Something magical happens when you mix sour cherries with sugar and lemon juice.
Wait, let’s back up. First, we need to talk about sour cherries.
Apparently, fresh sour (a.k.a. tart) cherries are not easy to come by, at least in the Bay Area. While markets will have piles of fresh, sweet Bings and Rainiers ready for the taking, it is much less likely that the same markets will have fresh sour cherries available. Instead, sour cherries can be found canned, frozen, or dried, and if you’re lucky, at your local farmers market. A friend informed me that she usually gets sour cherries from a farmer selling at the Civic Center market; however, this summer, due to wackier weather, this farmer didn’t have any for the selling.
I have very little experience making pies (the last time I made an apple pie, I forgot to peel the apples first), so I wasn’t sure how I should proceed. Should I just make the pie with sweet cherries, adding more lemon juice to mimic the traditional tartness? Should I just wait until next summer and try my luck again? My sister (a pie-making guru if there ever was one) made a pie with sweet cherries and said it wasn’t that great, and I didn’t like the idea of waiting until less than a month before my 30th birthday to complete this portion of the 30 before 30 project.
So where to get sour cherries now? Alemany Farmers Market didn’t have any. We called Rainbow Grocery, and they didn’t have any. Should I look for the canned variety? I wouldn’t even know where to start, and using canned cherries seemed to go against the whole point of this project.
So we turned to Berkeley Bowl, and lo and behold, tart cherries were in stock! The cherries had been shipped in from Washington in 2 pound plastic containers – the exact quantity that I needed.
So, back to the pie.
This pie was amazing. I mean . . . I’m basically speechless. I’ve never had homemade, classic cherry pie before, and this was truly unreal. The crust is buttery, flaky perfection (despite the fact that I overbaked it). And the filling. Oh, the filling. Sour cherries mix with sugar and lemon juice and some cornstarch (for thickening), and the result is just heavenly. If you can find fresh sour cherries, I can’t recommend this enough.
Cherry-hunting aside, making this pie was fairly easy. It takes a while to pit all the cherries (I highly recommend a cherry pitter), and making/shaping the crust is a precise process, but otherwise it’s not back-breaking or overly complicated. And the finished product is more than worth it. Times ten.
I used two recipes for this pie: Cooks Illustrated’s pie crust (which uses both butter and shortening for taste and texture, respectively), and Bon Appetit’s sour cherry filling (via Lottie + Doof).
I will dream of this pie every day until I can get sour cherries once again.
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
13 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
7 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cold
4-5 tablespoons ice water
Sour cherry pie filling
Adapted from Bon Appetit/Lottie + Doof
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 cups whole pitted sour cherries
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Milk (any kind), for brushing on top
Make the pie crust first, since the dough has to chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling out and assembling (and you can use the chill time to pit your cherries). For the next few steps, I used a food processor, but they can also be done in a bowl with either a pastry cutter or two knives or just your fingers.
Add the flour, sugar and salt to the food processor bowl and pulse a couple of times to mix together. Take your butter and shortening out of the fridge and cut into small (1/4 inch or so) pieces. Add the butter pieces to the flour mixture in the food processor, and pulse 5 times to incorporate. Repeat the same steps with the shortening. You want the mixture to resemble very coarse cornmeal. Note: I ended up with a mixture that had butter/shortening chunks that were slightly larger than small peas, as opposed to the Cook’s Illustrated instructions – since I didn’t want to overmix, however, I just went with it. The crust turned out wonderfully, regardless.
Transfer mixture to a medium bowl. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of ice water into the mixture and fold in with a rubber spatula (add 1 more tablespoon if the dough isn’t coming together). Using your hands, shape the dough into two balls, one slightly larger than the other. Flatten into 4-inch wide disks (I forgot this step), dust with flour, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
After chilling the fridge, remove the dough from the refrigerator and set aside. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and place a rack in the lower third of the oven.
Make the filling. Whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium bowl, then gently stir in pitted cherries, lemon juice, and vanilla. Set aside while you roll out the dough.
Roll out the smaller disk of dough between two lightly floured pieces of plastic wrap (this is optional; I certainly found it easier to use the plastic rather than roll out directly on the counter) into a 12-inch round. Transfer to a 9-inch glass pie dish, and trim the edges to 1/2 inch length (I forgot to do this, and just ended up with some extra crust – no big deal).
Roll out the larger disk of dough between two lightly floured pieces of plastic into a 12-inch round. Using a pizza cutter, knife or pastry wheel (I used a pizza cutter), cut the round into 10 equal long strips (about 3/4 inch wide strips).
Give the filling one last stir, and gently pour into the dough-lined pie dish, mounding slightly in the center, and dot with the butter pieces. Follow these helpful instructions for arranging the strips on top of the filling to form the lattice. Fold the bottom crust over the ends of the strips and seal together all around the pie. Use a fork to crimp the edges. Brush the lattice pieces with a little bit of milk, then sprinkle with sugar (around 1 tablespoon).
Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet (because the filling will spill out, and the baking sheets prevents a big stinky smelly mess in your oven). Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 425, then reduce temperature to 375 degrees and bake for 50-60 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. If the crust starts to brown too quickly, drape foil lightly over the whole pie until the end (I didn’t check mine soon enough and my crust was already a bit too brown, but it still came out great).
Once the pie is finished baking, remove from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool completely. Resist the urge to cut into the pie before it’s finished cooling; as the filling cools, it thickens up into the perfect pie consistency that’s worth waiting for.