"Do I have to leave some for everyone else?" Mat teased after taking a bite or two or three when I dropped off a box of leftovers at work early one afternoon. I shook my head and grinned stupidly; still a little giddy from stuffing my face with sugary goodness the night before. I'd just rolled, filled and baked my first ever cherry pie and my sister and I had gorged on it, morning and night. It was my first proper pie: made with weaved-lattice crust and tender, flaky, buttery pastry; filled to the brim with sweet, black and bubbling cherries; smothered with velvet-smooth pastry cream, infused with the nutty, earthy taste of almonds.
Before that weekend I would have considered myself a pie making virgin of sorts. But after caressing the delicate pastry, filling the plate with soft, ripe fruit and peering through the oven door tentatively for just the right moment to rescue my love from the searing heat, I now have a perfect recipe that I can check off my ridiculously long list of things-to-try and to add to my baking repertoire.
None of this would have come about were it not for Melissa; a wonderfully generous friend I met whilst attending to cookery studies years ago at the Sydney Intercontinental Hotel School. Although no longer working in kitchens, we still catch up every now and then for a meal and food talk. It was Melissa who offered me the opportunity to get my grubby little hands on the most recently published 'Williams-Sonoma Baking Book: The Essential Recipe Collection for Today's Home Baker' for a scant $20 (RRP. $US35). I took her word for it when she flicked through it briefly and told me over the phone that it looked good; she was right on the money there. It's quite a large book, with over 400 pages and a corresponding picture for every cookie, bread, cake, pie, tart and souffle recipe, including step-by-step instructions on how to make a lattice pie crust, stemming from a collective source of American favourites. In my letter to Santa, I wished for Williams-Sonoma to open up a flagship store in Sydney, but with postal strikes on Christmas Eve, I fear I may have to wait in trepidation for yet another year... I don't suppose anyone knows of any reasonably-priced freight forwarding companies willing to ship crates full of kitchen goodies over to Australia?
The Williams-Sonoma range being unavailable, I purchased a lovely white, fluted 19cm Corningware pie plate from Kitchenware Direct and a lattice cutter (while not the best and a little rattly, it was cheap and served its purpose diligently) for the top crust and trim. Previously without knowledge of the proper method of laying out the trim for the lattice crust, I'd always avoided making pies, feeling slightly intimidated by the intricate folds and weaves. But I've since realised that those fears were unfounded; the method is quite a simple one to master and can be done by even the newbies of novices.
There's nothing really difficult about this recipe although it does require about 2.5 hours to complete due to the pastry resting time and baking. I use almond meal in the filling as a thickener to soak up all those fruity juices, much like one would use breadcrumbs in a savoury pie, and if like me, you pit your own whole cherries, you'll need to start with an additional 100g, plus extra if they're really tasty as they'll keep disappearing before they make it into the pie. Proven to be perfect for SHF holidays.. and a Christmas potluck party with friends.
Flaky Pastry Dough
adapted from The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book
400 g flourSift flour, sugar and salt into a large bowl.
20 g castor sugar
2 g salt
250 g unsalted butter, diced into 6 x 6mm
85 g ice water
Press butter into flour with fingertips until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs with pieces of butter the size of small peas.
Add ice water and fold lightly until it just comes together.
Divide into equal parts, pat into rough circles.
Cover one half with a dry tea towel and place in the fridge.
Roll remaining half into a circle on a lightly floured bench to 2.5mm thickness.
Fold over rolling pin and lift into the bottom of a 19cm pie plate.
Leave overhang on the sides and keep refrigerated.
Cherry Pie Filling
800 g pitted cherries, halved
125 g castor sugar
25 g potato starch
2 g salt
5 g vanilla paste
30 g almond meal
30 g unsalted butter, diced
Combine sugar, starch, salt, vanilla and almond meal in a bowl and stir to combine.
Sprinkle over the cherries and toss to coat evenly.
Fill pie plate with cherries and smooth out the top as best you can.
Roll second half of pastry into a rectangle on a lightly floured bench to 2.5mm thickness.
Starting from the right side (for right-handers) and using the rolling pin as a straight guide, cut out 12 strips 1.5 - 2cm wide with a lattice cutter.
Lay lattice strips over the top and seal ends by brushing the pie edge (underneath the lattice) lightly with cold water.
Run the lattice cutter around the edge and remove excess overhang.
Dot butter in-between the lattice strips.
Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Bake at 200ºC for 20 minutes, reduce heat to 180ºC and bake for an additional 45 minutes, rotating halfway.
Cool to room temperature on a wire rack before cutting.
Almond Pastry Cream
700 g milk, plus extraBring 550 g milk, almond meal and salt to the boil in a small saucepan.
150 g almond meal
2 g salt
110 g egg yolks (approx. 6)
110 g castor sugar
2 g vanilla paste
30 g potato starch
40 g unsalted butter
Reduce heat to low and infuse for 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and rub through a fine sieve. Discard almonds. Add a little extra milk to bring the total weight to 500 g.
Whisk yolks, sugar, vanilla and potato starch in a medium bowl until pale.
Temper the yolks with the milk by pouring the milk into the bowl slowly and whisking continuously.
Return milk to the pan and over medium heat, bring to a simmer, whisking continuously (starch will thicken upon reaching boiling point).
Transfer to a bowl and stir in remaining 150 g milk to cool.
Add butter and stir until completely incorporated.