About four years ago, when a college friend was visiting me, we happened to go see the movie “Waitress.” To be honest, despite having a special place in my heart for Keri Russell (season 1 of Felicity was quality television; I don’t see how anybody who was there for this show’s beginning could disagree with me), I wasn’t entirely crazy about it. Sure, it had its moments, but I would ultimately have to say that the acting was overshadowed by the pie; that may seem like a strange thing to say, but they were quite majestic looking and their names–from “I Can’t Have No Affair Because It’s Wrong & I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me Pie” to “Marshmallow Mermaid Pie”–were truly inspired. And I say all of this as a die-hard cake girl because, trust me, when it comes to the eternal great questions like pie vs. cake and Tolstoy vs. Dostoevsky, I have always clearly favored the more seemingly scandalous and decadent of the two. But like most eternal questions that seemingly pit two extreme opposites against each other, force you to choose between them and pledge your diehard and lifelong allegiance, it’s really never quite that simple.
I’m not really sure how this change has come about, but recently I’ve found myself obsessed with the idea of pie. Maybe it has its roots in the pie baking party a dear friend of mine invited me to before my second written exam and that I, out of a feeling of deep fatigue and general nervousness, decided not to attend and so I’m now trying to make up for lost experiences? Maybe it’s because pie–being light, airy and fruity– really does suggest some element of summer? Then again, I’ll actually make a small confession here and say that I’m not entirely sure (besides my deepest convictions and the secret cake-lover’s club card that I’ve been carrying with me for many years) that I’ve ever actually disliked pie; I certainly never turned down the numerous (and always delicious) pies that I would avidly watch my grandma bake for holidays, birthdays and just because. Especially if it was accompanied by a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream (and, to be frank here, would you?). I just think that in my mind I would always turn my nose up at it thinking it was an overly simplistic and uninteresting dessert. It might be how they say that girls have to like bad boys before they can actually find and appreciate a good guy: my young and naive self would look at pie and think about how dull it was–crust, filling and a topping–in comparison to other more “complicated” and flavorful desserts. Let me just say that I realize how absurd that sounds; it doesn’t even begin to allow for the nuances of meringue and cream pies, but I’m ok with saying that maybe I was just being stupid(ly biased) and also that perhaps this newfound interest in pie is really just a sign of both my maturity and somewhat enlightened perspective. However, I’ll spare you a continuation of the metaphor. 🙂
To celebrate my initiation into the world of pie lovers, I decided, with the help of the grandmother whose pies I can only aspire to emulate with much practice (I can’t roll a perfect circle of dough to save my life, but there is more maturity to be gained in the years to come), to go crazy in the kitchen and produce no less than 4: 3 cherry cheese pies and 1 blackberry. I have no shame in admitting, despite a general belief in modesty, that they were everything a pie should be and more. Even with the patched crust that my newbie hands produced.
Cherry Cheese Pie
Fresh cherries for topping:
Yields enough for three pies
3 cups cherries (pitted and sliced in half)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsps. cornstarch (dissolved in water and whisked)
-Place cherries and sugar in a pot and cook on high for 3-4 minutes or until boiling.
-Add 2 Tbsps. cornstarch and whisk together.
-Once mixture looks both thick and smooth, remove move from heat and let cool.
Yields 1 pie
2 cups flour
1 cup shortening (this pained me, but if it must be so, it must be so. This is the recipe of my Italian namesake and thus will not be tampered with)
1/4 cup cold water
Pinch of salt
-Preheat the oven to 425.
-Add flour, salt and shortening to a bowl and mix them together with a pastry blender until the dough resembles pea-sized balls.
-Add cold water and mix with hands.
-When the dough feels moist and integrated, shape it into a round disk, move it to a floured surface and begin rolling.
-You should (ideally) roll the dough to a 12-inch circle that is about 1/8 of an inch thick.
-As you roll out the dough, look to see if the dough is sticking to the surface below. If necessary, sprinkle flour under the dough to keep it from sticking.
-Carefully place dough onto a 9-inch pie plate and press down.
– Depending on how well this whole process has gone, you may have to trim the dough from the sides to patch up a crack here or there or to make up for potentially uneven rolling. However, if everything is in order, simply fold the dough under, making a tiny ridge and then flute (i.e. pinch ) the edges.
-Poke holes into the crust.
-When making a cream or a cheese pie, you must cover the dough (preferably with another pie plate, but be sure not to press down) while it bakes so it will not shrink into itself.
-Place in oven and bake for 10-12 minutes.
-Remove pie plate cover and bake for 2-3 minutes longer or until golden brown.
Yields enough filling for 1 pie
1 block of cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 pint whipping cream
-Beat whipping cream until light and fluffy with peaks and then set aside.
-Cream the softened block of cheese and add the powdered sugar. Cream again until they are mixed well.
-Add the whipped cream into the mixture and gently fold.
At this stage–once the pie crust has been baked and cooled, the cheese filling mixed and the cherries cooled–it’s quite easy to assemble: Simply place the cheese mixture into the waiting arms of the pie crust, smooth it and then repeat the second step with the cherries. You won’t be disappointed in the end result. It might just make a pie lover out of you as well…or make you admit what you’ve always known.