It’s been a long while since I’ve made an actual pie — I think it would have to have been a pumpkin pie, some year around Thanksgiving. But earlier this year I bought The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by sisters Emily and Melissa Elsen, owners of the trendy Brooklyn pie shop of that name, and I’ve been wanting to make some pies ever since. The book is organized by seasons, and while cherry season seems to be winding down — at least in Washington State where most commercial cherries seem to come from these days — there were still plenty in the supermarket. And therein lies my first frustration: this book is steadfastly volumetric, without providing any hint of the desired weight of ingredients, even those that are never sold by volume, like cherries. Since I’m notoriously bad at estimating volumes by eye, I ended up buying three times as many cherries as I actually needed to make this recipe. (More for me, I suppose, but there is a limit to how many cherries one single guy can eat before they spoil in the refrigerator, particularly when one is also having cherry pie for dessert!)
Another frustration with this book is the rather disjointed way that the complete recipe for a pie is assembled: crust recipe at the back of the book, except some of the procedure at the front of the book, topping recipe at the back of the book, filling recipe in the middle, with much place-marking and flipping back and forth to find all of the details of the ingredients and procedure. Perhaps if one is both an experienced pie baker and accustomed to the particular recipes in this collection it might be easier to use, but for a first-time user it can be quite daunting to discover, as I did, that the pie plate was supposed to be buttered, that an egg-white glaze was needed when blind-baking the crust, and that pastry flour was specifically not recommended to use in the Elsens’ crust recipes. (Oh well, too late now.) That said, I was able to successfully complete the recipe, and I have the pictures to prove it.
Like many pie and tart recipes, this is a two-day process: the dough is prepared on the first day and chilled overnight, and then the dough is rolled out, the crust is prepared, the filling is made, and finally the pie is baked off on the second day. In this case, there’s also a streusel topping that needs to be chilled as well, so I started with that:
The pie dough, which uses only butter as the fat, was considerably more difficult than the streusel. It starts simply enough:
But then you have to incorporate the butter into the flour without allowing it to soften or melt, so that it remains as distinct but small lumps that will smear out when the dough is rolled and become flakes upon baking. I found this to be extremely difficult, and I have no idea if I stopped too soon or went too long:
I think I also added too much liquid. although it was hard to tell how much was the right amount. (The Elsens’ instructions seem to conflict a bit here, with some parts of the book recommending a spatula or scraper to combine the liquid and flour-butter mixture, but others saying to do it with your hands.) It did come together into a lump, however, so I proceeded in accordance with the instructions:
On Sunday, I got up and dealt with the lump of pie dough. It did not take a whole lot of work to roll it into a reasonable facsimile of a pie crust, although I perhaps could have made it look a bit less sloppy:
After trimming the edges, I had a bit of leftover dough (probably more than I should have) and made myself a little treat:
While waiting for the crust to solidify, I got to work on the cherries — first figuring out how many I actually needed, and then the simple but tedious and messy process of pitting them.
The crust eventually goes into the oven. For this recipe, the crust is only partially baked ahead, so by design it comes out looking pretty much as pasty as it did when it went in:
The crust was protected from premature browning by covering it with a sheet of aluminum foil — which was of course necessary anyway to hold the pie weights:
Finally it’s time to make the pie filling itself:
The cooled crust has to go back into the refrigerator, although I know not why. Once it’s good and cold, it’s time to fill it with the cherry mixture:
Then the streusel topping is spread over the top:
The recipe calls for a two-level baking process: the pie starts on a preheated sheet pan on the bottom rack of a 425°F oven for 20 minutes, then is moved up to the middle rack at 375° for the remainder of the cooking time. Despite all the imperfections, it looks delicious when done:
Pie in general is not exactly light, calorie-wise, but since I was having a low-fat, relatively low-calorie soup for dinner, I could afford to have a full slice (1/8 of the pie), and it was good.
One more picture with a closer view of the cooked pie filling:
Well, pie is definitely not a light dessert — I’ve had cakes that are lower-calorie than a slice of this pie, and even a good chocolate bar is going to lighter per serving by quite a large degree. But it’s not terrible, either, and there’s a lot of good fruit in this one.
|Serving size: 1/8 pie|
|Servings per container: 8|
|Amount per serving|
|Calories 482||Calories from fat 171|
|% Daily Value|
|Total Fat 19g||30%|
|Saturated Fat 12g||61%|
|Trans Fat 0g|||
|Total Carbohydrate 59g||20%|
|Dietary fiber 2g||8%|