CLEVELAND, Ohio — You’ve seen them on Instagram, Pinterest, and other show-off sites — elegant fruit pies piled high with pastry flowers, leaves, filigree and furbelows. Or crusts of intricate dough weavings so geometrically complex they would confound Mondrian or so frilly they’d make Fragonard blush.
But there’s a simpler way to fancy pie crust design. We’ve discovered several pastry plaitings that are easy to do and that still beautifully flatter the fruit filling. Which brings us to that fruit — North Coast fruit generally, and cherries — sour and sweet — specifically. And even more specifically, that great summer activity that combines adventure, exercise, industry, and the chance to play farmer for the day — pick-your-own produce.
Though there’ll be plenty of fruit in the farmer’s markets in the next few weeks going into July, unfortunately, due to weather and wind, the pickings are a bit slim on pick-your-own cherries this year. We did find several who will welcome you and your business, see below and be sure to call or check their websites for availability before venturing forth.
In the meantime, let’s get to work honing our pie crust skills. A dough without too much butter is best for easy handling. The website, Ahead Of Time, has an excellent puff paste dough recipe. It’s printed below with a great sour cherry filling.
There’s also has a worthwhile tutorial for a braid and deckle-edge strip crust, go to the site for the step-by-step. https://www.aheadofthyme.com/braided-lattice-apple-pie/. Another valuable resource is Sally’s Baking Addiction. Here’s the link to the tutorial https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/sweet-cherry-pie-with-toasted-almonds/ including helpful videos.
But if you want to cut right to the fun part, creating a genius lattice pie crust, there’s no shame in using a store-bought crust. Almost any brand of rolled refrigerated or frozen variety will do. I found Pillsbury Pie Crusts very easy to work with, so if it’s all about the aesthetics for you, go with the doughboy.
But the little extra time and work it takes to make Trader Joe’s Pie Crust usable is well worth the effort. Bring the dough to room temperature, roll it out with a rolling pin between the protective sheets to smooth it and re-refrigerate flat until firm. It tastes close enough to homemade to have become a permanent resident in my kitchen.
You can use a commercial pie crust with almost any cherry pie recipe with impunity. Definitely try one with West Orchards Farm Market’s “Auntie’s Prize Winning Cherry Pie” recipe below. It’s perfect with the orchard’s pick-your-own tart cherries.
The classic lattice, and slightly more advanced lattice/braid, are a good foundation for the fancy stuff. Good tools to have include a fluted pastry wheel cutter — any straight-edged design can be beautified using its pinking effect — and several mini-cookie cutters.
Round and square ones in multiple sizes are useful when you’re inspired to do some pie marquetry, layer them domino-style to make a border or stripes. Fondant cutters, in leaf, flower, hearts, stars, and, of course, butterflies, are useful as well. The punched details add a lot of extra interest.
For even more drama, place mini-balls of dough underneath some parts of the flowers/leaves for more dimensionality and drama. The crust is another opportunity to shine. You can do the usual crimping or dimpling, using a fork for the former and your fingers for the latter. Or add an additional braid or twist or leaf accent, or alternate elements to show off your cresting crust creativity. Just be sure to use an edge shield.
An adjustable silicone pie crust protector works on all sizes of pie to keep the edges from blackening whilst the rest of the pie is barely baked.
Alternate thick and thin elements, utilize the rule of thirds — basically summed up it means if something looks good in the middle of the pie, it will look even better placed off to one side or the other — and don’t forget your egg wash. It’s one egg beaten with 1 teaspoon of water, and then brushed on the crust to add luster and aid in that golden browning effect.
For best results, do a through egg wash, then place your pie in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour, covered loosely with saran wrap to keep from drying out, and then a egg wash top-coat, and perhaps a sprinkle of demerara sugar for sparkle and crunch.
And then, finally, into the oven, on the bottom rack to ensure a well-baked bottom. A glass pie pan is a good idea so you can make sure it’s done. Watch carefully for the last ten to twenty minutes of baking. You’ll want to be sure your pie comes out at the peak of its particular perfection. Most of all, have fun and embrace happy accidents. With each pie you’ll learn a lot, and that education will pay off nicely, and soon. Because if cherry pie season is almost upon us, that means that peach pie season can’t be far behind.
Northeast Ohio Pick-Your-Own Cherry Orchards
Be sure to call or check the website or Facebook before you go. Crops are limited, and you don’t want to end up disappointed after a long drive. On the other hand, most, if not all, of these farms also sell other produce. You could end up making a strawberry rhubarb pie or scallion-spiked quiche using farm-fresh eggs instead. Huzzah!
Miller Orchards, Amherst
Should start picking mostly sweet and some sour cherries mid-June. Sign up online to receive a cherry picking notification when the fruit is ripe. They will also have 10 lb. and 30 lb. packages of pitted and partially frozen tart cherries from Canada.
Call for details.
Quarry Hills Orchards, Berlin Heights
Sweet Red, Rainier and some tart cherries available mid-June. Subscribe online for the e-newsletter for details.
West Orchards Farm Market, Perry
A good crop of Montmorency tart cherries, suitable for pies and cherry cordial, should be available for picking towards the end of June and early July. Sign up for the online newsletter for details.
‘Almost Instant’ Puff Pastry Sweet Cherry Pie
An almost magically rich, flaky, and relatively easy puff pastry crust makes this fresh cherry pie even more spectacular. As far as pitting those cherries, there are many home-made hacks to extract the pits. My mother once pitted 2 gallons of sour cherries with a paper clip. I’m not made of such stern stuff and love my six-cherries-at-a time Progressive Cherry Pitter. OXO also makes dependable pitters.
