Published July 1, 2010.
Cherry season is a mere blip on the summer-produce radar. For a juicy pie with the best fruity flavor, we’d have to look beyond the cherry tree.
The mellow flavor and meaty, firm flesh of plump, sweet cherries make them ideal for eating straight off the stem. But these same qualities pose significant problems for baking.
We wanted our sweet cherry pie to rival apple pie as America’s favorite. The fruit should be softened but still intact, with an intense, jammy flavor.
Initial tests revealed two issues with our sweet cherry pie: We had to tame the cherries’ sweetness and get them to break down to the proper, juicy texture. We cut back on the amount of sugar we were using, but we couldn’t do without it entirely. Sugar draws moisture out of the fruit, and any less than half a cup ruined the pie’s texture. Since the pie with this small amount still tasted cloying, we had to find another way to offset the sweetness. A splash of bourbon and lemon juice helped, but large quantities of either one overwhelmed the cherries. It occurred to us that the addition of a tart stone fruit—like plums—might balance the flavor. In our next pie, we sliced a few plums into the filling, but their flesh was just as dense and resilient as the cherries’. For the next batch, we tried pureeing the plums and mixing the resulting pulp with the cherries. The combined filling had a tangy, complex flavor, and no one suspected our secret addition.
Our next step was to tackle the cherries’ overly firm texture. As it turns out, the culprit was the cherries’ excessive cellulose, the main structural component of fruit cells, which makes them rigid. We were already macerating the cherries in sugar to draw out some of their juices, but their thick skins were hampering the process. Cutting the fruit in half helped considerably. We then tossed some of the cherries into the food processor along with the plums and strained out the chewy skins for a filling that was soft and studded with a few still-intact cherry pieces.
Our final discovery was that we needed to top the pie with a full pastry crust. A lattice design shows off the fruit, but it allows too much moisture to escape and results in a dry pie. Placing the pie on a preheated baking sheet ensured that the bottom crust crisped up before the fruit filling could seep through.list of recipes