Posts filed under ‘cherries’

Cherry pie from scratch

Pie!(Warning: This is a long post, because I’m indulging in some pastry-geeking. Don’t let that deter you. The pie itself took much less time to make than to write about.)

I’m the kind of cook who sees no contradition between a love of the home-made and a love of expedient shortcuts. I’d rather spend an hour making an excellent risotto with boxed stock from the supermarket than spend an entire weekend simmering, straining and clarifying  soup bones and trimmings for a measely quart of home-made.

Or pie: While I’m perfectly capable of making a tender, flaky crust from scratch – hell, I learned it at my mother’s knee – I also think frozen supermarket pie crusts are one of the small miracles of modern life; they let me throw together a tasty pie or quiche on a whim, or on a busy evening, without dragging out the flour and fat and rolling pins.

So I’m here to tell you: If you want to make this pie with a refrigerator-case crust-inna-box, you go right ahead. The food police won’t show up on your door, and whoever you’re feeding likely won’t know the difference if you don’t tell them.

ON THE OTHER HAND … this from-scratch crust, which I’ve made several times without failure,  is good. Really, really good. Good enough to be more than just a container for the tart, juicy local  pie cherries I got  this week; I crisped up the trimmings with a light sprinkle of sugar and can’t stop nibbling them.

What makes it good – what makes any pie crust good – is the combination of a light hand and nice, cold fat – in this case, pure lard and high-quality unsalted butter. Trust me, pie crust is not the place to cut corners on fat. Yeah, you can make a pie crust with Crisco or vegetable oil (or even olive oil). But it will never be as shatteringly crisp and flaky and flavorful as one made from honest-to-god animal fat. And while I’ve tried a crust that purported to be fat-free, it was also free of flavor and texture; it might as well have been cardboard. If you absolutely cannot have fat, then skip the crust, bake the filling in a naked pie pan and call it a baked fruit compote.

Butter and lardI happen to have a quantity of first-rate leaf lard (the delicate white fat from around a hog’s kidneys) in the freezer, frozen in half-cup portions. I will admit to having gone all pioneer woman this spring: I bought five pounds of fat from Heritage Farms Northwest, cut it into chunks and simmered it all one afternoon in my stock pot to render out the pure lard, just to see if I could. You don’t have to go that far; rendered, packaged lard is available in most supermarkets  in the cooler where they keep the butter. Try it, either alone or in combination with butter. You won’t believe how much better your pie crusts taste.

Why is that? Well, for one thing, lard is all fat, unlike butter, which has a fairly high water content; an all-butter crust will taste great, but it will probably be tough, too, unless you go for a pate brisee-style short crust where the fat is more evenly blended into the flour.

As the sainted Harold McGee explains it:

“The methods for making American-style pie dough produce a crust that is both tender and flaky. They disperse some of the fat evenly into the dough, separating small particles from each other, and some coarsely, separating different layers of the dough from each other … the dough is rested in the refrigerator to rechill the fat and let the water become more evenly distributed, and then is rolled out. The rolling stretches the dough and thus develops some gluten, and flattens the fat chunks into thin sheets. The combination creates the layered texture … In the oven, the sheets of fat, trapped air and steam from the dough water … all help to separate the dough into layers and give it a flaky texture.”

– Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking

The way my mom (and her mom, and generations of moms before them) achieved this was to use her fingertips to rub about half of the fat into the flour, and then two dinner knives to cut the rest into the mixture in pea-sized chunks. But mom was baking in a world without food processors. I use mine to achieve the same ends – and better, really, because the fat doesn’t get melted by the heat of my hands – by pulsing in half the butter and lard until the mixture resembles fine corn meal, then adding the rest and pulsing just a few times to chop the fat  into pea-sized chunks.

Here’s the pie I’m feeding my friends this afternoon. I rose early yesterday to make the crust before the house got hot, then spent a pleasant half-hour on the shady front porch pitting cherries with my cheap little mechanical pitter; everything went into the fridge, and then I baked the pie early this morning. The crust is based on a recipe I found on Epicurious.com for the “Best-Ever Pie Crust” and they aren’t exaggerating. The filling is one I’ve improvised over the years to the point where I don’t need a recipe to make it, but I took the time to note amounts, etc. this time around so you can recreate it – or add your own personal touch.

