Fresh Cherry Tart

I never cared much for cherry pie - at least, not the electric red-hued sticky kind of pie that was at every church function or 24-hour diner off I-95 South.  So, my first bite of cherry pie made with fresh cherries was awesome.  The cherries were plump and fragrant and held on to just the right amount of tartness.  Joyfully, the sweet filling was silky and hung to the crust in all the right places.  Problem is, it was made with the traditional Morello (sour) cherry, so the brilliant pie was still loaded with sugar.  

Fast forward to my quest to feed my family with delicious food good for the body and soul.  In the case of my parents - who refuse to concede to the threat of diabetes and gout - dessert is always a bit of a challenge.   

Enter the black cherry.  Not only are they native to the Americas (sour cherries were imported from Europe) but they are naturally sweet and high in antioxidants.  In fact, cherry juice is cited as beneficial in easing inflammatory conditions as arthritis and gout.

I opted to use only honey to tweak the cherries' sweetness and tucked the filling in a buttery, whole wheat crust.  Topped with freshly whipped cream (or vanilla ice cream if sugar is not an issue) this pie will make everyone happy.

Ingredients For the Cherry Filling:

4 cups whole, pitted fresh black cherries

1/2 cup raw honey

1/4 cup cornstarch dissolved in 1/3 cup of water ("slurry")

1 tablespoon fresh;y squeezed lemon juice

Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean

Ingredients for the Double Crust:

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (found at Whole Foods)

Pinch of sea salt

18 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 18 pieces

2 egg yolks

4 tablespoons cold whole buttermilk

Step One:  Start the Crust

1.  Using a standing mixture fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a sturdy wooden spoon), beat the flour and salt for 10-15 seconds, or until just mixed.  Add the butter and beat slowly for 45-60 seconds, just until the crust just holds together and there are still clumps of butter the size of a pecan throughout.  In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and milk and add all at once to the flour-butter mixture.  Beat very briefly on low speed for 20 to 30 seconds, just until it barely comes together.  It will look really shaggy and more like a mess than a dough.

2.  Dump the dough out onto a work surface and gather it into a tight mound.  Using the heel of your hand, smear the dough, starting at the top of the mound and sliding your palm down the sides of the mound along the work surface, until most of the butter chunks are smeared into the dough and the whole thing comes together.  Split the dough into two mounds and wrap each one tightly in plastic wrap and press down to make flattened disks.  Refrigerate for at least one hour before using.  

3. Make the filling while the dough is chilling.

Step Two:  Make the Filling

1. Place the cherries, honey, cornstarch slurry, and lemon juice in a medium saucepan and set the heat on medium.  

2. Bring to a simmer, then lower the temperature to medium low.  Cook, stirring only once, for about 5-8 minutes or until thickened.  Take care not to burn!

3. Remove from the heat.  Gently fold in the vanilla bean seeds.  Set aside to cool slightly and move to the next step

Step Three: Assemble and Bake

1.  Preheat the oven to 375F.

2. Remove the  disks of dough from the refrigerator and prepare to roll out one at a time.  

3.  Knead the first mound slightly to make it softer if it feels stiff.  Using a rolling pin, press the dough to flatten it into a disk about 1/2 inch thick.  Generously flour your work surface and the dough disk.  Carefully roll out the disk into a circle about 12 inches in diameter.  Make sure that both the rolling pin and your work surface are well floured.  Roll from the center of the disk outward and gently rotate the disk a quarter turn after each roll to ensure that the disk gets stretched out evenly into a nice circle. Patch any cracked edges when you line the pie plate with this layer of dough.

4.  Once the dough circle is about 12 inches in diameter, roll it gently around the rolling pin and unfurl it on top of a 9-inch aluminum or glass pie plate.  Press the dough gently into the bottom and sides of the plate, leaving a 1 inch lip around the edge, and using any scraps or odd pieces to patch up any tears or missing bits.

5.  Repeat steps 2 and 3 EXCEPT when you roll out the dough, cut it into 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch strips using a pizza cutter or very sharp knife (I do skinnier strips to lower the overall carbs).  Then using a technique of weaving, use the strips to make the lattice top crust and crimp the edges or trim.  Check out this great tutorial at the Kitchn for step-by-step instructions.

6.  Brush the top of the strips with a little beaten egg for a nice brown crust.  Place the pie on a baking sheet and place in the oven.  Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the crust had browned and the cherries are glossy.  

7.  Serve warm with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream