Second only to the just-add-water blueberry muffins that I proudly baked during my earliest days of kitchen duty, cherry pie spent a good many years atop my menu of signature dishes. Of course, this was cherry pie by way of an 8-year-old chef in the mid-’90s, which basically meant a skillful combination of two newly defrosted Pillsbury crusts and one large can of Comstock cherry pie filling. Sure, the recipe wasn’t a from-scratch original, but I learned a lot during my years as a canned pie maker: No. 1: Always have foil on hand. No. 2: Top-layer piecrust is an ideal medium in which to practice your budding art skills. And No. 3: When in doubt, always add extra cherries.
As it turns out, baking a cherry pie from scratch is a whole different beast, and, after witnessing the flying pits and cherry juice I’m still scrubbing from my kitchen cabinets, I can’t blame my mom for putting me to work opening a can rather than pitting cherries. Pitting cherries by hand (sans any fancy tool, mind you) has to be one of the worst kitchen jobs imaginable. Like any tech-reliant baker, I Googled how to do it and was happy to find promises of “super simple cherry-pitting techniques.” Unfortunately, this led to a rather grumbly battle between me, a hairpin and two pounds of stubborn fruit.
In all fairness, the hairpin technique does work, but I wouldn’t call it super simple. Maybe super frustrating. Or super boring. (Or super hurry up because I want pie!!!) Jared tried to assuage my cherry-pitting boredom by propping the iPad on the counter and playing Arrested Development while he joined me in the dreaded task. It took the two of us nearly an entire episode to get the job done.
But here’s the silver lining: Homemade cherry pie — the real deal, from-scratch kind as evidenced by the red-stained fingers of its dutiful bakers — is one of the best desserts on the planet. It really only took two bites for me to forget the woes of my cherry-pitting past. It’s tart, sweet, fresh and comforting — all the things a good cherry pie should be. And the twice-baked crust method, which I plan to use for all of my fruit-filled pies from here on out, is a great way to avoid a soggy layer underneath all of that juicy fruit.
Melissa Clark notes in this recipe that investing in a cherry pitter is totally worth it, if only for the one or two times a year when you bake cherry pie. It’s sage advice, and I’ll definitely be heeding it next time around. I’m sure my white kitchen cabinets will thank me.
Twice-Baked Cherry Pie
Adapted slightly from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now (p. 189)
For the crust:
• 1 ¾ plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt
• 15 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
• 3 to 6 tablespoons ice water, as needed
For the filling:
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch
• ½ cup granulated sugar
• ½ cup Turbinado or Demerara (raw) sugar, plus more for sprinkling
• ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 2 pounds sour cherries, rinsed and pitted
• 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
• 3 tablespoons heavy cream
To make the crust, pulse the flour and salt together in the food processor until just combined. Add the butter, and pulse until lima bean-sized pieces form. Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until the mixture just comes together.
Pat the dough into two discs, one using two-thirds of the dough (about 12 ounces) and one using one-third of the dough (about 6 ounces). Wrap the discs in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour (and up to 3 days).
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Roll out the large disc of dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch circle, about 3/8 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate. Line the dough with foil, and fill it with pie weights. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the crust is light golden brown.
In the meantime, combine the cornstarch, sugars and cinnamon in a small bowl. Place the cherries in a large bowl, and add the sugar mixture. Drizzle in the vanilla, and toss gently to combine.
When the piecrust is done, let it cool slightly, and reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Remove the foil and pie weights, and pour the cherry filling into the crust.
Roll out the smaller disc of dough on a lightly floured surface to about 3/8 inch thick. Use a round cookie cutter (or small glass or jar) to cut out circles of dough. Arrange them on top of the cherry filling.
Brush the dough circles with heavy cream, and sprinkle the top of the pie generously with Turbinado or Demerara sugar. Bake until the crust is dark golden brown and the filling beings to bubble, 50 minutes to 1 hour (add a ring of foil around the outside of the crust if it begins to darken to quickly). Allow the pie to cool for at least 2 hours before serving.