Welcome to a completely new, totally irregular not-really-at-all-a-series about cooking with and for our kids.
Over Memorial Day weekend, we had an abundance of tiny sour-ish cherries on our backyard tree. It’s our first spring in this house, so I have no previous experience using them and while grabbing small handfuls off the lower limbs and just snacking in the yard has a certain appeal, once I’d climbed to the top of a 15 foot ladder and used a roof rake to pull limber branches into reach in an effort to beat the birds to the rapidly ripening fruit, I wanted to do something a little more fabulous with the spoils. Also, there were a lot of cherries.
After scouring the internet for the best and tartest of sour cherry recipes, I decided to try my hand at making hand pies. It was Memorial Day and I really didn’t want to go to the store, so adapted this recipe to use ingredients that we had on hand and broaden the flavor profile a bit. They were super good and fairly easy, and so I give you my hacked version, below, with some notes on how you too can tweak it to your liking and what I would do differently next time.
First step- pit your cherries (if you are using fresh ones). I don’t have a cherry pitter, so I used my friend Google to get ideas on how best to deal with this seemingly monumental task. If I had to do it again (which I hopefully will), I would try this multi-cherry smashing method. As it was, after trying to use a hairpin – unsuccessfully – I ended up just squeezing the pits out. This is definitely a task that reasonably adept kids can help with, assuming you trust them to a) not shoot cherries and or seeds across the room and b) not to eat more than they add to the bowl of pitted cherries (assuming you actually care about that).
Once you have your pitted cherries, you can move on to the actual recipe:
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups(ish) prepped fresh cherries or about 12 ounces frozen pitted cherries, unthawed
[To be honest, I didn’t actually measure out the volume of pitted cherries, but it was at least 2 cups and there’s really no way to use too many. I also don’t know that thawing frozen cherries would be that much of an issue, but it would be entirely unnecessary, given what we are about to do with them.]
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
[You can totally play with these extract amounts and types. The original recipe didn’t include the almond extract, but I thought it would be yummy and I was right. You could also use orange, walnut, or just stick with vanilla.]
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon of lemon juice (or the juice of 1 lemon)
[Something else that I added in based on other cherry recipes that I looked at – I wanted to cut the sweetness a little bit and it worked marvelously.]
1 package of your favorite pie dough (enough for a 2 crust pie, thawed or softened per package directions) OR a 14-ounce package all-butter puff pastry (thawed in refrigerator) OR your favorite flaky pie crust recipe (enough for a 2 crust pie)
[So, this is where we get into serious personal preference – I used frozen packaged pie dough left over from the holidays (as in 6 months old or more), which was less than optimal, but we still snarfed them all up, so clearly they were not horrible. I do think they would be better with freshly made dough (because what isn’t) or with puff pastry, but both of those add a PITA factor which has to be weighed against the importance of a tender flakey crust. Pre-rolled prepared dough will likely always win for me for the convenience factor and I suspect that had it been fresher, it would have been tastier.]
[I used a whole egg, you could also use any whites or even yolks you have lying around – all you are doing is sealing the dough and washing the tops.]
cinnamon sugar (for dusting)
[Or vanilla sugar, or plain sugar, or any other kind of sugar that appeals – we’re just dusting the tops of the pies with it.]
1. Pit your cherries (see infra). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Stir together cornstarch and 1 1/2 tablespoons cold water, set aside.
2. Combine cherries and next 5 ingredients in a large saucepan (through lemon juice) [Kids can help with pretty much all of this if the stove isn’t on. Mine particularly love squeezing lemon and “measuring” sugar.]. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add cornstarch mixture; bring to a boil, stirring often. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
3. Prep your dough. If you are using pie dough, unroll and cut each round into quarters [I found it helpful to pat each side dry, as a lot of moisture had accumulated on the dough.]. If using puff pastry or a from scratch recipe, roll out on a lightly floured surface to an 18×15″ rectangle. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut dough into nine 6×5″ rectangles. [Or, if you like the idea of triangle pies or just find circles easier, roll them out round and quarter as above. These are supposed to be rustic, so about 1/8 of an inch and twice the size of what you want to hold in your hand are your goals here, otherwise feel free to try for octagons if that’s your bag.]
4. Whisk egg and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl for egg wash and brush on edges of dough. Divide cherry mixture between dough pieces; fold dough over filling so that it forms a packet – if using quartered pie rounds, they will look like puffy triangles, if using squares, they will be puffy rectangles. [If using octagons, figure it out.] Crimp edges with a fork to seal [Good helper opportunities here!]. Using a sharp knife, cut a few slits in top of pie to vent. Place on prepared baking sheet; repeat with remaining dough and filling.
5. Brush tops with egg wash, then sprinkle with sugar of choice [Super fun kid step!]. If using puff pastry dough, chill for 30 minutes [I did not do this with the packaged pie rounds and it was fine – I just let it set while the oven preheated; speaking of which…].
6. Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake pastries until tops and bottoms are golden brown, 30-40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes on baking sheet. Transfer to wire racks; let cool completely.
Other info: Can be made 1 day ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Makes 8-9 depending on your dough and size and shape, etc. These can easily be wrapped in parchment paper for a pretty presentation or just stuck in a plastic container for transport or storage.