Cherry pie is my favorite kind of pie. I mean-if you can have a favorite kind of pie. It has been mine for a long time. In my family, we eat a lot of pies. A lot of pies. Thanksgiving isn’t a Turkey holiday-it’s a pie holiday. Chocolate pies-rhubarb pies-strawberry pies-apple pies-pumpkin pies-cranberry pies-pecan pies-(notice how they’re all plural?)-cherry pies-cheesecake pies-even a grapefruit pie one year. And cherry remains my favorite. Probably because cherry pie always comes from lots of hard work, that I usually have a hand (or two) in. You can’t buy these cherries. No, you can’t have just any cherries! With the best cherries, you have to grow them, pick them, and pit them (and that’s half of the fun. And most of the work), and some years you have a good year and get a crazy amount of cherries (like we had this year!), and some years you get barely any. So cherry pies are a delicacy, and we tend to put up as many quarts of cherries as possible, picking until the trees are bare, and then hoarding them in the freezer until winter, when we crack open a precious quart and pop a few delicious cherries into our mouths while making the pie crust and heating the oven.
We have established that I have an obsession with cherry pies, and cherries and pies in general, and have had said obsession for a long time, and that I won’t do anything to rid myself of this obsession. Then casually, like it’s nothing important, enters this cookbook into my life from stage left, with it’s (also nonchalant) friend bacon.
This cookbook looks at me, as if to say ‘well? Are you going to look at my recipes?’ and I look back at it, and it can see in my crazed eyes the answer: ‘Need you ask?’ I pick up the treasured volume, wondering how I had ever survived without it, flip through the recipes, drooling at recipes such as Linguine with Kale Pesto, Raspberry-Grapefruit Popsicles and of course Strawberry Soup with Balsamic-Black Pepper Peaches. I pause a moment to savor the wonderful curiosity at what other marvels this book might contain and while I do, the book gives me a look as if to say ‘I like you, so I’ll show you my best-kept secret’, and flips it’s pages carelessly to a recipe that makes me stop cold, not caring how much I was drooling, only wondering when I could possibly make this delicious creation, and how in the world had I lived not knowing of this fabulous invention? That’s when the bacon stops, stares at me and speaks up: ‘never thought of adding me, did you? That’s okay, no one ever does.’ I give him a sympathetic glance-‘it’s okay, bacon. I feel your pain, and if no one else knows enough to add you to a cherry pie, the least I can do is use you to your utmost. I will appreciate you as you should be appreciated. Come on bacon, come on book; let’s go bake.’ And exit, three best friends, to find another; pie.
Scene one–the introduction–is only half over. A silent, short second half opens. The three friends–cookbook, bacon, and I traipse in stage right. I look at my new friends, and introduce them to two old steadfast friends: pie and french rolling pin. Immediately they take to each other, and all five skip out, holding floury hands.
Then scene two opens. Time has passed in the kitchen, and all five friends are floured and greased and ready to go–pie and bacon are in the oven together, and cookbook, french rolling pin and I are happily singing and cleaning ourselves up. The timer goes off and I pull bacon and pie out of the oven. Cookbook, french rolling pin and I have finished cleaning up, and I look at my friends reluctantly; ‘much as I want you to come along to Supper Club, cookbook, french rolling pin, only pie and bacon are coming with us. You know everyone over there already french rolling pin-Grandpa made you-and cookbook, you’ll know them soon, but tonight it’s about bacon and pie; tomorrow it will be all about you cookbook, and I’ll take you over and you can meet Grandma’s cookbooks–you’ll like them, they’re just like you-full of delicious secrets.’ When I had started telling them they couldn’t come, french rolling pin and cookbook looked sad, but at this they perked up; and yet, a tearful farewell took part from the five friends, as they parted ways in the not-quite-spotless kitchen.
A short ending scene opens; the audience wonders what will happen, for at the end of scene two, my family was devouring pie and bacon, and french rolling pin and cookbook had been left in the kitchen at home. As the curtains come up, they see a sign: ‘The still-not-quite-clean kitchen, weeks later’. They see me walk into the kitchen, bacon and pie in hand. French rolling pin and cookbook are on the counter, and the five friends, reunited again, go about making another delicious floury mess together.
