To me, nothing sounds more American than a cherry pie. If you have read the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich, you will no doubt be familiar with (if not envious of) Stephanie’s calorie-infused, sugar-laden diet. This bounty-hunter’s voracious appetite spans from savoury delights like Popeye’s spicy fried chicken and biscuits to an endless array of snacks featuring donuts, waffles, Pop-Tarts and Twinkies. It is through reading books like these and growing up watching American TV shows and movies that I was introduced to the delectable world of American diner desserts, featuring banana cream pie, pumpkin pie and, of course, cherry pie.
So when the opportunity arose in the past few years to travel to the US for extended periods of work, I finally had the occasion to actually seek out these classic American desserts and see if their taste was anything close to what I had imagined them to be.
My first taste of a cherry pie was at a colleague’s home when she brought out a selection of slices of pie for dessert, producing a perfect sampling board for my husband and I. My first bite into the cherry pie revealed that the filling was almost like a jam or compote, though absent of any bits of fruit. I loved the wobbly, ruby red filling and was surprised to find that it wasn’t too sweet. And as our host admitted to having bought dessert that evening, I secretly wondered if perhaps a homemade cherry pie could taste even better, possibly with more of a fruity filling.
Despite being a true American dessert, this cherry pie recipe actually comes from a popular Swedish cook, Leila Lindholm, from her book, One More Slice. Lindholm seems to be as smitten as I am with American diner desserts and her cherry pie recipe takes inspiration from the cult TV series of the early 90s, Twin Peaks, in which one of the show’s characters, Agent Cooper (played by the dashing Kyle MacLachlan), habitually ordered a slice of cherry pie with his coffee whenever he visited the local diner. Now that I have had a taste of a cherry pie, I can see why one can become rather fixated with this classic dessert.
Leila Lindholm’s Twin Peaks Cherry Pie is comprised simply of a cherry compote which has been thickened with cornflour and enhanced with the flavourings of a vanilla bean, and encased in a lovely shortcrust pastry. As the filling is generously made with fresh cherries, it is perhaps best to make this pie when cherries are at the peak of their season and are, therefore, priced more reasonably. I daresay you could make this pie with frozen cherries but it is always best to use fresh if that option is available to you.
The most time-consuming part of this recipe is to stone the cherries. If you have a special cherry or olive pitter, that would come in handy here. Otherwise, you could remove the stones by slicing a cheek off the cherries and try to extract the stones that way. Either way, you will have to handle each and every cherry individually, unless you have a more fancy gadget that can stone a lot of cherries in one go.
Once the task of stoning the cherries is out of the way, the filling is quite easy to make and the vanilla partners wonderfully with the sweetness of the cherries. The only cherry pie I have tried was comprised mostly of a thickened red cherry juice and had very few pieces of fruit throughout. So how chunky you want your pie is up to you – if you like the filling to be more smooth, cook the filling for longer to allow the fruit to break down more. The cornflour is what will ultimately thicken the cherry filling, preventing it from making the pastry go soggy and also giving the filling some body when you cut into the pie.
The pastry itself is super quick and easy to make. What surprised me most was that it did not shrink at all upon baking. Once cooked, it was light, buttery and crumbly – just the type of pastry you want in a pie. I think I will be returning to this pastry recipe again and again in the future. In fact, Lindholm has a whole chapter devoted to American pie desserts in One More Slice that I foresee some more Americana-inspired desserts in the very near future.
The end product was a pretty quick and easy pie which tastes just as it is described, packed full of cherries and little else. The pie is delicious served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, but I wouldn’t refuse a slice of cold cherry pie either.
A brief word of warning before you view the recipe photos below … there are quite a few to get through! I got a bit carried away with the camera …
A Few Notes
* The measurements given above are as per the original recipe from Leila Lindholm.
* For US measurements, or to see the original recipe in full, please visit Leila Lindholm’s website.
* I used a 22 cm tart tin for this cherry pie. The recipe produced enough pastry for this size tart tin with some leftover.
* I bought 1.8 kg of cherries to make this pie and, after removing the stones, stems and any dodgy fruit, I was left with a mere 1.1 kg of cherries. I nevertheless proceeded to make the cherry filling as per the recipe which turned out very well, despite having less cherries than required.
* For my 22 cm tart tin, I needed only half of the cherry filling.
* I kept the remaining cherry filling in the fridge and made another cherry pie several days later when we had some friends over for dinner. The pie was made a few hours in advance of baking and I kept it, uncovered, in the fridge. When it was time to sit down to the main course, I quickly brushed the pie with the egg wash and sprinkled it with sugar, before popping the pie into the oven and serving it warm at the table for dessert. This time, the only change I made to the recipe was to sprinkle the pie with granulated white sugar instead of demerera sugar, and I found that I preferred the former. The granulated white sugar is perhaps more common on pies and it gave the crust a lovely sweetness against the slightly tart cherry filling.