Cherry Pie

When trying something new I generally reference my Cook's Illustrated books or CI's online recipes to get a basic idea of how a dish is made. My next step is to browse around the Interwebs looking for different ingredient ideas and ratios so that I can tweak the recipe. Sometimes these Frankenstein meals are a disaster (looking at you fresh pea and goat cheese ravioli), sometimes they're delicious. Rob is a good sport.

Useless Facts

While conducting my research I learned that cherry pie is the signature dish for Michigan. Upon further Googling I also learned that I'm relatively ignorant when it comes to state foods ... as well as where states are located on a map. The latter is shameful. Perhaps if I cook my way across America I won't be so geographically illiterate.

What's life without useless facts? Probably productive. Here's more Michigan cherry trivia:

  • The National Cherry Festival is in Traverse City, Michigan (aka The Cherry Capital of the World), complete with fireworks, a parade, and over 500,000 (500,000?) attendees.
  • In 1987, folks at the National Cherry Festival set a Guinness record by making a cherry pie that weighed 28,350 pounds (roughly the equivalent of 4-5 Chevy trucks) and measured 17'6" in diameter. Sadly, Michigan lost that record in 1992.
  • 75% of the tart cherries grown in the Unites States come from Michigan.
  • February is National Cherry Month ... though cherries are prime in summer. Makes sense.


Since it's towards the end of cherry season I bought whatever I could find at the farmers market. Many recipes call for tart cherries, but sweet worked for me so that's what I'll suggest. My first pie didn't set up right because I tried to shortcut the puree step for the filling (one should never shortcut in baking) and there wasn't enough thickener to gel the liquids. The second pie's filling was pretty good, though next year I'll probably play with the flavors a little. Speaking of flavor, even though it was runny I preferred my first attempt (with farmers market fruit) - cherry quality is definitely important.

The More You Know

When it comes to fruit pies, I've learned that tossing the fruit with sugar (whatever the recipe calls for) and then letting it rest for about 15 minutes is key. This step helps you see how much liquid the fruit is releasing so that the appropriate amount of thickener can be added. I like my pie filling relatively firm so I tend to use more rather than less.


The must-have tools for this are a cherry pitter and scale. If you like to bake (or measure exact amounts of chips for your homemade nachos), a scale should be in your kitchen. I use this OXO model and have been very happy with it. If you need further convincing here's an article that discusses weight discrepancies.


Vodka Pie Dough (This makes enough for the top and bottom crust. Adapted from Cook's Illustrated.)

  • 2 1/2 cups (12.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour + at least 1/4 cup more for rolling it out
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter cut into 1/4 pieces Note: Cook's Illustrated recommends shortening + butter but I use all butter. Seems to work out fine.
  • 1/4 cup cold vodka
  • 1/4 cup ice water

Cherry Filling

  • 2 red plums
  • 6 cups pitted and halved sweet cherries (about 2 pounds after they've been processed)
  • 1/3 - 1/2 cup sugar Note: The cherries for my first pie were from the farmers market and happened to be very sweet so I reduced the recommended 1/2 cup of sugar to 1/3, hence the range. If your cherries are primo, 1/2 cup of sugar may be too sweet depending on your preference. The second pie was made with Whole Foods cherries and needed the extra sugar.
  • 1/8 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons brandy
  • 2 - 4 tablespoons tapioca starch Note: I've seen recipes recommend potato starch, tapioca starch, instant tapioca, and cornstarch. After some Googling I went with tapioca starch and was satisfied with the results.
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon of water


Pie Dough

  • In a food processor, combine 1 1/2 cups flour (not all of the flour, I made this mistake the first time) plus the salt and sugar. Process with two 1-second pulses. Add the cold butter and process until the dough starts coming together in uneven clumps. The dough will look like little beads and seem to be done but you want to process beyond that point until it's uneven and all of the flour looks coated. This took me about 20-25 seconds.
  • Scrape bowl and then add remaining flour and pulse until combined. About 4-6 pulses.
  • Transfer dough to a bowl and sprinkle half of the vodka/water mixture over the top. With a rubber spatular press and fold the dough to incorporate the wet ingredients.
  • Sprinkle the rest of the water/vodka and continue folding until the dough is sticking together. Note: It will be very tacky, which seems scary for pie dough, but trust in the magic of vodka.
  • Divide the dough into equal balls, wrap with plastic and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
  • Remove one disk of dough from the refrigerator and roll it out on a floured surface. You want it to be about 12 inches in diameter. Roll the dough loosely around the pin and unroll it over your pie plate. Gently make sure the dough is settled into the corners, leave at least 3/4 inch overhang, and then refrigerate for 40 minutes. Note: As mentioned above this dough is pretty tacky so don't be shy when it comes to flouring your work surface.


  • Combine 1 cup of halved cherries with the two plums in a food processor. Process until smooth. Note: I don't care about the cherry skins but the plum skins can be a little bitter and tough. Straining the puree is a hassle so I peel off the plum skins before putting them in the processor.
  • In a bowl combine puree, remaining halved cherries, lemon, sugar, salt, brandy, tapioca starch, and cinnamon. Toss gently to combine.
  • Move your oven rack to the lowest position, place a foil-lined baking sheet on the rack, and heat to 400.
  • Remove the second dough ball from the refrigerator and roll it out on your floured work surface.
  • Grab the pie pan that's chillaxing in the refrigerator and pour all of the cherry mixture with the juices into the pan. Gently roll the second sheet of dough around the pin and ease it over the pie. Leave a 3/4 inch overhang.
  • To seal the pie I tuck the top overhang around and under the bottom overhang. Then I flute the edge like #2 on this page.
  • Brush the top and edges with the egg wash. Note: I missed this step with my first cherry pie and it ended being a sad pale color. Don't make sad pies.
  • With a pairing knife cut 6 evenly spaced 1.5 inch slits in the top of the crust. This vents the pie while it bakes.
  • Freeze the pie for 20 minutes.
  • Place the pie on the baking sheet and bake at 400 for 30 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350 and bake for another 30-40 minutes. Note: With both pies I felt compelled to turn the oven back up to 375 for the last 10 minutes to make sure the filling was bubbling. Probably not a necessary step, but worth mentioning.
  • Let the pie cool for 2-3 hours until set. Slice and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.


When the pie is completely cool I loosely cover it with parchment paper then plastic wrap. The parchment is to keep the plastic chemicals off the food. At room temperature the crust stays pretty fresh for 2 days. If you want the pie to last a bit longer you can put it in the refrigerator, but the crust will get soggy.


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