Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Pie In Hand, Part 3 – A Jubilee of Cherries (and Some Peaches, Too)!

Quick Shout-out Dept.: Last weekend (6-29-13) I dropped in at Roasting Plant, on Greenwich Avenue, to hang out with my brother-in-law while we waited to hook up with Michele for a late diner dinner. I ordered a cappuccino (my standard coffee order) and it was so smooth and the balanced between coffee, milk and foam, that I had to order another! That's a first for me, so I have to tip my hat to my barista for the night, Damiana; she had a magic touch!

Quick Shout-out Dept. Closes

I am so close to finalizing my recipes and process for this pie project! Boy, it's taught me a lot about a lot! It's also frustrated me to no end. That's how I like my baking: both instructive and frustrating simultaneously. Actually, I'd rather not have the frustration but often there's no learning, for me, without it. And just what little frustrations about this little project are leading me towards more personal baking knowledge? Well, the whole too much liquid in the filling thing is annoying and is forcing me to adapt my process. The inconsistency in the crust thickness is another problem to overcome.

The biggest problem I've encountered, though, is cherry availability. We had a couple of  weeks of good, inexpensive street vendor cherries and then...nothing. No cherries anywhere except a couple of supermarkets where they were going for from $7 - $9/lb! I am committed to the idea of these pies but not that committed! Fortunately, last week saw a second wave of availability and I'm back on track to perfecting this recipe. I'd better get this done soon, however, because no one seems to know how long this cherry season is truly going to last.

Oh, and the danged oven just can't seem to hold a temperature for some reason.

One thing at a time, though.

First thing up for v2.0 was figuring out the fruit to filling-to-liquid ratio. Even after doing my version of a reduction, I still had too much liquid. It's not really that big a problem except it makes sealing the pies a little difficult, softens the dough so that I have to increase baking time, and makes a mess on the baking sheets.

Cherry filling soup!
Well, that's certainly messy.
This seems half-baked.... (And kudos to anyone who gets the reference!)
Don't get me wrong: this batch certainly was very tasty, but the baking was just sloppy. The solution? Simple: do the reduction to intensify the cherry taste. Skim the cherries from the liquid and let them sit for a while. Collect whatever liquid settles out of the cherries and add it back to the pan. Reduce that even more, until it becomes a syrup. Add a little bit of that the cherries, along with some corn starch. That process gives me a filling that's not too soupy and not too dry. I also figured out that it's better for me to load the filling at one end of the pie instead of in the center, because that gives more room for the filling to settle when I flip the dough to seal it in. It also gives me more dough to work with for the seal. Sometimes I'm just brilliant (after I get a running start)!

Next up on the list was crust thickness. The only thing for that was to continue to learn how to use the rolling pin Connie gave me. I know I could go out and get a traditional rolling pin but, remember, I love a challenge and this rolling pin definitely qualifies or I don't know the meaning of "challenge". In my favor is the fact that this project has given me the opportunity to make dozens of pies, so I've gotten plenty of practice. Anyway, if I roll the dough out too thin I get a pie with interesting cracks in the crust. That doesn't hurt the taste but it does destroy the aesthetic I'm going for. If I roll it too thick, then, well, there's just too much crust-to-filling and that's not what I'm going for, either. Slowly but surely, I'm figuring it out.

Pretty but just not right.
And the oven? It turns out the best way for me to handle it is to preheat it to temperature, turn it off then quickly reset the preheat temperature before I pop the pies in, to make sure it's truly hot enough to bake the pies correctly. So far that seems to be working. Tangentially, I've also learned that our oven bakes best one batch of pies at a time. I can get six pies in a batch so this limitation means I bake eighteen pies in about an hour (give or take depending on roll/cut/fill/seal time). I've used both racks a couple of times but that just throws the temperature and baking times off. Good thing I'm a patient kind of guy, yes?

The fruits of these near-Herculean efforts:

It's all a pack of pies.
Some of these were cherry, some of them were peach. This version, v2.5, got scarfed down by a gathering of friends in lower Manhattan, which let me know that I'd nearly gotten every thing right.

From here, I moved on to v3.0, with some being regular cherry and some Rainier cherry and peach. I figured that the latter combination worked so great in the full-sized pie, why not try it in a hand-held version? I'm very glad I gave in to that urge; they were delicious! I sent a batch of this version to my father, who promised to share them with his sisters and other family down there in the Florida Panhandle.

One last decision awaited me on this road to cherry hand-held pie heaven and that was icing. Hostess fruit pies all had this exceptionally thin layer of icing on them. There was just enough to give the crust a touch of sweetness but not enough to call attention to itself and take away from the cherry taste. I had attempted to ice one of the earlier versions and it was a disaster. The recipe I used just wasn't right and it was too thick and...and blahblahblahblah. There were a dozen different reasons why I really should just leave the pies bare and just one reason to try icing them: Hostess fruit pies were iced. And that one reason trumped all the others. I mean, what kind of recreation would this be if I didn't ice them?

After checking my cook books and several on-line sources, I found another baker who, because of the downfall of Hostess, wanted to replicate these pies. See? I'm not the only one! Her icing recipe turned out to be perfect for my needs! Thanks Circle B Kitchen!

Brushing the pies with the icing shortly after pulling them out of the oven was the easiest part of the whole process and it absolutely turned the trick and gave rise to v3.1.

v3.1, all iced up!

Not perfect but perfect for me!
The icing added just the right flavor to complete the project of recreating my memory of my Hostess Cherry Pie experience – which in no way resembles the truth of that experience. Let's face it, Hostess pies were cardboard-crusted, overly-sweet-filled, preservative-riddled, and delicious to my kid self. My adult self gagged and harrumphed at them, despite my desperate craving for them. This project has given both of these selves (because my kid self is very much still with me) something that can make their day. 

The Count: Two different crust test batches, one proof of concept, four official cherry versions, three different fillings, over sixty pies baked from start to finish (with at least one more batch if I can find more cherries), five months of development work and many, many smiles on the faces of my tasters. Quite a satisfying adventure!

The Count ends.


Currently listening to: Sade, Cherry Pie



  1. Cherry pie is my favorite, and these are my favorite cherry pies!

    And ... I'm glad you've finally experienced the oven inconsistency thing that hits me squarely in the roast chicken, 7 times out of 10. Well. Not glad exactly, but at least I'm not alone ;)

    1. Well, at least I've identified a stop-gap solution for the oven. How is it that such a relatively new and advanced appliance behaves so badly?

      I'm glad you enjoy the pies, though!