Short Crust and Cherry Pie

It’s that time of year when we are all getting just a little tired of the fresh fruit bowl… pie season! Let’s start with making the perfect pie pastry, then fill it with what you like. Today, I’ll be filling my pie with cherries, which have been in amazing abundance this year.

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Below are my favorite recipes and methods for perfect short crust pastries. Like my grandma’s recipes, the base of these start with a combination of butter, flour and salt with additions of lard, egg yolk and sugar to make them as flakey, rich or sweet as you want them for different recipes. For the purposes of this lesson, I will be making the Double Rich Pie Crust recipe.

RECIPES

Basic Pie Crust 250g plain flour, 1 large pinch salt, 140g cold unsalted butter or 100g cold unsalted butter and 40g cold lard, 2 large egg yolks, 3 TBS chilled water (or 5 TBS chilled water, no egg yolks)

Double Rich Pie Crust 500g plain flour, 1/8 tsp salt, 280g cold unsalted butter/200g cold unsalted butter and 80g lard, 4 large egg yolks, 5-6 TBS chilled water (plus extra)

Sweet Rich Pie Crust To the 250g flour recipe, add 1 TBS caster sugar with salt.

Cherry Pie Filling About 1kg/2lbs fresh, tart, whole cherries 1 TBS Almond Liqueur 3 TBS Corn Flour 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon 150-200g/1 cup-1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (depending how tart cherries are) 2 TBS granulated sugar (for topping)

METHOD

First thing’s first – pop a small jug or cup of water in the fridge to chill down. You’ll need it very cold. Now, follow this same method for each pie pastry recipe and you’ll get there. Start by choosing either the slow manual or quick machine method for rubbing fat into flour, then follow the steps after. For now, let’s focus mainly on the quick method. I’ll add some more photographs of the slow method a bit later… To start, measure flour and salt into a large bowl and cut up cold unsalted butter into cubes. If you don’t have unsalted, for heaven’s sake just use salted and omit the salt in the recipe. Life’s too short for needless extra trips to the grocery store…

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It will be a saltier pastry of course but still perfectly edible. And another little tip – I usually always make the double recipe as you can roll out and roll up pastry between parchment paper, wrap it in cling film and freeze it to have ready made pie crust on hand if you’re not planning to use it all, say for when you’re making pumpkin pies or crumble top pies.

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Cut Butter into Flour 

This process encases the flour in fat so that it won’t develop much gluten (the protein that makes bread so chewy and delicious). This encasement makes for a short, melt in the mouth pastry.

SLOW

Just like Grandma, I love to use the slow method of cutting in fat when I want a few moments of zen. For this method you use two knives or a pastry cutter to cut the fat into the salted flour and then use your fingers to rub the fat in until it’s fully incorporated and there are no more fatty lumps larger than a very small pea. If the butter begins to melt, pop it in the fridge and take a rest for 5 minutes. It’s very important that at this stage nothing goes greasy.

QUICK

If you’re short on time or you just want to get it done, here is a quick method! Put the butter, flour and salt in a food processor…

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and whizz it up until it looks like fine bread crumbs.

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Pretty fast huh?

Mixing in Liquid

Once you’ve cut in all your butter (move your mix to a bowl if using a processor),  you’ll add an icy cold liquid mix of egg yolk and water (or just water if you prefer) to bring it together. Start by measuring 5 TBS cold water into a glass with egg yolks. If it’s a really hot day, like it is in my kitchen right now, add an ice cube to the cup, it will help.

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Mix thoroughly with a fork and quickly drizzle 90mls of this liquid to your flour and butter mixture. Quickly mix in using a cutlery knife, moving the bowl to distribute the liquid as evenly as possible. Think of an old fashioned top-loading washing machine, the bowl moves the opposite direction to the direction your knife stirs.

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So, just to show you what is not enough liquid, the above is not enough…. the below is just right. If it’s too dry, add a little more liquid at a time and mix until you reach the desired texture.

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You are looking for pea sized to hazelnut sized lumps of pastry to form that are not wet but can be packed together with your hand. If you haven’t got to this point yet, quickly  add a tsp at a time until you get the desired moisture. Try to bring it together by lightly pressing it with your hand against the side of the bowl. If it’s too dry to keep its shape, add another teaspoon. Not too much though! It should not feel tacky. There should be a small amount of dry crumb left in the bowl and the dough should not be at all wet. Wet = tough! The key to making successful pastry is to make sure that at no point does your dough become greasy or sticky. If the butter starts to melt, just pop the dough in the fridge or freezer for 5-10 minutes and you can get back to it.

If you’re having trouble, don’t despair! The reason this step is often so tricky is that all flours absorb different amounts of liquid. Chill Mush the dough gently together to make it homogenous in colour as possible and form the dough into two discs with one slightly larger than the other for the bottom crust. Wrap well and tightly with cling film/saran wrap and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes. This stage is very important. It relaxes any gluten that’s developed so that you can work easily with the pastry and it stops the butter melting at the rolling out stage.