Cherry Pie to Die For

Crust

Ingredients

For two crusts

  • 2 1/2 cups pastry flour*
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chilled, unsalted butter, cut in cubes
  • 1/2 cup chilled lard, cut in cubes
  • 5 Tbsp ice water (or more, as needed)

Method

In a food processor, combine the flour, salt and sugar and pulse to blend. Begin feeding cubes of butter and lard into the processor, pulsing on-and-off until about half the fat is incorporated and the mixture is beginning to look like coarse cornmeal. Add the rest of the fat and pulse just a few times to cut it into pea-sized chunks. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly distributed.

Dump the mixture into a bowl and, using a fork, begin to toss in the ice water a tablespoon at a time until the dough begins to clump together. Depending on the flour, the air temperature and the weather, it may take more than five tablespoons; if so, add more a teaspoon at a time; you want a dough you can form into a neat ball, but it shouldn’t be wet.

Divide dough in half, form into balls and flatten each half into a disk on a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap and refrigerate at least an hour (or up to three days in advance). If necessary, let rest at room temperature for a few minutes to soften before you roll it out.

Sprinkle a large cutting board or pastry cloth with a small amount of flour and roll each disk to about 1/8″ thickness.

Here’s a tip from Harold McGee: Let the dough rest for 20-15after rolling it out to allow the gluten sheets formed by rolling to relax; that makes it easier to shape the crust without stretching it, which in turn prevents the crust from shrinking when it bakes.

Transfer crust to a pyrex pie plate (the easy way is to roll the circle of dough up onto your rolling pin and then gently unroll it into the plate). Press gently into plate, trim and crimp the edges as you please (unless you’re making a two-crust pie, in which case see below). If your recipe calls for a prebaked crust (this one doesn’t), prick it all over with a fork before baking. and weight it down to prevent bubbles (a handful of dried beans on a piece of tinfoil is as good as expensive pie weights).

Use the second disc of dough to make a lid for your pie, or a second pie, or freeze it for later.

* Pastry flour has a lower protein  content than all-purpose or bread flour, but more than cake flour; that helps produce the tender, flaky result you want in a pie crust (or biscuit), as opposed to the chewiness you get in good bread. I used whole wheat pastry flour, grown and ground by Stalford Seed Farms in Shedd. This flour is ground fairly coursely, and the resulting dough was a bit crumbly, so I had to do some piecing to get it in the pan. And the strips for the lattice topping kept breaking – so rather than fuss with them and risk turning the dough tough, I just arranged them randomly on top of the filling. What the heck: It’s all about “more tasty crust,” and I’m not entering it in the county fair or anything.

Sour Cherry Filling

Ready to pit

Ingredients

  • 1 cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 3-6 Tbsp cornstarch (depending on how juicy your cherries are
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 5-6 cups of fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted. You want enough to mound a bit in the pie crust, whether or not you’re going to put a top crust on. I like sour pie cherries, but feel free to use your favorite variety; just adjust the sugar and lemon juice to the level of sweetness/tartness you enjoy
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice (for tart cherries) to 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (for sweet cherries)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract OR almond extract, or 1/2 tsp of each
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 Tbsp milk, for glaze

Whisk together 1 cup sugar, cornstarch and salt in a large bowl to blend. Stir in cherries, lemon juice and vanilla/almond extract; set aside.

Preheat oven to 425F.

If you haven’t yet done so, roll out one portion of pie crust and transfer to a pyrex pie pan (you can use the cheap metal ones, but they aren’t as deep and, I think, produce an inferior crust.)

Spoon the cherry mixture into the crust, mounding slightly in the center. Dot with butter. Now you can either

  • Roll out the second disk of dough, cut in strips and make a traditional lattice top crust (here’s a nice little  photographic how-to).
  • Do a standard top crust (don’t forget to cut some vents so the steam can escape)
  • Get creative – use a knife or cookie cutters to  cut shapes from the second sheet of pie crust and lay them on top
  • Leave it open-faced and freeze the other piece of dough for later.

If you do top the pie, finger-crimp the edges together for a tight seal. Brush the top (but not the edges) with a little milk and sprinkle with sugar if you like. To keep the edges from overcooking, I fold a long piece of foil into a narrow collar and wrap it loosely around the rim of the pie; remove it 10 minutes or so before the pie is done.

Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375F and bake until filling is bubbling and crust is golden brown, about 1 hour longer. Transfer to a rack (or an unused stove burner) and cool completely. Serve with vanilla (or lemon!) ice cream.

Tart-sweet, with a crisp, tender-flaky crust and the smooth sweetness of ice cream: It tastes like summer to me.

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July 10, 2010 at 10:37 am 2 comments

It’s hot …

Marionberries and blueberries… and cooking is the last thing on my mind.

Thank heavens for the farmers’ market, and for that magic moment at the height of summer when all the berries converge.

On Saturday, our market still had strawberries – last of the crop, according to the vendor who had sold out by 11. Raspberries were everywhere, the first fat blueberries had arrived, and one vendor even had early Marionberries. Another had ripe, tart red currants, glowing like rubies. I bought some, though I have no idea what to I’ll do with them.

There were also loads of cherries – this seems to be a bumper year for the cherry crop. I bought a bag of those to take to a barbecue, but I saved the berries for myself, and I’ve been eating them by the handful and the bowlful – mostly just as they are, sometimes with a little cream and (in the case of the Marionberries, which haven’t reached their sweet peak yet) a sprinkle of sugar. I did make an easy cobbler with some of the blueberries this morning, heavy on the berries and light on the sugar. That’s breakfast for the next few days.

I’d live on fruit alone right now if I could, but my body has a protein habit. Finding a way to satisfy that with a minimum of kitchen time can be a challenge. Not so this week; the young fisherman who’s been bringing live crab to market also had smoked tuna loins. I threw together a simple rice-and tuna dish that’s a distant cousin to the tuna noodle casseroles I grew up with. You don’t need a recipe for this kind of thing, just a general method.

Last night, after the coastal breezes blew the heat away, I cooked up a pot of brown Basmati rice and put it in the fridge overnight. This evening, I mixed it with some finely diced onion, fresh peas, and about half of the tuna, shredded with my fingers. To boost the smokey flavor, I crumbled up an ounce or so of Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue cheese, mixed that in with the tuna and rice. The zest and juice of half a lemon and a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise to keep everything moist, a sprinkle of parmesan and half an hour in a 350 oven and I’ve got dinner (and a couple of days worth of lunch).

These are the kinds of dishes summer calls for: things you can throw together quickly, filling but not heavy, and full of flavor. Not to mention endlessly adaptable. No peas? Dice up some summer squash, or broccoli, or whatever you find at the market. No rice? Use pasta. Trying to watch the fat content? Moisten the casserole with stock instead of mayonnaise.

And then have berries for dessert.

July 5, 2009 at 6:49 pm Leave a comment

“The season of bounty …

Mid-Summer Still Life… is here.” That’s how one of the vendors at the Albany Farmers’ Market put it this morning, grinning as she tucked my purchase into my backpack for me. Looking around at stalls brimming with variety, I couldn’t argue: Snap peas and sugar peas, lettuce and leeks on one table, flats of berries and cherries on another; late asparagus over there, jams and jellies and honey over here, fresh-baked bread nearby. We’ve finally reached the season of more food than flowers – not that I have anything against flowers, but they aren’t why I go to the market.

Never mind that the weather is still cloudy and cool (the farmers don’t). It’s summer. Just look at the calendar: Solstice falls tomorrow, and while we in North America tend to call it the first day of summer, I like the older traditions of people who marked the start of summer and planting season in May, and thought of the solstice as mid-summer. Which makes tonight Mid-Summer’s Eve, a night to frolic and feast and enjoy the longest day of the year.

Which seems as good an excuse as any to do something special but easy with the gorgeous cherries I brought home from the market today, in a mixed flat with strawberries and raspberries (which will probably get eaten plain, by the handful, if my berry-red fingertips are any indication.)

Really good fruit doesn’t need much help. A simple preparation that focuses on the flavor (and doesn’t tie you to the kitchen on a summer’s day) is just the thing. I thought about cherry pie, with the ruby-red fruit bubbling up in the interstices of a latticed crust, but that takes work, and who am I out to impress today, anyway? Still: Cherries … pie crust … hmmm… ooh, ooh – cherry galette!

