Sunday, October 23, 2011

Crumb Topped Cherry Pie

I lit my oven on fire last week.  It was pretty exciting.  I had made something that spilled over and then forgot to clean it up.  So last Friday when I was rushing to get everything done for Marc's big birthday dinner, I turned the oven up to 425 to pre-bake a pie crust for his pecan pie, not even thinking about how the much hotter temperature was definitely going to burn up that goop that was laying in there.  I was sitting at the table working on my cellular biology homework (I hope you're reading this, Dr. Kincaid) when all of sudden I smelled smoke.  I muttered to myself, "Oh that's right, the oven has crap in it...." and turned around to see a flickering orange light in the oven window.  I opened up the door to find several piles of flaming debris; the flames were actually licking the bottom of the rack that was in the middle position.  I very calmly closed the door and walked in a circle while deciding what to do, and opted for grabbing the PUR water pitcher from the fridge and just dumping some of it in the oven to douse the flames.  A mushroom cloud of smoky steam billowed out and the flames were gone.  Tragedy avoided.  But then of course my hair smelled like smoke, and I wasn't going to go to school smelling like burnt oven detritus, so I had to take a shower and by then I was out of time to make the pie until I got back from school later that afternoon.

Luckily, I knew that making a big birthday dinner on a Friday night on a day when I had to go to school meant I would be running behind, so I prepared myself by going with a pre-made pie crust.  And the flames in the oven turned out to be quite a boon.  When I got back home, after reading the note that I wrote to myself and taped on the oven that said "DO NOT TURN ON UNTIL YOU CLEAN," I just opened the door and easily picked up the big chunks of burnt whatever, leaving an incredibly clean oven!  It was just like running the self cleaning cycle, except quicker and more exciting!

If I'm going to use a pre-made crust, I will only use the kind that you just unroll and put into your own pie pan because they actually taste quite a lot like a homemade crust.  The ones that are frozen into an aluminum pan are a non starter for me.  With the unroll and bake kind there are 2 in the package, so that left me with one that needed to be used after the pecan pie was done.  Hmm.... What kind of pie can I make that only takes a single crust?  Cherry!  With crumbs!  I saw this idea in one of my old cookbooks and immediately loved the concept.  It reminded me of the cherry dump cake my dad makes in a Dutch oven when he goes camping.  YUM.

So you're thinking, "so she's ok with pre-made pie crust, does that mean she's going to use a canned pie filling here?"  Oh. Hell. No.  Canned pie filling is a travesty.  For one thing, in any given can there are about 3 cherries and the rest is glop.  Furthermore, the glop is so sweet that it makes your teeth hurt.  Of course all my old cookbooks call for fresh cherries and then pitting them when making a cherry pie.  But this is October, which is lacking in fresh cherries, and I'm too lazy to pit them anyway, so I did use canned cherries, but then made my own filling out of them.  The filling is based on an old newspaper clipping that my mom has in her collection, and then I made a crumb topping along the lines of what you might find on a Dutch apple pie.  The result tastes wonderful, but I'm not going to lie - it makes a pretty sloppy looking piece.  Especially if you try to cut it before it has cooled thoroughly.  And when I say thoroughly I mean, like, for many hours.  So if you are really trying to impress someone and you want something that makes a beautiful presentation, this ain't it.  But the somewhat sweet, somewhat tart taste might just make you not care what it looks like.

Crumb Topped Cherry Pie

As I said, I used a pre-made pie crust but if you'd like to make one from scratch and don't have a recipe on hand, you can use the crust recipe from my peach pandowdy recipe.  Just make sure you roll it out big enough.  If you want your pie to set up more and make a little bit more presentable slice, you could try upping the tapioca by another tablespoon or so, but I would recommend that you first grind it in a food processor because you will definitely notice little white globules in the finished pie if you put in much more than I called for.  In fact, I noticed a minimal amount in my pie.  So if the idea of seeing any tapioca in there at all bothers you, you might want to grind it anyway.  (Measure first, then grind.)

One other note -  I know some pie plates are shallower than others so you may want to place the whole pie on a baking sheet when it goes in the oven just in case you have some bubbling over.  I did that, but mostly because I was gun shy about lighting the oven on fire again.


3 cans red, tart, pitted cherries (14.5 oz. each)
5 Tbs. cornstarch
1 to 1 1/4 cup sugar (use the lesser amount if you like it fairly tart)
dash salt
2 tsp. almond extract
3 Tbs. butter cut into 3 pieces
2 Tbs. instant tapioca

Crumb Topping

1 cup flour
6 Tbs. butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. almond extract
dash salt

Preheat the oven to 375.  Put the pie crust into a pie pan and crimp the edges.  Line the crust with a few layers of foil and fill with pie weights.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly golden.  Meanwhile, prepare the filling.

Drain the cherries and reserve 1 1/4 cups of the juice.  (This will probably  be close to all of the juice but you should still measure to make sure.)  Set the cherries aside.  In a saucepan, combine the sugar, salt and cornstarch.  Whisk until there are no lumps of cornstarch.  Add the cherry juice to the saucepan and whisk to dissolve the sugar and cornstarch.  Cook over medium to medium-high heat, whisking often, until it boils and thickens and the juice turns from cloudy to clear.  Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and almond extract.  Once all of the butter is melted, stir in the cherries.  Add the tapioca and stir until well combined, let sit for 15 minutes.

For the crumb topping, mix all topping ingredients together and stir until well combined.  Use a fork to break up any large lumps.

Once the crust is done baking, remove the pie weights and fill the crust with the cherry filling.  Sprinkle with crumb topping and bake at 375 for another 40 to 45 minutes until the topping is golden brown.  If the pie crust starts to brown too much, you can use a pie crust shield to protect it.  Allow to cool for at least 2 hours before attempting to slice it.

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