Cherry Pie: Part 1

imageI made a cherry pie a few weeks ago, with cherries I picked with my bare hands. Hands that would soon be stained red with the blood of a thousand cherries!  Making the pie was quite a process, so I’m splitting this entry into two parts: Crust & Cherry Pie.

I was introduced to cherry picking in June by my friend Hannah, who every season drives an hour north to visit a favorite cherry farm in Antioch, CA where you can pick and pay by the pound. It was so much fun!  Hannah, another friend Jessica, and I all spent a few hours moving from tree to tree, filling our buckets, sampling the cherries warmed by the afternoon sun as we went along. Before I knew it, I had 15 pounds of cherries in my bucket. The next step was to find something to do with them.

I found a recipe for Lattice-Top Cherry Pie in a beat up old cookbook I rescued from a roommate’s donate pile about 5 years ago.  It’s called The Complete Book of Pastry, Sweet & Savory by Bernard Clayton, Jr.  I should confess to you right now that as someone who does not own a Kitchenaid mixer, pastries have always intimidated me.  I’ve made a few pies before but always with trepidation, it takes so much time and patience and it’s so hard to get the crust right.  You know what?  That’s dumb.  Crusts literally take 3 ingredients and people have been making them for centuries before Kitchenaid Mixers came along.  So why should I be afraid?  I shouldn’t.

This cookbook is delightful.  For one, Bernard Clayton provides charming personal anecdotes with his recipes, many of which involve Midwestern farm women with names like Arnola Beck and Auntie Skoog.  Another cool thing about this cookbook that I should mention: the author provides three separate methods of pastry crust preparation – by hand, by electric mixer, by food processor.  Now, mixer-deprived people like me need not be intimidated when they look at a recipe and no alternative to using a fancy machine is given.   I’m not afraid anymore!

The cookbook also contains helpful drawings like these. (Page 67)

What didn’t work for me with this cookbook, and what I find frustrating with a lot of cookbooks, is that the cooking instructions are presented in paragraph form, instead of a clearly numbered, step-by-step method.  While being informative, the paragraphs require careful reading (ugh, reading?!) and it’s easy to lose your place.  There is a lot going on when you’re making pastries though, so I can see why the paragraphs are necessary.  So better strap on your reading glasses, grandmas…. this is a doozie of a recipe.

Basic Pie Crust

[For one two-crust 8- or 9-inch pie]

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup (6 oz) lard or vegetable shortening, chilled (or 1/2 cup (4 oz) lard or vegetable shortening and 4 tbs butter, chilled)
  • 1/2 ice water, approximately

Optional ingredients:

  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp vinegar
  • 1 egg

Preparation

Note:

  1. If the blend of butter and lard or shortening is to be used, allow both to come to room temperature before mixing them together.  The mixture must be chilled before it is cut into the flour, however.
  2. If the optional vinegar and egg are used, reduce water by half.
  3. The volume of one large egg is about 1/4 cup; hence, half is 2 tablespoons.

By hand: (5 min.)

Into a medium bowl measure flour and salt.  With a knife cut the fat into several small pieces and drop into the flour.  Toss and work the fat and flour together with a pastry blender, two knives or fingers working quickly, until the mixture resembles coarse meal, with irregular particles ranging in size from tiny grains of rice to small peas.

Add sugar, vinegar and egg, if desired.  Pour each ingredient into the flour mixture and stir to blend before adding the next.  Sprinkle in the water, a tablespoon at a time, and stir with a fork held lightly.  Gently toss the loose particles around the bowl to absorb moisture.  Add water as needed to bring the particles together in a moist (not wet) mass that holds together with no dry or crumbly places apparent.

Electric Mixer: (4 min.)

Measure flour and salt into mixer bowl.  Cut fat into several small pieces and drop into the flour.  Start mixer at slow speed and stir until flour-covered fat particles are the size of small peas, about 1 minute.

Add sugar, vinegar and egg, if desired.  Add water, a tablespoon at a time, until the mass is moist and forms a rough ball.  Stop.  Don’t overmix.

Food Processor: (3 min.)

With the metal blade attached, add flour, salt and fat to the work bowl.  Process with two or three short burst, or until the mixture has the consistency of coarse meal.  Stop the machine.

Add sugar, vinegar and egg, if desired.  (Operate the machine in short bursts so as not to overmix.) Pour ice water through the feed tube.  Stop as soon as dough begins to form a rough, moist mass.

Refrigerated Rest: (4 hrs. or longer)

Wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap or foil and place in the refrigerator to mature and chill, 4 hours or longer.

Rolling/Shaping:

Beforehand remove the dough from the refrigerator about 1 hour beforehand to allow it to soften somewhat.  Divide the dough into two pieces, one slightly larger for the bottom crust.  Reserve the dough for the top crust in the refrigerator.

Dust the work surface lightly with flour.  Roll the larger piece into a circle 1/2-in. larger than the diameter of an inverted pie pan.  Keep a light dusting of flour under and on the dough so that it does not stick when rolled.

Fold the dough in half or quarters so that it can be lifted and moved to the pan without tearing.  Carefully unfold.  Loosely drape the dough over the sides of the pan so that it can be pushed against the sides and the bottom without being stretched or put under tension.

Trim the dough around the rim, leaving a 1/2-in margin to be folded over the top crust when it is in place, or tucked under the rim dough to make a thicker and higher crust around the pie, especially if the filling is juicy.

The bottom crust is now ready to be filled according to the recipe. (See Cherry Pie: Part 2.)

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