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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

A cherry pie that’s as sweet (or sour) as you want it to be

Cherry pie in New York, June 15, 2023. Use whatever kind of cherries — fresh or frozen, sour or sweet — in this adaptable cherry pie from Melissa Clark. Food styled by Simon Andrews.

By Melissa Clark

Apple pie may rule fall, but cherry pie is summer’s queen, lording over all other flavors for the few brief weeks when fresh cherries are in season. Because, while cherry pies made with frozen fruit are perfectly delightful, nothing beats the juicy bite of seasonal cherries, baked until syrupy and wrapped in a buttery crust.

The only question is, sour cherries or sweet? Each has its virtues. Sweet cherries are complex and gently spicy, with a crisp flesh that holds its shape even after baking. Sour cherries are tangier and more perfumed, with a tendency to break down to something between a compote and a glossy jam. You can make this recipe using either kind of cherry, with a few small adjustments.

To play up the acidity of mellow sweet cherries, I stir the grated zest and juice of a lemon into the fruit. Lime also works, adding floral notes along with its bite. You can skip this step with sour cherries, which are born zippy.

Sour cherries do need more sugar than sweet, but how much more depends on exactly how sour they are. Taste one. If you squint forcefully and uncontrollably, use the whole cup of sugar; three-quarters of a cup will probably do it for a fluttering-eyelid kind of tang.

You have options for the tapioca thickener, too. Use less for a slice of pie whose juices stream all over your plate, possibly mingling with some vanilla ice cream alongside. Using the full amount of tapioca will give you a pie that’s neater to cut and serve, with a wobbly, jellylike filling.

I used to prebake the bottom crust of all my fruit pies, just to make sure it stayed nice and crisp. Nowadays, I find that using a metal pie pan (for good heat conduction) set on a piping-hot baking sheet in the bottom third of your oven works nearly as well and saves a whole step. But, if you’re using glass or ceramic pans, which don’t conduct heat as well, consider prebaking, or simply baking the whole pie a bit longer. (Glass pans let you see the color of the crust, so leave it in the oven until it’s well bronzed.)

The cherries will remain just as vibrant, because for the next few weeks, they reign supreme.

Cherry Pie

In this classic and adaptable cherry pie recipe, you can use either sour cherries or sweet ones, fresh or frozen. Lemon zest and juice are mixed with the sweet cherries to add brightness and tang. But you can skip this step with sour cherries, which have their own natural acidity. Serve this pie warm or at room temperature, preferably within 24 hours of baking for the flakiest crust. Ice cream or whipped cream are optional, but very nice with the syrupy filling.

Yield: 8 servings

Total time: About 2 hours, plus at least 3 hours’ chilling and cooling


For the pie dough:

2 1/2 cups/320 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for surface

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 cup/226 grams cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

3 to 7 tablespoons ice water, plus more as needed

For the filling:

1/2 to 1 cup/100 to 200 grams granulated sugar

2 to 3 tablespoons instant tapioca

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon or cardamom

2 pounds sour or sweet cherries (about 6 cups), pitted (or 20 ounces pitted frozen cherries)

1 lemon (optional)

3 tablespoons heavy cream

Demerara sugar, for sprinkling


1. Make the crust: In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a food processor, whisk or pulse together the flour and salt. Add the butter.

2. If using a bowl, toss with your hands until the butter pieces are well coated with flour. Cut the butter into the flour by pressing the pieces between your fingertips, flattening the cubes into big flakes and continuing to toss them in the flour to recoat the flakes. If using a food processor, pulse butter into the flour until the pieces are about the size of lima beans.

3. Mix or pulse in 3 tablespoons ice water, tossing it with the flour in the bowl if working by hand. Continue to add ice water, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, pulsing briefly or tossing well, until the dough begins to come together. Press the dough together if working by hand.

4. Form the dough into two disks about 1-inch thick. Wrap each tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days before using. (It can also be frozen for up to 3 months, then thawed overnight in the refrigerator.)

5. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place a baking sheet on the bottom rack.

6. Make the filling: In a bowl of a food processor (you don’t have to wash it out if you used it for the dough), combine sugar (use 1/2 cup for sweet cherries and up to 1 cup for sour cherries), tapioca (use more for a thicker, solid filling, and less for looser, juicier filling), and cinnamon or cardamom. Run the motor until tapioca is finely ground.

7. Place cherries in a large bowl, and add sugar and tapioca mixture. Toss gently to combine. If using sweet cherries, zest the lemon into the bowl, then squeeze in the juice and toss well. (Sour cherries don’t need the extra acidity, so skip this if using.)

8. Using a rolling pin, roll out one disk of the dough on a lightly floured surface and into a 12-inch round, about 3/8-inch thick. Fit the dough into a 9-inch pie plate, preferably metal for the crunchiest crust. Roll remaining dough for the top crust into an 11-inch round.

9. Pour the cherry mixture into the crust and top with the remaining round of dough. Press the edges together, trim the excess dough, and crimp the edges with your fingers or press down with the tines of a fork. Cut a few steam vents in the center of the pie.

10. Brush the top crust with cream and sprinkle generously with Demerara sugar. Carefully place pie on the hot baking sheet in the oven. Bake until the crust is dark golden brown and the filling bubbles up, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Transfer pie to a wire rack to cool for at least 2 hours, allowing the filling to set before serving.

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