I've been on a search for a totally awesome tart cherry pie filling recipe for several years now. Once upon a time, I attempted the recipe found in the Betty Crocker cookbook. It was delicious, but all the sugar separated from the cherries and formed a sugar-sludge on the bottom of the pie.
Since then, I've sadly opened can after can of cherry pie filling, searching and hoping for a homemade filling recipe that would be as gooey and thick as the canned stuff.
My friend Holly, who is also an amazing amateur baker and cook, sent me a recipe she tried out from Food Network. It was perfect and simple. All I needed to do was procure the tart cherries.
Which I had done the weekend before I went to Florida. I froze the cherries, since I didn't have time to bake the pie right then and there (and tart cherries really only keep well under refrigeration for a couple days). I steadfastly pitted two quarts of tart cherries, dumped them in a giant Ziploc container, and mixed in 1 and 1/2 cups of sugar (3/4 of a cup for each quart). Then I popped the whole container in the freezer.
These darling, beautiful cherries were "pied" this past Sunday while my in-laws were up visiting.
I started by scooping half the cherries (which was about 4 cups) into a medium saucepan, and I set them over medium-low heat on the stove. They already had lost a lot of juice into the container after spending the night in the fridge, so it didn't take too long for them to get nice and juiced in the pan.
Then I mixed about a cup of sugar and 4 tablespoons of cornstarch in a small bowl, and dumped the whole thing into the saucepan. The recipe also suggests an optional 1/8 teaspoon of almond extract, but I didn't have any on hand, and it was recommended by my brilliant friend Holly to leave it out. Anyway...
Stir it up, put it over low heat, stir every now and then, and let the whole thing thicken until you get a nice gel.
Now, you need to let the cherry filling cool. I am impatient. So I tried an awesome trick. I took the big bin of ice out of my freezer, nestled the pan in the ice, and let it sit, stirring periodically, while I made my pie crust. It worked great. All I had to do was dump the cherries into my crust-lined pie plate and dot it with butter.
I can tell you want to get out a spoon and take a giant scoop of filling out of this picture, don't you? I'll tell you the truth - I enjoyed scraping the pan (wink wink).
I made a a two-crust pie, because lattice tops are not my best thing. I'm also not always super at centering the top crust, but here's a handy trick - fold the top crust in half, then in half again, and it's much easier to center on the pie.
Once you position the top crust, trim off the excess, fold the edges of the top crust under the edges of the bottom crust, and crimp to seal. I then take a knife and cut vents in the crust. I like to make four long slits and four small slits. It looks pretty, and they act as handy cutting guides. Then I sprinkled the crust with sugar.
Bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes, then let it cool.
Or eat it while it's still really warm and put a scoop of vanilla ice cream on it. That's what we did.
Holly is officially brilliant.
AND because I still had another quart's worth of cherries, I made a second batch of filling, put it in pint jars (leave a 1/2 inch head space!) and froze it. (If you do this, let the jars cool for about 2 hours before putting them in the freezer.)
Now I have fresh tart cherry pie filling for one of my Christmas pies, and won't have to resort to the canned stuff!
Now to brush up on my lattice top, and my sister, who always requests a cherry pie at Christmas, will be happy.