Life may not always be a bowl of cherries but a warm slice of freshly baked pie will help make it sweeter
Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee
For me, the ideal cherry pie is made with sour cherries - the same bright red, tart, intensely flavoured fruit I use for my favourite sorbet. Unfortunately, the fresh or frozen fruit is almost impossible to find in Hong Kong, at least for ordinary people (chefs have their own sources). Instead, I make cherry pie using black cherries, which are in season now.
Deep-dish cherry pie with flaky crust (pictured)
The ceramic pan I used for this pie held 2kg of fruit and took more than 90 minutes to bake. As with all baked fruit pies, you can tell it's done when the filling starts to bubble out of the crust.
The dough for this pie is, ingredients-wise, almost the same one I use for other types of pie and for quiche. But because I wanted a little more flakiness in the top crust, I've changed the technique.
If the cherries you buy are soft, or if you want a thicker filling, use the larger amount of cornstarch.
For the crust:
240 grams plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for rolling the dough
120 grams cake flourm
½ tsp fine-grained sea salt
1 tsp granulated sugar
250 grams unsalted butter, cut into 1cm chunks then frozen for 30 minutes
80ml ice water
1 egg whisked with 30ml water, for brushing the dough
For the filling:
2kg fresh black cherries, pitted
200 grams granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
½ tsp fine sea salt
100-125 grams cornstarch
2 tsp almond extract
60ml fresh lemon juice
Put the plain flour and cake flour in the bowl of a food processor, add the sugar and salt, then process to combine. Add the chunks of frozen butter and process until the butter is the size of small peas. Put the ingredients into a bowl and drizzle with the ice water. Mix with your fingertips until roughly combined - there will be damp (but not sopping wet) spots, with some dry spots. Turn the ingredients onto a clean work surface and pat them into a rectangle that's about 24cm by 16cm. With the help of a bench scraper or metal spatula, lift the bottom half of the rectangle and fold it in half so it's 12cm by 16 cm. Turn 90 degrees then pat it out again until it's again 24cm in length. Repeat this twice more; by the time you're finished, the dough will be quite cohesive, with visible streaks of butter. Divide the dough into two uneven pieces - one with about two-thirds of the dough (for the bottom crust), with the remainder for the top crust. Shape the pieces of dough into discs, wrap with cling-film and refrigerate for at least an hour (but longer is better; I let the dough rest for at least a day).
Leave the dough at room temperature until it's malleable but still cool. Put the larger disc on a lightly floured work surface, dust it with flour and then roll it out into a large circle that's about 3mm thick. Gently fit the dough over a deep-dish pie pan and settle it gently into the contours, taking care not to stretch the dough. Make a decorative border at the edges and then trim off the excess dough. Chill for at least 45 minutes. Roll out the second piece of dough into a large circle that's 3mm thick. Place the dough on a cutting board (or a parchment paper-lined baking sheet) and chill for 15 minutes. Use a sharp paring knife to cut free-form leaf shapes of different sizes. Separate the "leaves" from the trimmings. Shape the trimmings into a disc, wrap with cling-film and refrigerate. Very lightly brush the leaf shapes with beaten egg then score the surface of each one to resemble the veins of a leaf. Refrigerate the leaves. Take the dough trimmings from the fridge, roll them out and cut more leaf shapes, again, brushing them with egg and scoring them before putting them in the fridge (you'll need a lot of leaves for the pie).
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Lay a sheet of aluminium foil on a baking tray, to catch the drips from the pie as it bakes.
Pit the cherries (preferably using a device that removes the pits but keeps the cherries almost whole). Mix the sugar with the salt and cornstarch, then sprinkle this over the fruit and combine thoroughly. Add the almond extract and the lemon juice and mix. Put the filling into the prepared pie shell, mounding it at the centre. Starting from the middle of the pie, and using the largest leaves first, lay the leaves slightly overlapping in a decorative pattern over the filling, sticking them together with a little of the beaten egg. Don't cover the pie entirely; leave several gaps to allow the steam to escape. When the pie is ready, sprinkle it with granulated sugar then put it on the baking tray and bake at 220 degrees for 15 minutes. Turn the heat to 200 degrees and bake for 30 minutes, turning it around halfway through so it bakes evenly. Turn the heat to 180 degrees and bake the pie for about 50 minutes, or until the filling starts to bubble out of the crust. Again, turn the pie around halfway through. If the top crust starts to get too dark, drape a sheet of aluminium foil over it. Remove the pie from the oven and leave for at least an hour before slicing it into wedges.