It is a shame that Presidents' Day comes in February, when sour cherries aren't in season. They are the essential fruit for patriotic icon George Washington's equally iconic dessert. I just happen to have some in the freezer leftover from last summer's sour cherry picking frenzy. We have a cherry tree growing in our neighborhood, and my dear friend Linda West Eckhardt and I seem to be the only two people who want to risk life and limb (our limbs, not the trees) by climbing up a shaky ladder to grab the shiny pale red orbs. You will be able to find frozen sour cherries at the supermarket, or certain a big natural food store like Whole Foods. But the key word is "sour." Sweet bing cherries just don't have the correct flavor, color, or texture for sour cherry pie. Here is how to make the VERY BEST sour cherry pie.
The Most Excellent Cherry Pie
Makes 8 servings
* The filling thickener is always an issue with cherry pie. The most popular are tapioca and cornstarch. I prefer the lighter body and neutral flavor of tapioca, but I don’t want the little balls of “glue” in the filling. The trick is to pulverize instant tapioca in a coffee grinder or blender to turn it into a powder. You can also purchase tapioca flour at an Asian market, and substitute 3 tablespoons of that for the ground tapioca.
* This is my absolute favorite pie dough. Egg yolk gives it structure, vegetable shortening encourages flakiness and a bit of sugar helps browning and tenderness. Vinegar is another ingredient that helps the tenderness factor. Just refrigerate it until it is cool enough to roll out and relax the gluten, about 1 hour.
* You can also use canned sour cherries, but they must be drained. If you use them, add 1/3 cup of the drained juice to the filing. Because the cherries won’t be ice-cold, the pie may take about 15 minutes less to bake.
Double-Crust Pie Dough
ÂŸ2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
ÂŸ1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
ÂŸ1/2 teaspoon salt
ÂŸ1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cold vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
ÂŸ5 tablespoons (1/2 stick plus 1 tablespoon) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
ÂŸ1/3 cup ice water as needed
ÂŸ1 large egg yolk
ÂŸ1/2 teaspoon cider or white wine vinegar
ÂŸ5 cups frozen sour cherries
ÂŸ1 1/3 cups sugar
ÂŸ3 tablespoons instant tapioca, ground in a food processor into a fine powder
ÂŸ1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
ÂŸ1/2 teaspoon almond extract
ÂŸ2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1. To make the pie dough: Whisk the flour, sugar, and salt together in a large bowl. Add the shortening and butter and stir to coat with flour. Using a pastry blender, cut in the fats until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs with some pea-sized pieces of fat. Whisk the ice water, egg yolk, and vinegar together in a measuring cup. Stirring with a large fork, gradually add enough of the water mixture and stir until the dough is thoroughly moistened and is beginning to clump together. (If you press a handful, it will be cohesive. If not, add more of the water mixture, or just ice water if the mixture has run out.) Gather up the dough into a ball. Cut in half, and shape each into a thick, flat disk, one slightly larger than the other. Roll each in plastic wrap and refrigerate just until chilled but not hard, about 1 hour.
2. Mix the sour cherries, sugar, tapioca, lemon juice, and almond extract together in a large bowl. Let stand for about 1 hour at room temperature.
3. Roll out the larger disk of dough on a lightly floured work surface into a 12-inch round about 1/8-inch thick. Center in a 9-inch pie pan. Fill with the cherry mixture, and dot with the butter. (Why do I always forget to do this?) Trim the crust to a 1/2-inch overhang around the edge of the pie plan. Roll out the remaining pie dough on a lightly floured work surface into an 11-inc round about 1/8-inch thick and center of the filling. Tuck the top crust under the bottom crust. Pinch together and flute the edges. Cut a 1/2-inch-diameter hole in the center of the top crust. Freeze the pie while preheating the oven, about 20 minutes.
4. Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil
5. Place the pie the prepared baking sheet. Bake the pie for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and continue baking until the crust is golden and the filling is thick and bubbling, about 45 to 60 minutes. (The frozen fruit can lengthen the time the filling takes to heat through, so be patient.) If the crust is browning too deeply, cover the pie loosely with aluminum foil. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool completely to set.