In all honesty, I have been pretty phobic of cherry pie most of my life. Weird, right? Especially for me since I love everything sweet. I think I was led astray during a cafeteria meal in the third grade. Dessert in the cafeteria that day was cherry pie, or at least that’s what it claimed to be. The pie, if you could call it that, was a soggy, tasteless crust with canned cherries that tasted more like cough medicine than cherries. My whole life of not wanting to eat cherry pie harks back to that one singular moment.
Fast forward a few decades and my idea of cherry pie has taken a complete 180. It all began last week when our neighbor’s daughter stopped by and gave us a large sack of fresh cherries. They were gorgeous and about as fresh as you can get.
In true Italian family style, these beautiful ruby gems were picked by our neighbor’s father on his farm in Puglia in southern Italy and transported north by his brother who dropped them off at his nephew’s house (our neighbor). Door to door service! Hard to beat that!
I washed a few off and popped one in my mouth. Sweet, juicy, and tangy all at the same time. Summer in a bite. I knew that I needed to make something with them. I got to thinking about the infamous cherry pie of my childhood. I was convinced that if I used these stunning cherries to make a pie it would certainly change my mind about cherry pie and wipe away all my ugly childhood memories ;). It certainly did not disappoint!
Instead of using a traditional pie crust, I decided to use an Italian style crust called pasta frolla which essentially is a cookie like shortbread crust. I prefer it to the traditional crust as it is a bit sturdier and doesn’t get soggy and can stand up to all the juicy goodness of the cherries. Plus, it is a no fail way to make a great crust; crunchy and tasty every time. I like to add a bit of lemon zest and vanilla bean paste to the crust as it enhances the flavor of the cherry filling. I also like to keep the cherry filling very simple so that fruit is the star and not masked by any other flavors.
For the cherry filling, unless you have a cherry pitter (I don’t), the easiest way to remove the pits is to simply take a paring knife and (carefully) run it around the center of the cherry, split it open and punch the seed out with your thumb. It takes a few minutes to de-pit all of the cherries, but it goes faster with a little help and a good conversation and maybe a glass of Prosecco..why not?!
After cooking the cherry mixture on the stove, it is important to spread it out in a large dish or baking pan to cool so it is not super hot when you pour it on top of the unbaked crust. Just let it sit for about fifteen minutes or until it is lukewarm.
The pasta frolla comes together very easily in a standing mixer or hand mixer. Once made, I divide the dough in half and make two equal discs before wrapping them in plastic wrap and chilling in the fridge. This way when you are ready to assemble the crostata, you have one disc for the base and the other for making the strips for the lattice style top.
To roll out the dough, I find the easiest way is between two sheets parchment paper. I like to make an outline of the size of the pan (or just a little bigger) with a marker on one of the pieces of parchment paper and then flip it over so the pen marking is not touching the dough. I use use that as my guide for rolling out the discs of dough.
To make the lattice style top, it couldn’t be any simpler. You don’t need to do any over or under business. First, cut the rolled out dough into strips with a sharp knife. I like to keep my strips on the wider side (about an inch and a half or 3 1/2 centimeters) as it has a more rustic feel and frankly it is easier. Then all you need to do is lay a few strips down one way and then lay the remaining strips the opposite way to form diamond shapes (more or less) between the strips. No need to weave over and under. It is supposed to look charmingly rustic so imperfections are welcome! Take a bit of egg wash and brush over the top of the strips and sprinkle a bit of sugar on top.
- ¾ cup (170 grams) butter, softened
- ⅓ cup (75 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- ½ vanilla bean
- 1 Tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
- 2¼ cup flour (320 grams)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 Tablespoons (56 grams) butter
- 1 pound (500 grams) fresh cherries
- ¾ cup granulated sugar (170 grams)
- 3 Tablespoons cold water
- 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
- Beat together in a standing mixer or with an electric mixer the sugar and butter until light and fluffy and pale yellow in color (about 3 minutes or so).
- Add the lightly beaten egg and mix well.
- Next add the vanilla bean paste from a half a vanilla bean (the best way to remove the paste is to cut the bean in half and then in half again lengthways and scrape the seeds out with the back of a knife) and the lemon zest and incorporate well.
- Sift the flour and salt together, reduce the mixer to low speed and slowly add the flour mixture to the sugar, butter and egg mixture until it just comes together to form a dough.
- Halve the dough in half and form two flat discs. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge until firm (at least 30 minutes).
- Heat the butter in a large non stick skillet of large pot over medium heat.
- Once completely melted, add the cherries and their juices along with the sugar,gently stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Continue to simmer until the cherries are tender, but not falling apart (6 to 8 minutes).
- While the cherries are simmering, stir together the cold water and the cornstarch to form a paste. Stir into the simmering cherries and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
- Cool the filling quickly by spreading it out in a shallow baking dish and cool until lukewarm (about 15 minutes).
- While the filling is cooling, roll out one of the discs between two sheets of parchment paper. I like to outline the size of the pan with a marker on one of the pieces of parchment paper and flip it over so the pen marking is not touching the dough and use that as my approximate guide for rolling out the discs of dough. Once the dough is rolled out, remove the top sheet and invert the dough into the tart pan (9 inches or 22 centimeters in diameter) that has a removable bottom. Trim any overhang to about a half an inch and invert the extra dough and press into the side of the pan to reinforce the edge.
- Chill the tart shell for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, roll out the second dough disc the same way as the first. Remove the top sheet of parchment paper and cut the dough into 8 or 10 strips. Keeping the cut strips on the paper, slide them onto a baking sheet and chill in the fridge for about 5 minutes.
- Spread the filling into the chilled tart shell and arrange had of the strips evenly across the filling pressing the ends onto the edge of the tart shell.
- Arrange the remaining strips diagonally across the first strips to form a lattice with diamond shaped spaces.
- Brush the lattice top with beaten egg and then sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. If the tope begins to brown too much, you can loosely put a piece of foil on top.