the butter lab's cherry-almond crumb pie
I’ve baked enough sweet cherry pies to know they can be trickier than you might think. The cherries need to bake to the perfect consistency—soft and jam-like, with a bit of texture. Too often—especially in recipes that use pitted, whole cherries—the cherries never fully break down, the filling doesn’t thicken, and the pie just tastes like raw cherries wrapped in pie dough.
Cook’s Illustrated is my trusted source for fruit pies, and their sweet cherry pie filling is no exception. Their recipe includes two unlikely red plums. Here’s how it goes: The plums, along with some of the cherries, get blitzed in a food processor and passed through a sieve. The chewy skins get thrown away, while the cherry-plum puree gets added to the rest of the halved and pitted cherries, giving everything a kind of head start toward jamminess. Ground instant tapioca—Cook’s Illustrated’s choice (and mine) for fruit pie thickener—helps give the fruit the ideal pie consistency, not too gummy, runny, or starchy. The plums also cut the sweetness of the cherries and give them a lighter, more delicate flavor. The addition of bourbon and lemon makes everything taste a little like an old-fashioned cocktail.
This cherry pie recipe is a combination of that same cherry filling, my all-butter pie dough recipe, and my favorite almond crumb recipe from Holly Ricciardi’s Magpie. (I’ve previously used her brown sugar crumb recipe here.) Note: the picture above shows a different topping—the streusel from Four and Twenty Blackbirds—but nothing compares to the almond crumb, pictured below. The oats and nuts and lemon zest provide added depth and perfectly complement the sweet, boozy summer cherries, plus those two secret plums.
The Butter Lab’s Sweet Cherry-Almond Crumb Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie.
This is best with fresh cherries, but you can also use frozen ones. Just make sure to measure them frozen and then let them thaw before using; if not, you could end up with uncooked fruit and undissolved tapioca. If you’re feeling fancy, you could also add a dash of bitters to the filling and brown the butter in the crumb, but it doesn’t need it.
THE BUTTER LAB’S PIE DOUGH (1/2 RECIPE, ROLLED OUT AND CHILLED FOR A SINGLE-CRUST PIE)
2 red plums, halved and pitted
6 cups (about 2 pounds) fresh sweet cherries, halved and pitted
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons bourbon (optional)
2 tablespoons instant tapioca
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1/2 cup (40 grams) rolled oats
1/2 cup (62 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (96 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 cup (35 grams) sliced almonds
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Position oven racks in the bottom and center positions, and preheat the oven to 425°F.
PREPARE CHERRY FILLING: In a coffee grinder (or food processor), grind instant tapioca for 30 seconds and set aside. In a food processor, process plums and 1 cup halved cherries until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Strain puree through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl, pressing on solids to extract the liquid; discard solids. Stir remaining halved cherries, sugar, salt, lemon juice, bourbon, tapioca, and cinnamon into the puree; let stand for 15 minutes.
PREPARE ALMOND STREUSEL: Use a food processor to grind the oats, pulsing the machine until the they resemble coarse cornmeal. In a medium bowl, whisk together the ground oats, flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Add the melted butter and lemon zest and blend with your fingers or a fork until the butter is incorporated and the mixture gathers into small clumps. Add the almonds and toss gently. Chill the crumb 15 minutes before using for pie topping. (Can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a 1 week.)
ASSEMBLE AND BAKE: Brush egg wash over crimped edge of chilled, prepared pie dough. Fill with cherry filling, including juices. Top evenly with almond streusel. Place pie pan on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake on the bottom oven rack for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is set and beginning to brown. Lower the oven temperature to 375°F, move the pie to the center oven rack, and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling throughout, 30 to 35 minutes longer. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.