Monday, July 18, 2011

Gaining the Upper Crust: Ducksmack Sour Cherry Pie

Let me spoil this one for you: Last Wednesday I entered and lost my first pie competition.  My friends tell me I was robbed (thanks, friends!).  I chalk it up to inexperience, visitor (70):pie (2) ratio, and the fact that warm pie and accompanying ice cream were not permitted. I dislike losing--so much so that some games (Hearts, for example) are on a "do not play" list.  But, entering a pie competition seemed like the right thing to do on a Sunday night and I'm ultimately glad I did. Some very good things resulted (besides a pie-sized chip on my shoulder).

For one thing, I feel a much more confident baker.  For another, I learned a lot. I will never ever serve 2 cold fruit pies to 70 hungry people a day after making them. (Honestly, who ever wants cold pie?) I will never make my pies a day ahead and take them to work, hoping that they don't go soggy. And I will never enter another competition without bringing my own serving utensils, like the winner was smart enough to do.  What I will do, though, is make these sour cherry pies--and other pies for that matter--using the techniques I learned in this process. Because when they were served in proper slices (as opposed to bite sized scoops), slightly warm, on a plate at home, this made a damn good pie.

The Fruit:
I am a sucker for sour cherry pie.  It was the pie  my mother made every holiday.  I'll never make hers (I defy any one to perfectly recreate their mother's recipe), but I'm eager to make my own version.  Typically, I use jarred sour cherries, but since I do work next door to the union square greenmarket, and sour cherries are in season, I wanted to try fresh.

The difference is straightforward: jarred cherries are sweeter and slightly mushier.  The fresh ones have more of a bite, produce more juice, and are more acidic.  Pitting them is a pain, but I think worth it.  They added just a little more tartness and packed a bit more punch.

The Filling:
I combined (approx 1 cup) Red Jacket Orchard's sour cherry stomp with 1/4 tsp vanilla, 1/2c sugar, and 3Tbsp of cornstarch.  Like my mom always did, I thickened ahead of time on the stove (I find with cherries the filling doesn't set up if you try to do it all in the oven).  I used 4-5 cups of cherries per pie
Oh, and I added about 1/4 cup of whiskey.  Because this was, after all, a Ducksmack pie.
(I think I was going for an "old fashioned" flavour--it did work a bit).

The Crust:
Ahh, the most important part.  The thing that sets a pie apart.  I never make double crusts--the sheer amount of butter scares me away--but this was a competition, damnit, and the pies had to show.

I made three pies, a test pie and then my two competition pies, and for all three I used Kenji's (from Serious Eats) "Easy Pie Dough" recipe.  It worked great, and as promised, was very consistent. (Kenji's food lab articles are stellar and always make for a great read).  Served that evening, or reheated the next day, I think this pie would have been just terrific.  But serving it the next day, outside, after it had cooled, proved very challenging.  Still, I'm proud of it, and I think this is a crust I'll be making for a long time to come.

A few things I learned:

  • Grease the glass pie pan!
  • Refrigerating is key.  I refrigerated after nearly every step so the fat would re-solidify.  As a result, though, the crust took twice as long to make.  But, it was worth it!
  • Glass pie dishes are great, particularly for fluting, but the bottom crust doesn't cook nearly as well as in my old alumninum dish.  My friend suggests cooking on a preheated baking sheet or on the bottom of the oven--oh well, next time
  • With a pie this juicy, the bottom crust is just going to get soggy.  I tried an eggwash on the bottom layer, as suggested by the internet, but it didn't make much difference a day later.  I like the idea of a coating of chocolate, but that wouldn't work with sour cherry.
  • Follow my instincts:  I should have reheated the pies the next day before competing.  I would have had warm pies with more solid bottom crust.  Ah well--next time!
  • Sour cherries can be a divisive fruit--some people love them, some people not so much
  • A brush of heavy cream and a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar in the raw over the top crust  really does look and taste awesome.

Bonus Recipe!

With the left over crust, I made crust cookies with cinnamon and sugar and a dollop of my Ducksmack marmalade.  I want to make these again. Perhaps in a month or so when I take on my next home-canning challenge: Santa Rosa Plum Preserves.

1 comment:

Travis Godsoe said...

I heard a rumor this morning that the Santa Rosa plums are out and nearly at their peak, so that jam may come earlier than expected!