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, cold, cut into ½ inch cubes
4 1/2 cups (2 lb.) sweet cherries, pitted and halved
1/4 cup cornstarch (30 grams)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 & 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice, fresh squeezed
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 egg + 1 tablespoon water, beaten with fork, for egg wash
1. In a food processor, add flour, sugar, salt and cubed butter. Pulse mix on and off for 1 minute, until the flour mixture turns into a small breadcrumb-like consistency.
2. Drizzle ice water into the mixture (ice water is the key here). Close the lid and continue to pulse mix on and off for another 1 minute. If you squeeze the crumbs together and they stick together, that means the crumbs are good to go.
3. Transfer the crumb-like dough into a large ziploc bag. Squeeze with your hands to bring all the loose crumbs together until it turns into a nice and smooth dough ball. Using disposable gloves will help prevent the butter from melting too quickly, as handling the pie dough directly with bare hands will cause the butter in the dough to melt much more quickly, making the dough sticky.
4. Divide the dough ball into 3. Place two in the refrigerator, and take the other and place it in between two pieces of large parchment paper or cling wrap. Flatten it with a rolling pin. Transfer to the refrigerator and repeat with the second and third ball of dough. You will have 3 equal discs. (Whenever you are not working with one of the dough pieces, place in the refrigerator).
5. Take one dough disc at a time, and fold it in half. Turn the dough 90 degrees and fold it again to roughly form a square. Roll each dough out with a rolling pin into a 12-inch circle. Repeat this step one more time (folding and rolling). This creates the laminated puff pastry dough which is made up of many layers of alternating dough and butter.
6. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap or keep it in between parchment paper and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using to make a pie.
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine pitted and halved cherries, cornstarch, sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice, and lemon zest, and mix together. Set aside for assembling.
Assembling and Baking Pie:
1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
3. Transfer the first dough disc onto a 9-inch pie pan and gently press down to form into the bottom pie crust.
4. Slowly pour the cherry filling mixture into the dough-lined pie pan (make sure to not transfer any liquid from the bowl). Use a spatula to spread the filling evenly across. Discard any remaining liquid in the bowl. Add cold cubed butter on top of the cherry filling.
5. Work with the other two discs to create a lattice top crust. Refer to website https://www.aheadofthyme.com/braided-lattice-apple-pie for hints and tips and improvise as you will. There are no wrong designs here. Gently press the edges of the top crust designs and the edges of bottom crust together. Pinch them together with your fingers, along the entire edge of the pie, and crimp to seal.
6. Gently brush egg wash over the top crust and edges.
7. Cover pie loosely with plastic wrap and store the assembled pie in the fridge to set up for 30-60 minutes. Repeat egg wash and cover edges with pie crust protector.
8. Transfer the cherry pie into the oven and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, Reduce the oven temperature to 350F and bake for additional 40 minutes until the pie crust is golden brown. You may want to remove pie crust protector if edges are not browning.
8. Allow the pie to cool in the pan at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.
9. Slice and serve or refrigerate until wanted. Bring to room temperature or warm in 250 degree oven before serving with optional vanilla ice cream or softly whipped cream. – Adapted from Ahead of Thyme
Auntie’s Prize Winning Cherry Pie
(in Memory of Marianne West Nichol)
Courtesy of West Orchards and Farm Market
This West family cherry pie recipe is an old favorite. Marianne was Todd West’s (the current owner) great aunt. She grew up and worked the farm until she married and moved to Mentor. This is the recipe she created to win first prize at the Lake County Fair, which she did for many subsequent years as well. Before she passed, she gave the recipe to Todd’s mother, Jill, who made it for her family every year at cherry-picking time. Todd is still known for chatting up pickers in the cherry orchard and trading them cherries for a freshly baked pie!
4 cups pitted sour cherries (drain excess liquid before adding sugar)
2 cups sugar (less if you like a really tart pie)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon flour, divided use
3 tablespoons tapioca (uncooked, cornstarch can be substituted)
1-2 teaspoons almond extract (to taste)
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small dice
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
1. Mix first six ingredients together and set aside while preparing crust.
2. Line bottom of 9 inch pie pan with pie crust of your choice. Sprinkle one tablespoon flour on crust.
3. Stir filling ingredients and then pour into pie crust. Dot with diced butter.
4. Prepare and add top crust lattice of your choice. Sprinkle sugar over lattice if desired (makes a crusty top).
5. Bake for 45-50 minutes, top should be browned and juice may bubble through the lattice top (a pan or foil under pie pan saves cleaning). Serve slightly warm with vanilla bean ice cream. Um-good!
Bonus Recipe: Tart Cherry Crisp
If you really just want to enjoy cherry season without the fuss of a crust, lattice or otherwise, here is a go-to crisp recipe for all fruits for all seasons. In this case, the tart cherries are complemented by chopped candied ginger, adding bits of hot spicy sweetness to the fresh tartness of the cherries.
2 lb. fresh tart cherries, pitted with some sliced in half
4 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 & 1/4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter (slightly softened)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Additional chopped ginger, optional, for garnish
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
1. Lightly grease an 11×14 glass Pyrex dish. Add first four ingredients to an 11×14 glass pyrex pan and mix well.
2. In medium-sized bowl, mix flour, and sugar. Add butter cut into small chunks (about 1/2-inch cubed) into bowl and mix with 2 forks or (preferred method) fingers until crumbly.
3. Add 1/2 teaspoon almond extract and toss briefly until mixed and looks like couscous. Spread topping evenly over entire apple mixture and press down slightly to seal.
4. Bake at 325 degrees about 45 minutes to 1 hour, until lightly browned on top and bubbly.
5. Cool slightly and serve with softly whipped cream. Garnish with additional ginger if desired.