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Roll

After 20 minutes, the dough should have firmed up. Put it on a flat, clean, well floured surface. Push your rolling pin down on the dough to make ridges, starting in the middle and moving to the outside, turning the dough as you go. The aims is to flatten the dough disc as much as possible before rolling it out. If cracks appear at the sides, just push them back together with your hands. Make sure you always have enough flour on your work top so that your pastry can move freely! If you don’t, the dough will stick to the surface and it will all end in tears. When you’ve ridged as much as you can, roll it out so that it is as evenly thick as possible, the about the thickness of 1/2 a centimeter or a little more than 1/8 of an inch.

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Once made, you can freeze your pre-rolled crusts between parchment paper, rolled up, so they are ready to go for the next time you want to make pie. Just defrost so that they are pliable before shaping. Shape The side of the pastry that is down to your work surface should be the side that touches the pie dish. With a well floured rolling pin, roll the pastry around so that it hangs over the top of it, then use the rolling pin to place the pastry into your pie tin.

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It should be touching the bottom and gentry drapping over the edges. Using your hands, gently lift the pastry in so that it is positioned without stretching in any area, if you are having trouble pushing it into the inner corners, use a wad of extra pastry to lightly push it into place. Brush out any excess flour and pop in the fridge to chill down while you make your filling.

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Now, you have to decide whether you are going to roll out the top of the pastry to fully cover the filling of your pie, or if you are going to lattice it. If you are going to use full cover (does it sound like I’m talking about knicker styles to you? Yeah, me too…) make sure to pinch the edges together to seal them (see below for one way) and then poke a hole in the middle of the top to allow steam to escape.

I am going to go for the lattice style because I think if shows of the beautiful red of the cherries. The first thing to do is to roll out the dough as before, then place onto some parchement paper and pop it in the freezer for 5 minutes to firm up. While it’s in the freezer you can make you pie filling.

Cherry Pie

The cherry crop this year really has been amazing, a walk through Borough Market will show you that first hand!

Cherry pie seems to be a bit of a lost recipe in the UK, where we seem to see apple as the only fruit suitable for pie. Time to set that right! When selected on the slightly under- ripe side, cherries make for a deliciously tart pie filling. Select the best for your pie by choosing those on the brighter red side, rather than deep red, or simply ask for the newest crop, which might not be out on the stand yet. You can also do a combo of jarred sour cherries and fresh. Better yet, if you have one of those bright red cherry trees in your neighbourhood, you know the kind where you always have to try one a year and soon regret it? They are the perfect cherries for pie. If it’s yours, lucky you! If it’s not, offer the owner a slice of the pie you’re going to make and grab as many as you can. They freeze wonderfully once pitted or stoned.

Let’s get started: preheat your oven to 200 °c and for best results put in a thic baking sheet or pizza stone to put the pie on top of. This bottom heat will help cook the bottom crust to avoid sogginess.

Rinse cherries and remove their pits.

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If you don’t have a tool for this, you can cut them in half to remove them.

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Put all the prepped cherries into a bowl and mix in the almond liqueure to coat the cherries, followed by the sugar, followed by the cornflour and cinnamon, which should be sifted over before mixing through. Pour the whole lot onto your chilled bottom pie crust, including all juices.

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Lattice Pie Top

Take the top pie crust out of the freezer and cut into strips about 1cm/ 1/2 inch wide. Use a rocking motion when cutting rather than a dragging motion for better results.

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Lay strips across the pie with even gaps between. I recommend about 1 1/2 cm so that you have good gaps but a stable lattice. The strips of pastry should be pliable enough to fold back on themselves without breaking, but not greasy. To weave the lattice, fold back every other strip starting in the middle and place a perpendicular strip right below the ones you’ve folded back.

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Fold the strips over the new one and repeat with the next row, creating a weave until you’ve completed the half.

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Once you’ve finished weaving, trim any seriously long strips and fold the bottom crust over the strips to form a rim around the pie.

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Pinch the edges together using three fingers to create a crimped rim all the way around. This seals the edge and helps stop overflowing juices.

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Next paint water onto the crust using a pastry brush, or a small, clean paintbrush at a pinch, to make it a bit sticky. Generously sprinkle over granulated sugar.

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Bake the pie at 200 °c for about 20 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

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So there you go! Now you can make a short, crumbly, deliciously flakey crust for whatever pie you fancy and use a lattice to make it look even more impressive. Making the perfect pie crust takes practice and patience, but I promise it’s worth it! Everyone knows the difference between store bought and homemade… Homemade is always better.

Recipes adapted from Baking Illustrated and Brown Eyed Baker, Leith’s Baking Bible

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