End of play. The audience gets up, slowly making their way out, all thinking the same things: ‘Bacon. Pie. Bacon! Pie! That cookbook! Bacon. Pie. French rolling pin. . . bacon. pie. I’ve got to get that recipe!’
- For the bacon crust:
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- ½ cup plus 1 Tbs. chilled bacon, cut into ⅛-inch pieces (I like to add more than this, but don't go overboard, or else you will only get the bacon taste, and you really just want a hint of bacon in the crust)
- 5 ounces unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup ice water
- For the cherry filling:
- 5 cups fresh sour cherries, pitted (again, I like to add more than this-just be careful! You don't want to have too much to fit in the crust.)
- 1 cup sugar
- 2½ Tbs. cornstarch
- A pinch of kosher salt
- Zest and juice of one lemon (or the zest of two!)
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- ⅛-1/4 tsp. almond extract
- For the almond crumb topping:
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup sugar
- ⅓ cup finely chopped almonds (or walnuts, or pecans)
- ¼ tsp. kosher salt
- 5 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
- (You can add a little bit of almond extract here too and it will be delicious, but not much-it's strong.)
- Heavy cream or ice cream, for serving (optional).
- Make the pie crust:
- Combine the flour and salt in a food processor and process briefly to combine. Add the bacon and butter and pulse until the mixture resembles big bread crumbs.
- Sprinkle half of the water over the mixture and pulse 5 or 6 times, pulling the mixture up from the bottom of the bowl. Sprinkle on the remaining water and pulse again 5 or 6 times, briefly, just until dough pulls together into a ball.
- Put the dough on a large flour-dusted piece of waxed paper and flatten it into a disk about 1 inch thick. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
- Make the filling:
- Combine the cherries and ½ cup of the sugar in a large bowl. Set aside 10 minutes to macerate. Mix the remaining ½ cup sugar, the cornstarch, and the salt in a small bowl and stir the mixture into the cherries. Stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla, and almond extract, and set aside.
- Make the almond crumb topping:
- Combine the flour, sugar, almonds, and salt in a food processor and and pulse 7 times to blend well. With the motor running, drizzle in the melted butter--this should take 8 pulses, max. The topping should look like sandy gravel, not dough. Set aside.
- Assemble the Pie:
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Lightly flour a 2-foot piece of waxed paper. Place the chilled pastry in the center of the paper, dust it lightly with flour, then roll it into a 12-inch circle (French rolling pins are the best!). Turn it over an 11-inch tart pan or 9-inch deep-dish pie pan, center it, and peel off the paper. Tuck the pastry into the pan, pressing it into the fluted rim without stretching it. Trim the overhang so the pastry is flush with the top of the rim. Place in the freezer for 10 minutes.
- Remove the crust from the freezer and pour in the cherry filling, then sprinkle the almond crumb topping evenly over the pie.
- Place the tart on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet and put it in the oven. Bake for 1 hour, until bubbling all over.
- Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack and let cool for at least 2 hours before serving, or you will be having soup with a crumble crust.
- Slice and serve with softly whipped unsweetened cream, homemade whipped cream, or ice cream, if desired.
Can you tell I’m in a melodrama mood? I’ll tell you a secret: we’ve been reading scripts. Scripts for the melodrama this year, which will be starting up soon. Eep!
So, after dreaming about this pie for weeks and then finally making it (and now having written a short play, or maybe a rather long daydream about it), I got a new cookbook (another one–yay!) which has a recipe that sounds heavenly. Maybe even almost as good as this one. Except it’s not cherry pie but, you know. It’s simply this: Apple Pie with Chedder-Bacon Crust (again bacon enters stage left, this time accompanied by new friends; my new cookbook and cheddar). Yes. This needs to be done. And soon. Waddya think bacon? Cheddar? New cookbook? Should we go find our old friends pie and french rolling pin?