“The sour cherries are here again, aren’t they!” Rose Levy Beranbaum is practically giddy when I reach her by phone to talk about cherry pie. She’s written hundreds of pie recipes and at least a half-dozen cherry pie recipes, but the pie she comes back to most is one where sour cherries are baked under a flaky cream cheese lattice crust.

“Sweet cherries are easier to find, of course, but nothing compares to sour cherries in pie,” Beranbaum says. In her 1998 “The Pie and Pastry Bible,” which is in its 11th printing, she writes that “their tart flavor is as pure and joyful as the piercingly clear song of a cardinal.”

The only trouble with the crimson stone fruit, also called pie cherries or tart cherries, is that their season is fleeting. For only a few weeks each summer, fragile pints or quarts of bright red sour cherries can be found at markets in most cities in the continental United States — unless you live in or near Michigan or Wisconsin, where the majority of the country’s sour cherry varietals, including Early Richmond, English Morello and Montmorency, are grown. (New York, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Utah and a few other states also produce sour cherries, but in much more limited quantities. For everyone else, and outside of their brisk season, there’s frozen or canned.)

Cherry trees thrive in places where winters are cold. The trees need that chill to induce dormancy, a frost-free spring to let the blossoms bloom and bees pollinate — though sour cherry trees are also self-pollinating. In late spring, the fruit ripens slowly, but hopefully before birds returning from the South have time to peck pockmarks into it.

Jolly Rancher red and mouth-puckeringly tart, the fruit is rarely eaten fresh out of hand. Sour cherries’ pale pink juices beg for sugar, which balances and enhances its singular flavor. Nowhere does that flavor shine brighter than in a pie.

For Beranbaum, sour cherry pie filling needs only the fruit, sugar, a pinch of salt and the tiniest hint of almond extract, which pulls the flavor out of the fruit in the most subtle, bewitching way.

You could turn the cherries into a crisp or crumble, but for Beranbaum, a crunchy brown sugary topping isn’t nearly as good as a tender pie crust. Her pie dough recipe is enriched with cream cheese and cream, making it supremely tender and just a little bit tart.

A lattice crust encourages the cherries’ moisture to evaporate as they cook. Cornstarch in the filling won’t distract from the fruit’s flavor, and thickens its juices, but not so much that they won’t bubble up along the edges. Wait for big, thick bubbles that pop slowly; that’s how you know your pie is really done. If you need to cover the edges of the crust with aluminum foil so they don’t burn, do — it’s crucial that you let the filling boil until it thickens, or you’ll taste the starch.

Beranbaum suggests serving slices of sour cherry pie with a scoop of cheese cake or lemon curd ice cream — both recipes can be found in “Rose’s Ice Cream Bliss,” published last July, “though vanilla, America’s favorite, is always good, too, because it’s not too distracting. It lets the cherries be the star.”

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Sour Cherry Lattice Pie

Cookbook author and baking instructor Rose Levy Beranbaum says sour cherries make the best pie, but if you must use Bing cherries, which are much sweeter, reduce the sugar to about 2/3 cup (133 grams) and cook the filling on the stove top over medium to medium-low heat until thickened, 8 to 10 minutes, before filling the bottom pie crust. Chopped rhubarb makes a nice, slightly tart addition, as well.

Make Ahead: The suggested Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust needs to be made and chilled at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours in advance of baking. It can be wrapped tightly and frozen for 3 months.

Storage Notes: Leftover pie can be lightly covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days.


Ingredients

  • 2 pie crusts, for a 9-inch pie pan, (see related Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust, a 2-crust pie recipe)
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (175 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Pinch fine sea or table salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds (680 grams) fresh sour cherries, pitted, juices reserved (scant 4 cups)
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • All-purpose flour, for dusting the work surface, if needed

Step 1

If using the Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust, prepare it according to the recipe instructions, fit one of the crusts in a 9-inch pie dish, cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours. If using another pie crust recipe or store-bought crusts, have it ready in the pie dish as well, but note the baking timing may vary.

Step 2

About 20 minutes before you are ready to bake, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.

Step 3

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and salt until combined. Add the cherries and their accumulated juices, and the almond extract, and stir to combine. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes and up to 3 hours.


Step 4

About 10 minutes before assembling the pie, remove the second disk of pie crust dough from the refrigerator to allow it to soften and become more pliable.


Step 5

Remove the pie plate with the unbaked bottom crust from the refrigerator; remove the covering. Spoon the cherries and their juices into the bottom pie crust.

Step 6

Place the second dough between two sheets of parchment paper, and roll out the dough to an oval about 10 1/2-by-8 inches wide and about 1/16-inch thick. Rotate your parchment-encased dough periodically to ensure an even thickness. Work quickly, so the dough remains smooth and cool. (It’s best to use parchment paper, but if you do not have any, lightly flour the work surface before rolling out the dough.)

Step 7

Using a ruler and a fluted pastry wheel or a sharp paring knife, cut the dough oval into 10 strips. Arrange five strips evenly over the cherry filling. Gently fold back every other strip just past the center point of the pie and then place a strip on top that runs perpendicular. Reposition the strips so that they lie flat on top of the perpendicular strip. Working in the same direction, gently fold back the strips that were not folded back the first time. Lay a second perpendicular strip on top and unfurl the folded-back strips. Repeat with a third perpendicular strip, folding back the strips that were folded back the first time.

Step 8

Apply the remaining 2 strips to the other side of the pie, starting toward the center and working toward the edge. Remember to alternate strips that are folded back so that the strips form a woven pattern.

Step 9

Using sharp kitchen scissors, trim the strips to a 1/2-inch overhang, if necessary. Use water to moisten the edge of the bottom crust where it contacts each strip, then tuck the overhang under the bottom crust edge, pressing down to seal it.

Crimp the edges in a decorative fashion.


Step 10

Use a pie crust protector or create a protective shield for the edge of the pie crust (to prevent overbrowning) by lightly crimping a ring of aluminum foil over it. Place the pie on the floor of the oven for 20 minutes, then transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Adjust an oven rack so it is on the lowest level in the oven, place the baking sheet with pie on that rack and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the juices bubble through the lattice and the center is slightly puffed. If the lattice becomes too dark in the last 15 minutes of baking, cover it loosely with a piece of aluminum foil with a vent hole in the center.

Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for at least 3 hours before cutting.


Nutrition Information

Per serving (1 slice), based on 6

Calories: 630; Total Fat: 30 g; Saturated Fat: 18 g; Cholesterol: 83 mg; Sodium: 235 mg; Carbohydrates: 85 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugar: 39 g; Protein: 7 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.


From “The Pie and Pastry Bible” (Scribner, 1998), with adaptations by its author, Rose Levy Beranbaum.

Tested by Rose Levy Beranbaum and Ann Maloney; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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