. Pour the fruit into the prepared pastry and level it with a spatula.

3. Weave the lattice top as follows: lay strips of pastry ½ inch apart on top of the pie. Fold back every other strip and lay a strip crosswise along one edge over the strips that remain. Unfold the folded strips and fold back the ones that had not been folded before to the point where the crosswise strip covers them. Lay another strip of pastry ½ inch from the other, unfold the folded strips, and repeat until the surface is covered. Trim off the excess at the edges of strips, brush their undersides with water and lightly press them into the bottom pastry to make them stick. Brush the edges of the pastry with a little water and fold the excess bottom pastry over the edges of the lattice. Press into place and flute the edges with your fingers.

4. Put the pie in a large, rimmed cookie sheet and bake in the center of the oven 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350° F. and bake until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbly to the center and thickened, about 30 minutes more.

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