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Quick cherry cream pie. June 27, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s sour cherry season here in our part of scenic PA, as I was reminded this weekend when our friend Ben and I visited a local Mennonite farm stand and I saw quart cartons of the jewel-like red cherries, fresh-picked from the family’s own trees. I just had to get a quart. And I knew I’d get no argument from OFB, who’s been agitating for a year now for us to add a sour (aka pie) cherry tree to our backyard orchard.

Not wanting to waste good fruit, and confronted with a whole quart of beautiful cherries, I thought, hmmm, maybe I can make a pie for OFB and make a jar or two of cherry preserves at the same time. If you’ve cooked down cherries yourself, you’ll know that the whole quart barely made enough topping for one pie. But, hey, we all need to make mistakes in order to learn from them, right?!

First, the pie. Checking out cherry pie recipes, I saw that they were split into two categories: traditional fruit pies, which are made in unbaked pie shells and baked in the oven, with or without a crumb topping or a custard filling; and unbaked cream pies, which appear to be universally made with softened cream cheese and—gack!!!—canned cherry pie filling. Mercy on us!

I definitely wanted to make an unbaked cherry cream pie. It’s summer, after all, and the last thing anyone wants to do in summer is heat up the oven or eat a hot slice of pie. But I did not want to soften cream cheese and then beat it into submission. And I certainly didn’t want to use canned pie filling!

Thinking it all through, I recalled the Pineapple Coconut Cream Pie* I’d made for OFB last weekend, a huge hit with him and our neighbors. It used a prepared Graham cracker crust rather than a traditional pie crust, and instant vanilla pudding coupled with sour cream gave it its rich, creamy nature. What could be easier? And why couldn’t I make a cherry pie along these lines? I was determined to try.

The pineapple cream pie had been such a smashing success that I’d picked up three more prepared Graham cracker crusts at our local grocery on sale, and I still had plenty of instant vanilla pudding and sour cream. Time to get busy!

The first thing to do was to cook down the sour cherries. My first thought had been to simply top the pie’s cream filling with halved raw cherries, but after reading a bunch of recipes, I realized that I’d better cook them first. So I stemmed, washed, and pitted the quart of sour cherries. I pitted them by hand, holding each washed cherry in the heavy enamelled cast-iron LeCreuset Dutch oven I use to cook almost everything and pushing to split out the seed, which I dropped into a bag. I wouldn’t like to pit a treeful by hand, but it was fast and relaxing with just a quart.

Once the pitted cherries were all in the pot, I added a splash of water (not much, since I knew the cherries would yield lots of juice; I just wanted to make sure they didn’t stick). Then I added 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar and a teaspoon of ras al-hanout (a Moroccan spice mix) for a discreet but irresistible flavor undertone. If I hadn’t had ras al-hanout on hand, I would have used a teaspoon of garam masala, and if I didn’t have that, a teaspoon of ground cardamom or a half-teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Then I turned the pot on low and turned my attention to the cream filling.

To make the filling, I put a 3.5-ounce package of instant vanilla pudding in a bowl, added 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar, 1 tablespoon real vanilla extract, 3 tablespoons light cream, and a cup of sour cream, stirring well to blend. (If the mixture seems too thick, thin it with a little more cream, adding a tablespoon at a time, but remember, you want it to be a smooth, creamy, cheesecake-ish consistency when it’s chilled.) When the filling had come together—less than 5 minutes from first to last—I poured it into the Graham cracker crust, smoothed it out with the back of a spoon, and chilled it while the cherries cooked down.

The cherries required only occasional stirring at first, but as they became thicker and more jammy, I had to pay closer attention. I stirred until the cherry mixture was very thick, then turned off the heat and let it cool to room temperature, returning to stir it every 5 minutes. When it had cooled down, I brought out the chilled pie and spread the cherry mixture evenly over the top, then re-covered it and put it back in the fridge until it was time to serve it.

Once it was time for dessert, I took the pie out of the fridge, cut the necessary number of slices, and added a thick layer of whipped cream to each before serving the plates. (I’d have added the whipped cream to the whole top of the pie before serving if I’d been sure it would all have been eaten at that meal, but you definitely don’t want whipped cream sitting on a refrigerated pie; it’s always best to add it fresh to any leftovers.)

You should have heard the sighs of pleasure coming from the table! OFB and our guest were beside themselves. Now I’ll have to add this pie to my list of easy pies for dinner gatherings. Try it and let me know what you think! 

          ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

* For the recipe, type “Pineapple coconut cream pie” into our search bar at upper right.

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