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Shortcuts to a Better Cherry Pie

July 13, 2012
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Cherry pie is one of those foods for me.  When I was in high school, I spent two weeks at my grandfather’s house while I was going to debate camp (yes, I did high school debate and became a lawyer.  I am a walking cliché).  Every night when I got home, he’d serve me a slice of cherry pie with Blue Bell vanilla ice cream in one of those bowls that have been around since before I was born and call forth scores of Christmas memories every time I see them.

My grandfather has made me many a cherry pie since then and over the years, I’ve picked up some of his tricks.  I’m told he learned some of them from my grandmother, but I don’t know that I ever had a slice of her cherry pie – as a child, I used to be so devoted to pecan pie that anything but was simply not going in my mouth.  But I’m always happy to have one more reason to feel connected to her while I’m performing everyday tasks, even if I don’t have my own memories of her doing whatever it is I’m doing.

The main, overarching lesson I’ve learned is that a great cherry pie does not need to be made from scratch, even though such pies are yummy.  There are lots of little things you can do to make a cherry pie delicious without going all out.  And with the heatwave we’re having, being in the kitchen for a shorter period of time is certainly appealing to me – and was probably appealing to my grandmother back in the days of non-air-conditioning (in Texas, no less).

For example, instead of using two cans of cherry pie filling, use one can of cherry pie filling and one can of tart cherries.  It’s amazing how much that one little change will take your pie from tasting like any old cherry pie to tasting a tad more complex and, more importantly for my purposes, less cloyingly sweet.  I used tart cherries canned in water,  but if you wanted something sweeter, you could also use tart cherries canned in their own syrup; I think it would still make for a more interesting pie.

If you’re making a deep dish pie or using a larger pie pan, you could also blend one can of cherries with two cans of filling, or even two cans of cherries with two cans of filling.  Any leftover cherries would make a tasty ice cream topping, so it’s not like a surplus of filling would be a problem.

Some of these tricks are from other sources, like an episode of Giada that I watched a couple of weeks ago.  She suggested using ground up tapioca pearls to thicken the pie.  I’ve read that trick before but never got around to trying it.  It works like a charm, and the best part is you don’t actually need to go buy tapioca flour; you can just grind up Minute Tapioca pearls, which I always have on hand because my roommate senior year of college made tapioca pudding on a regular basis.  And topped it with fresh strawberries.  Mmm.  Good times.

The tapioca trick works like a charm – I’ve never been able to cut a pie so easily or had a cherry pie not be at least a little runny.  I do want to point out that if you’re using ground up tapioca pearls, you should probably make a standard, double-crusted pie rather than a lattice pie or something like it.  I found that the ground-up pearls at the very top made a strange, tough film, which did not happen in the other parts of the pie filling.  I don’t think that would happen (or matter if it did) with a pure double-crusted pie.  However, if you’ve landed on this blog because you’ve had the same problem, here’s what I did to mostly solve the problem.  While the pie was still relatively warm from the oven, I used a fork and poked it down in the holes in the lattice, and this pushed most of the strange skin into the rest of the filling, which kind of melted it a bit (I assume, since I never noticed it while eating slices of the pie) and also ensured that the top of the pie had a more attractive appearance.

While I am all for using Pillsbury pie crusts in this recipe, notwithstanding my love of homemade crusts, I do not recommend frozen pie crusts that come in a pie pan.  I do not like the taste of those at all.  I don’t know if they come in a double-crust version and now that I think about it, I doubt that they do, but just in case, I’m throwing in this little pie crust rant. 

Delicious Cherry Pie – The Easy Way

Adapted from my Grandparents’ Recipe

  • 2 Pillsbury pie crusts, thawed
  • 1 21 oz can of cherry pie filling
  • 1 14.5 oz can of tart cherries in water (or syrup, see above)
  • 1/4 cup of tapioca pearls
  • 1 egg, separated

Preheat oven to 425.

Grease a pie pan.  Center one of the thawed pie crusts over the pan and unroll.  Press the crust onto the sides of the pan.  Fold the edges behind the sides and flute the crust.

