Cherry Pie Time!!!

remember how i bitterly complained about the birds having pecked holes in the sour cherries, leaving them on the ground to rot? well nature once again has proven it's infinite balance! this weekend i discovered 50 perfect bright red unpecked cherries still on the tree! i also found a few currants hidden behind the leaves of the currant bush and overlooked by chipmunks and birds alike. i sprang into action and made what i call a windfall pielet!

i always have some pastry scraps in the freezer so while they were defrosting i pitted the cherries and consulted the chart in my book (the pie and pastry bible) to see how much sugar and cornstarch were needed for each. this is where weighing really comes in handy.

currants need more sugar and more cornstarch than cherries as they are more sour and more juicy as well. i had enough of the small currants to stuff one into each pitted cherry (i call this churrant pie) and the filling turned out to be the equivalent of a 1/4 pie. i used an antique 7 inch red stone pie plate but even a cast iron little skillet would have worked just fine!

we had still slightly warm churrant pie for dessert for dinner and for lunch on sunday. how ironic that the cherry tree i planted in full sun that grew to bear many cherries was struck by lightening, but this scrawny old tree that i didn't even recognize as a cherry tree for many years, hidden in the shade, produced enough cherries at last to enjoy this amazing little treat! by the way, this little pielet took 35 minutes to bake in a 425 degree oven. i protected the edges with foil toward the end. and i didn't prebake the pie crust or the filling--i simply placed the dough leaves on top. it's easier for such a small pie.

the recipe i'm offering here is for a full size one from "the pie and pastry bible."

note: the absolute best way to pit cherries is by hand using a large hairpin. using mechanical devices, the pits which vary in size, can slip through and create a great deal of damage should someone unsuspectingly bite down on one, plus the hair pin technique maintains the beautiful global shape of the cherry. here's how:

search out a large metal hair pin. insert the looped end into the stem end of the cherry and use it to lift out the pit. if you like this technique as much as i do, for future use, imbed the two ends of the hair pin deeply into a cork. i use a champagne cork as it is rounded and fits comfortably into the palm of your hand.

second tip: if you have a wine or root cellar, you can leave the pie dough in it until you are ready to roll it. most cellars are around 60 degree F. which is the ideal temperature at which to roll dough. the sad fact is that when the fresh fruit season is in full swing, it's usually too hot in the kitchen to make a good crust! i recommend countering this by making the dough early in the morning. if it's still cool in the kitchen (or dining/ living room if you are willing to roll it there) proceed to making the pie. otherwise, make the dough early one morning and the pie the following morning for best results.

Designer Cherry Pie

Oven Temperature: Preheat to 425°F. at least 20 minutes before baking.

Total Baking Time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Makes: A 13" pie.

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Remove one piece of dough from the refrigerator. If necessary, allow it to sit for about 10 minutes until it is soft enough to roll. Using a pastry cloth and sleeve, rubbed with flour or two sheets of plastic wrap, sprinkled lightly with flour, roll the dough into a 1/8-inch thick circle large enough to cut an even 13-inch circle. (Measure your pie plate from the top of one edge going down the sides, across the bottom and up to the opposing edge and add enough to tuck under for a nice edge—about 1 1/2 inches extra.). Fold this dough under so that it is flush with the outer edge of the pie plate. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425°F. at least 20 minutes before baking time. Set the oven rack in the lowest level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating.

Prebake the bottom crust:

Remove the plastic wrap from the dough and set a large coffee urn filter or piece of parchment in it. Fill it about three-quarters full with rice or beans and bake 20 minutes. Lift out the parchment with the beans and prick all over with the tines of a fork, but only half way through, i.e. not all the way to the bottom. Return it to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes more or until pale golden brown. (5 minutes for a partially prebaked crust). Check after 3 minutes and prick again if the upper layer of dough bubbles up.

Roll the second piece of dough 1/8-inch thick and use a sharp knife to cut out about 18 leaf shapes, 3-inches long. Drape them over little clumps of aluminum foil set on a baking sheet. Brush them with the egg glaze if desired and bake them at 425°F for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden. Set them aside.

Place all of the above ingredients (including the reserved cherry juices), except for the almond extract, in a medium saucepan and allow them to sit for about 10 minutes or until the cherries exude enough juice to moisten the sugar. Stir gently until evenly mixed and bring to a full boil, over medium heat, stirring constantly. Lower the heat and simmer for a minute, or until the juices thicken and become translucent, stirring gently. Remove it from the heat and stir in the almond extract. Pour the cherry mixture into the prebaked pie shell and bake at a preheated 400°F. for 15 to 20 minutes or until bubbling all over. If the edges start to brown too much protect them with a ring of foil.

Remove the pie to a rack and while still hot, arrange the reserved pastry leaves over the cherries.

Cool the pie on a rack for at least 3 hours before serving.