Cherry bomb

A couple of months ago, I treated myself to the Leon Baking and Puddings Book. Although we have a copy at the library where I work, I decided that I must own this lovely book so I could get it as fruit-stained and chocolate-smeared and well-loved as I liked. It’s a really beautiful book, with nostalgic snaps of Leon’s extended family members, quaint illustrations and beautiful photography.

The book has two sections: ‘Everyday’ and ‘Celebration’. The first part covers breakfast, power snacks, puddings and cooking with children, amongst others, while the second part contains those show-stopping recipes perfect for birthdays, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and even ghoulish biscuits for Halloween. It has quickly become one of my favourite baking books, and my copy now has a few dozen yellow post-it notes poking out of the top, waiting for a rainy day.

A couple of weeks ago, I turned to the very last section of the book, entitled ‘Extra Helpings’, to help me out with a friend’s birthday. Sue is wheat intolerant but loves cherry pie, so I opted for ‘Claire’s Cherry Pie’. The recipe uses sour Morello cherries and shortcrust pastry, so I decided to simply swap the normal plain flour for wheat-free plain flour. I realised too late, though, that the reason pastry is roll-out-able is because of its gluten content. Whoops! This made rolling out the non-gluten pastry pretty tricky. As usual Jim came to the rescue, rolling the pastry between two sheets of clingfilm, which helped it to stay together. He also had the idea to cut out squares for the top of the pie, instead of long strips for latticework, as suggested in the recipe. We didn’t think our pastry would stretch to strips!

I was a bit nervous at serving this pie up to 12 hungry bellies at Sue’s birthday dinner. But it turned out great! Proof of this were the empty plates left at the end of the meal. If you are going to have a go at gluten-free pastry, just be patient, be gentle and stay calm. You can of course use normal plain flour for this recipe, in which case I’m sure you will sweat a bit less. In both cases, above all be mindful of the beauty of a pie you’re going to have at the end. I’ll leave it up to you whether you want to share it with 11 other people.

Claire’s Cherry Pie
from the Leon Baking and Puddings Book

300g shortcrust pastry (see recipe below)
500g fresh or frozen sour cherries, preferably Morello (I got mine frozen from Asda, they worked great)
200g caster sugar
4 tbsps cornflour
a pinch of salt
1 free-range egg, for glazing
a little milk

– Heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. Butter a 20-23cm pie dish or fluted tart tin and set aside.

– Roll one half of the pastry out into a circle large enough to line the pie dish with some excess. Place the rolled-out circle of pastry in the dish, pressing the pastry down well. *With the gluten-free version, we ended up pressing most of the pastry into the dish with our fingers.*

– Roll the other half of the pastry into a rectangle 3mm thick and place it on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Place both in the fridge while you prepare the filling.

– Put the cherries, sugar and cornflour into a bowl and add the salt. Toss to coat the fruit evenly.

– Remove the pie dish from the fridge and fill it with the cherry mixture. Remove the rectangle of pastry from the fridge and use a small knife to slice the pastry into 2cm strips (or squares, like we did). Arrange the strips/squares of pastry over the cherries in a lattice/chess board pattern – if doing a lattice save 3 strips for the edge.

– Crack the egg into a small bowl and add a few drops of milk. Whisk to combine. Using a pastry brush, carefully coat the lattice with the egg wash. If making a lattice, use the last 3 strips to cover the rim, then brush this with the egg wash aswell.

– Place the pie in the oven for about an hour, with a piece of kitchen foil underneath to catch any drips. The pie is ready when you see the fruit filling bubbling through.

Shortcrust pastry (makes 300g):
200g normal or wheat-free plain flour
a pinch of salt
75g unsalted butter, cut into rough 1cm cubes
2½ tbsps cold water (or about a cup-full for the wheat-free version)

– Sift the flour and salt and add the butter. Mix gently until the mixture resembles coarse sand.

– Sprinkle the water over the mixture and mix until it forms a cohesive ball of dough.

– Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and allow to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before using.

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