One of my most extreme summer obsessions involves cherries...lots of cherries. I am a self-proclaimed cherry fiend, and I simply cannot get enough of these beautiful little summer fruits. I'm addicted to them, and I have determined that there is no cure for this addiction, and to be very frank, that's totally ok with me. I will live happily with my summer cherry obsession.
I love eating cherries when they're fresh, and as is. If you were to put a giant bowl of cherries, or the usual 2 1/2 pound bag that they sell in the supermarket, in front of me, there's a very good chance that I could eat every single last cherry, completely unassisted (and believe me, this has happened once or twice before). I tend not to bake with fresh cherries too often (although this cherry clafoutis is a delicious exception, and you should definitely try it out if you're in need of an easy dessert), simply because I can't bear the thought of not being able to enjoy the cherries in their natural state. This is actually a problem that I have to deal with during the summer almost all the time, and with all fruits in general, to be honest. I mean, I love the idea of mixing up a fabulous peach cobbler, a refreshing champagne mango sorbet, and a beautiful mixed berry crisp as much as the next crazed food blogger/general population, but eating fruit in its fresh state is an idea that I love even more, especially because in the summertime, these fruits are at their peak, and you just can't find really delicious peaches, champagne mangoes, or mixed berries, let alone cherries, in the dead of winter. I sometimes feel like I am doing a disservice to the fruit itself by enjoying it in any other form than its natural state.
But then, I decide to get over my semi-existential crisis mode, and instead bake myself a pie.
I had been longing to make a cherry pie for what seemed like forever. I attempted one last summer, but it ended up failing tragically (mostly due to my lack of owning a cherry pitter, which made the task of pitting two pounds of cherries by hand seem incredibly daunting and like some kind of inhumane punishment, and also because I tried a new pie crust recipe that ended up being horrible to work with). This summer though, I was armed with a cherry pitter and a new, favorite pie crust recipe, so I was ready to take on the challenge once again. Since Independence Day is only a few days away, a classic cherry pie was destined to happen over the weekend, and it worked out beautifully this time around.
My favorite way of celebrating the Fourth of July through dessert is by preparing dishes that are classic, simple, and undeniably all-American. Sure, desserts like red, white, and blue velvet whoopie pies are delicious, fun to look at, and great for kids, but there's only so many red/white/blue-dyed desserts that I can take! A big wedge of warm cherry pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert is definitely more my style, and just as American as any red-white-and-blue dessert. The fact that pie is also a deceivingly simple, make-ahead dessert to bake up makes also makes it a perfect option for any Fourth of July celebration.
Don't believe me when I say that cherry pie is actually simple to make? Well. If you can roll out some pie crust in a circle, and mix some cherries in a bowl with a little sugar and lemon juice, pour the cherries into a pie dish, create a top crust, and stick a pie in the oven, then you can handle this pie with no problem. I really mean it! Pie crust is actually really simple to prepare, provided that your butter and water are very well chilled. That's step one. Step two to making really good pie crust is easy as well- don't add too much water all at once! Go tablespoon by tablespoon, and the dough will come together in a ball in no time. Chill the dough in the fridge for an hour, and that's pretty much it! Work quickly once you begin to roll out the dough so that it stays cold, but if you find that your dough is getting a bit warm, simply refrigerate the pie for a bit so that it gets chilled once more. As for the top crust, if weaving a lattice seems a bit daunting (don't worry, it seemed like an impossible task the first time I attempted one), it really isn't so bad. Thicker strips of dough will let you weave the lattice much more easily than thin strips, so that's a good way to start. If that still seems like a bit too much to handle, simply forget the lattice, and just make a simple top crust by laying out another circle of pie dough on top of the cherries and crimping the edges. Just make sure to cut a few vents in the top crust, otherwise the steam won't be able to escape and your pie may end up exploding in your oven, and no one wants that.
Below, I've given my favorite recipe for pie crust, from Martha Stewart. This lady definitely knows a thing or two about pie, as I've made this exact crust over and over again, and have loved the results every single time. The crust is buttery and flaky, and is so easy to work with, and comes together quite effortlessly. The cherry pie filling isn't from a direct recipe, but was more or less thrown together based off of different recipes that I've come across and what I know from past experience with pie baking and making fruit sauces. A splash of fresh lemon juice is essential, as it really helps to brighten up the fruit filling, and a touch of almond extract always compliments cherries perfectly. Adjust the sugar based on your own preference and on how sweet your cherries are. My cherries were on the sweeter side, so I only used half a cup. I would have loved to use sour cherries to make a sour cherry pie, but I haven't been able to find them anywhere, so I may have missed their short season. If you happen to find sour cherries though, I would imagine that this sweet cherry pie filling could easily translate to be made with sour cherries; simply adjust the sugar a bit. No matter which type of cherry you use, though, this cherry pie will turn out deliciously and wonderfully and beautifully, and will be the perfect complement to any classic, all-American Fourth of July celebration. Enjoy!
Classic Sweet Cherry Pie
crust recipe from Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts
For the Crust
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
4-6 tablespoons ice water
For the Cherry Filling
2 pounds fresh cherries (weight after removing the pits)
1/2 cup sugar (adjust according to how sweet your cherries are)
splash of fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cold and cut into tiny bits
1 egg, lightly beaten (for the egg wash)
sugar (for sprinkling)
Begin by making the pie crust. Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse a few times to incorporate together. Add the cold butter all at once, and pulse until the dough becomes crumbly. Add the ice water a little at a time, and pulse until the dough forms a big ball. Be careful not to add too much water; I find that 4 tablespoons of ice water is enough to bring my dough together. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface, and divide the dough into half. Shape each half into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour.
On a lightly floured surface, and with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out one disk of dough into a 13-inch circle that's about 1/4 inch or so thick. Don't worry about it being too exact! Using your rolling pin as an aid, carefully drape the circle of pie dough into a 9-inch pie plate, and gently press the dough to fit in the pie plate. With kitchen scissors, trim the excess dough off the edge of the pie plate so that there is a 1-inch overhang.
To make the filling for the cherry pie, simply combine the pitted cherries, sugar, lemon juice, almond extract, and cornstarch in a bowl.
Pour the filling into the prepared pie plate, and dot the tops of the cherries with the small bits of cold butter.
Roll out the remaining disk of dough in the same manner as before. With a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut out 8 1-inch strips of dough. Carefully weave the strips of dough to form a lattice over the top of the pie, and trim the ends of the strips so that there is a 1-inch overhang. Fold the overhang of the strips underneath the bottom rim of the pie, press together, and crimp decoratively. I pinched the dough together with my fingers, but you can also crimp the dough with a fork as an alternative. Refrigerate the pie for about a half hour, just until the pie dough is firm and cold. While the pie chills, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, and position a rack in the middle of the oven.
Place the pie on a baking sheet that has been lined with wax paper. Brush the beaten egg all over the top of the pie, and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake the pie in the preheated oven for about 1 hour, until the top of the pie is golden brown and the juices from the cherries are bubbling. If the pie crust is beginning to brown too quickly, simply tent the pie with aluminum foil (like I should have done, but carelessly forgot to...). Allow the pie to cool on a wire rack for about three hours before serving.
Cut the pie into wedges and serve with vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!
Makes 1 9-inch pie