What if there was one ingredient you could add to a fruit pie to give it a nice, thick filling and make it taste like it was from a bakery? What if it took no professional skills or talent? What if it was as simple as boiling water?
I learned about this technique while reading through an old Southern cookbook and my mind was blown. It was such an “aha” moment. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?
For someone who isn’t a professional baker and gets anxious about baking, this method is right up my alley. I’m all for minimal effort with maximum results. It doesn’t require any fancy tools or gadgets, just a burner and sauce pan. Are you curious yet?
The trick to irresistible pies is … juice. Or more specifically, juice syrup. You gently reduce fruit juice over a low simmer until it becomes thick and syrupy, then add the syrup to your filling, creating the antidote to sad, runny pies. Pretty easy, right?
The reduction also adds concentrated flavor, intensifies the fruitiness of the pie, and helps to bind the filling together, requiring less sugar and cornstarch. This method works for whatever type of fruit pie you’re making ― apple, blueberry, strawberry, pear, peach or cherry. Just simply use the same type of juice as its fresh counterpart.
When reducing the juice, be sure to check on it often, especially toward the end of the process. If it’s reduced too much, it can burn and taste bitter. The consistency should be like maple syrup, not molasses.
Below you’ll find a recipe for a quintessential cherry pie. It’s a no-fuss recipe that will still impress even the snobbiest eaters. If making your own pie dough scares you, feel free to substitute store-bought dough. This is a no judgement zone. Now get baking!
Classic Cherry Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie
1 cup cherry juice
2 1/2 pounds fresh cherries, pitted and halved (about 5 1/2 cups after pitting and halving)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons butter, diced into 1/4-inch cubes
1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water (for egg wash)
2 tablespoons coarse sugar (like turbinado)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, cold and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
6-8 tablespoons ice water, plus more as needed
Make dough: Place flour, salt and sugar in bowl of food processor. Pulse a few times until combined. Add butter and pulse again until butter is the size of large blueberries. Add 1-2 tablespoons of water at a time and pulse until dough starts to come together. Transfer dough to cutting board and form into ball. Divide in half and make 2 equal disks. Wrap in plastic and let chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Make syrup: Place cherry juice in small saucepan over medium heat. Allow mixture to come to a low boil. Then reduce heat and simmer for 12-15 minutes until liquid has reduced to 1/4 cup. Watch carefully to prevent burning.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Make filling: Combine cherries, vanilla, lemon juice and zest, sugar, cornstarch and reduced cherry juice in a large bowl. Toss to combine. Set aside until ready to use.
Roll out dough: On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the pie discs to roughly 12 inches in diameter. Fit into bottom of 9-inch pie dish and place in fridge for 20 minutes. Roll out the remaining disc until it is roughly 11 inches in diameter. Place in fridge until ready to use.
Add filling: Add filling to prepared pie dish. Scatter diced butter over top. Brush edges with egg wash and add top crust over the pie. Trim the edges and leave 1/2-inch overhang. Fold top crust under bottom crust, sealing them together. Use the tip of a knife to cut 3 or 4 slits in top of pie. (If you’re feeling fancy, you can make a lattice pattern with the top crust instead, like below.) Use a pastry brush to coat entire pie with egg wash. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.
Bake pie: Add assembled pie to foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. Then reduce heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling and thick. If dough is getting brown before the inside is done, cover with foil and continue cooking. Let rest 1 hour before eating. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.