Crack the egg and separate, putting the egg yolk into one small dish or glass and the egg white into another.  Whisk the egg white gently, then brush the egg white onto the bottom of the pie crust.  This prevents the bottom of the crust from getting soggy.  Do not discard the leftover egg white.

Put the tapioca pearls into a spice grinder or food processor.  Grind/process for about one minute, or until the pearls are extremely finely ground.

In a large bowl, mix the pie filling, the canned cherries, and the ground tapioca pearls.  Pour the mixture into the pie pan.  Top with a lattice crust, a decorative lattice-ish crust made with cut-outs (see star crust below), or a second full crust.  Press the edges of the lattice/second crust/other into the sides of the first crust to seal the pie.  If using a second full crust, slice with a knife near the center a few times to vent.  Cherry pie loves to bubble like crazy.

Whisk the egg yolk with the remaining egg white and a tablespoon of water, then brush over the top of the pie.  I mixed with water because I wanted a browned but non-shiny crust.  This handy-dandy chart can help you if you’re going for a different effect.  I can’t completely vouch for its accuracy, but it looks about right to me based on my past experimentation with pies.

Using small strips of aluminum foil, cover only the fluted edges of the crust.

Place the pie in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the aluminum foil and return the pie to the oven.  Bake for another 20 – 30 minutes or until the pie is golden brown.  Cool on a rack, then serve with vanilla ice cream.

Refrigerate leftovers for maximum shelf-life.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. July 13, 2012 11:37 am

    Great post! I love the tips, especially the tapioca one :-). You are so rigorous, looks like you’ve been experimenting a lot with many variations. Thank you for sharing all this knowledge 🙂

    • Amanda permalink*
      July 13, 2012 12:00 pm

      Thank you! I give most of the credit to my grandfather (even the Giada-inspired tips can be credited to him, because he’s the first person I watched her show with).

  2. Dad permalink
    July 14, 2012 8:25 am

    Your Aunt Jo reminded me that she used to request cherry pies as her birthday “cake” when we were growing up, so she plans to check your tips here.

    • Amanda permalink*
      July 14, 2012 12:39 pm

      You know when cherry pie tastes best? Christmas. Just sayin’

  3. Susan permalink
    December 9, 2012 2:35 pm

    Well, I have just tried to make this pie and was stopped at the very beginning with the grinding of the tapioca pearls. I got out my Cuisinart and after about 10 minutes all I wound up with was some poorly ground tapioca and a mist of what did get ground all over my kitchen counter and my Cuisinart. I put the tapioca into a plastic bag and tried first a heavy rolling pin and finally an actual hammer and simply could not achieve “extremely finely ground” or anything close to that. I am very disappointed as I was looking forward to making this pie for my husband. Any ideas???

    • Amanda permalink*
      December 9, 2012 3:04 pm

      I have not tried using a cuisinart, only my spice grinder. I’ve seen food network people use food processors, but it’s possible that some food processors don’t get it as finely ground.

      If it’s at least ground up enough that it’s no longer in pearl form, you can still use it, but I’d use a full crust on top instead of a lattice, since it’ll make it ugly on the very top of the filling (a little bit of the tapioca will kind of rise to the top – I don’t think it affects taste).

      You could also just skip it, and your pie will be delicious, but not quite as thickened up. I’ve made this many, many times without tapioca, and it’s still a great pie. I just love the tapioca trick because it makes the pie much easier to cut into nice pieces.

      • Susan permalink
        December 9, 2012 6:20 pm

        Since I am really trying for a cherry pie that does not come apart after it is cut I am going to try Minute Tapioca – no issue with having to grind it up! Thanks for the response.

  4. May 2, 2013 1:19 pm

    This I defenetly have to try!

  5. g bailen permalink
    January 29, 2014 9:36 am

    We cleaned out a pepper mill and that ground up the tapioca pretty well!

    • Amanda permalink*
      January 29, 2014 9:41 am

      Brilliant idea! Thanks for sharing.

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