Good Afternoon! We have a very important birthday coming up in our family. Well, I try to keep all birthdays important, because everyone deserves their special day. I try never to forget those birthdays of family members and close friends who don’t live nearby. I missed my sister-in-law’s birthday just this week. I felt really bad and apologized like crazy. Thank God for Amazon Prime, as I had a lovely gift on the way to her quickly. Love ya Cheryl!
For local birthdays, I love to have a big birthday dinner and invite everyone. I quiz the birthday boy or girl about their very favorite meal, or what they would like to have most. My special honoree this week is my wonderful husband, Doc. He has chosen his Mother’s oven pot roast recipe with gravy, mashed potatoes, and glazed carrots.
Birthday dinner choices are never the problem. Everyone picks something different, and I’m always happy to cook for them and get everyone together for a big meal.
The problem is dessert. I know what you’re thinking. That it’s a birthday dinner. How about, oh, I don’t know… CAKE! You would think so. But, my husband and stepsons just don’t like cake. One doesn’t eat chocolate either. My sons like cake to varying degrees, so I make cakes for their birthdays. But it does pose a challenge. What is a good alternative to birthday cake??
The most popular choice is cheesecake. I make an amazing cheesecake, using a New York style recipe which is thick, creamy, and delicious. I use various fruit toppings. But, we have had a lot of cheesecake over the last few months, and my hubby wanted something different. So, after some thought, he announced his choice for cake alternative this year. Cherry Pie. If you can stick candles in it, I’m okay with it as a cake alternative. You’re on!
So let’s talk cherry pie. Growing up, my dear mother wasn’t a particularly good cook. But she made some killer pies! She made apple most often, but I remember cherry, blueberry, and even an occasional lemon meringue. She rolled out beautifully light, flaky crusts and wove a beautiful lattice top for her cherry pies.
First, the cherries. You can use fresh, frozen, or canned. Fresh cherries have to be pitted. Pitting cherries is a long, messy, thankless job. Among their counterparts in the can and in the freezer, as long as you find dark, unsweetened cherries, you are all set. My personal preference is frozen. You simply thaw them in a colander and they are ready to use.
If you want to go the fresh cherry route, you can invest in a cherry pitter. If not, the easiest way is with a three inch section of a stiff plastic straw. Wash the cherries, and pull out the stem. Stick the end of the straw through the bottom of the cherry and push it out through the stem end. The pit will come through with the straw. When it gets bent or dull, get a new section of straw. It’s messy, no matter what you use.
Pastry for Double (or lattice) Crust 9″ Pie:
The temperature of your ingredients is extremely important. The shortening must be very cold from the fridge and scoop your tablespoons of water from a glass of ice water. This will result in a light, flaky crust. It also makes it easier to work with. Handling is also very important. Don’t handle the pastry any more than you have to. Over handling makes it tough.
In a large bowl, sift together 2C flour and 1t salt. Cut in 2/3C shortening using a pastry blender or 2 knives in a criss cross pattern until small pea sized. This can be achieved in the food processor also. Put the flour and salt in the bowl of processor with blade attached. Drop in the cold shortening in chunks and pulse quickly several times, again down to small pea size chunks.
Making it in a bowl, begin with 1T ice water. You will ultimately use 5 to 7 tablespoons. Sprinkle the water over part of the mixture, gently toss with a fork, and move it to the side of the bowl. Keep doing that until it is all moistened. Form into 2 equal sized balls.
If making your pastry in the food processor, begin by dribbling a tablespoon of ice water in the opening in the top and pulse twice quickly. Repeat this until everything is moistened and beginning to form a ball. Remove from processor and form into 2 equal sized balls.
Cover one ball with a damp paper towel while you begin working with the other. Use your palm to flatten the ball on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle a bit of flour on top. Begin rolling by putting the rolling pin in the middle of the dough and rolling out to the edge. Repeat this motion with each stroke all the way around. Continue rolling til you have a large circle 1/8 inch thick. Gently lift crust from floured surface, section by section. If it starts to tear, moisten your fingers and stick it back together. Use a spatula to assist you if it continues to stick. Fit it evenly into your pie pan and trim to 1/2″ beyond edge.
Now, the cherry pie filling! It’s not cherry season. But the following recipe is the same for fresh or frozen. If they are fresh, pit them as described. If frozen, open the bag(s), pour in a colander, and let thaw and drain.
In a large bowl, put 3C cherries. Add 1-1/2C sugar, 1/4C flour, and 1/4t salt. Use a rubber spatula to toss and turn mixture gently to completely combine and coat cherries. Pour into prepared pie crust. Dot surface with 2T butter.
The Lattice Top: Uncover second ball of dough and on a lightly floured surface roll it out, same as above, to a large circle 1/8″ thick. Cut strips using a pizza wheel (or pastry cutter for you high tech people!) about 1/2 – 3/4″ wide. Lay them about an inch apart across the pie. Then go in the other direction, folding back alternate strips as you weave your way across. Trim the strips even with the pie plate, and fold bottom crust over strips. Crimp around whole edge with tines of a fork.
Put this vision of loveliness and deliciousness in a preheated 400 F oven. Bake for 50 – 55 minutes til bubbly and browned. If edges are browning too fast, wrap the edge gently in foil. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack. Let cool 30 to 60 minutes before cutting.
Delicious cherry pie, and you can stick candles in it! This will be a lovely birthday dessert for my sweetie, served up with some vanilla bean ice cream.
Of note: You can certainly use a boxed pie crust from the dairy section. Roll it out as described, larger and thinner (1/8″) than it comes and continue as directed. It is a good crust and will make a delicious pie. There is some satisfaction, however, in making your own. Follow the directions, and do your best. It is a skill, and like any skill, practice is required. If it’s something you enjoy, keep trying! Your skills will improve, and you can eat your imperfections! Seriously, even if it doesn’t look perfect, it will taste good and your family and friends will help eat all your pies while you learn!