A galette is just an easy, rustic pie. Instead of laying the crust in a pie pan and fiddling with a top crust, you center it on a baking sheet, mound the fruit in the center and pull up the dough to partly cover the top. The filling needs less liquid than you might use in a pie – otherwise it tends to leak out before it sets. Bake and serve as you would any old pie.

This recipe makes a small galette – big servings for two, or small ones for four. The almonds and kirshwasser are chosen to punch the pure cherry flavor, and that they do!

Mid-Summer Cherry Galette

Ingredients

  • Crust for a single-layer pie. Make your own, or buy it in the refrigerator case
  • 2 pints ripe local cherries, pitted and halved. (A cherry pitter makes this a snap!)
  • 2 tsp kirschwasser (cherry eau de vie) or lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tsp sugar, more or less, depending on the sweetness of your cherries. I like to taste fruit, not just sugar.
  • 1/4 cup almond meal. I use Bob’s Red Mill, but it’s easy enough to grind up a handful of raw almonds in the food processor.

Cherry galette

Method:

Preheat oven to 375F.

Roll out pie crust on a baking sheet (I used a tart pan because it was handy).

Toss cherries with 1 tsp of the kirsch (or lemon juice, if your cherries are especially sweet).

Mix 1/4 c sugar and almond meal; toss that with the cherries. I chose almond meal as a binder for the juicy cherries because almond and cherry are well-matched flavors – and because typical fruit pie thickeners – corn starch, tapioca – can result in a gluey filling. Besides, I had almond meal in the pantry.

Mound filling in the center of the crust; pull up the edges, pleating and pinching as you go, to mostly cover the fruit. Don’t worry if it isn’t symmetrical – galettes are supposed to look rustic!

Brush crust with remaining kirsch or lemon juice; sprinkle with remaining tsp sugar.

Bake 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Some juice will invariably leak out.

Serve warm or cool. Top with ice cream – or creme fraiche!

Happy Solstice!

June 20, 2009 at 5:15 pm 1 comment

Hot cherries

Cherry salsa with basil

Cherry salsa with basil

I live in a neighborhood of gardeners, and it’s common for us to share our bounty. I’m not just talking drive-by zucchini drop-offs in the dark of night, either. None of us seem to grow exactly the same things, but all of us wind up, sooner or later, with more than we can consume on our own, and those over-the-fence swaps are one a great way to share the wealth and catch up on the neighbors.

One neighbor grows Queen Anne cherries, and maybe it’s the tree’s location or her tender, loving care, but she consistently gets ripe cherries before they come to the market. I was unpacking the car on Saturday after returning from a trip to Ashland when she hollered over from her porch: “Want some cherries?”

Oh, yeah.

Queen Annes are those dappled red-and-yellow cherries, sweet and juicy, not quite as packed with cherry flavor as the darker varieties, and thus, I think less suited for baking or cooked sauces. But they’re great for nibbling (I brought a little bag to work for lunch today) and lovely in uncooked dishes that show off their flavor and vivid colors.

This cherry salsa is just such a dish, with the flavors of basil, lime and chiles providing a zippy contrast to the sweetness of the fruit. It’s a fantastic accompaniment to fish, pork or – as I had it on Sunday – roast chicken. And very easy to make, especially if you happen to own a cherry pitter. (You can buy fancy ones from Williams-Sonoma, OXO or KitchenAid, but my cheap plastic Norpro model has served me well for years). I like it pretty hot, but you can tone the heat up or down by adjusting the amount and variety of peppers you use.

Cherry Salsa

Ingredients:
1 pound cherries, pitted
2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1/2 small onion, or 1 large shallot, chopped
1 or more hot peppers (jalapeño or your choice), seeded and minced.*
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Black pepper and salt to taste

*I used three tiny, incendiary red peppers of unknown lineage, given by another gardening friend last year and ensconced in my freezer ever since. Peppers freeze remarkably well; just clean and chop them quickly before they go limp from thawing.

Method:
Throw everything but the salt and pepper into a food processor and pulse just until the cherries are coarsely chopped and all the ingredients are blended. Turn out into a non-reactive dish, taste and adjust seasoning. Refrigerate; served chilled as a side dish to meat, fish or poultry, or as a dip for blue-corn chips.

July 7, 2008 at 4:42 pm 2 comments


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