Behind the Recipe: Cherry Pie

From the food editor’s first moment of inspiration to the final result that appears in the pages of Gourmet, each of our recipes goes on a long journey, usually involving multiple tastings, hot debate, and the occasional thrown saucepan. It’s always seemed a shame that these stories go untold, so in Behind the Recipe, a continuing series, we’re going to remedy that.
cherry pie

There are few things more iconic than cherry pie, so it was a natural fit for our July cover. As part of food editor Melissa Roberts’ “Easy Street” menu, it also lends itself to summer cooking: It makes the most of sour cherries, it’s simple and effortless, and it’s completely delicious (it was literally a matter of minutes before Melissa’s versions would disappear from the test kitchen). But it takes a lot of work to make something so simple.

Sometimes, recipe ideas come based on taste, and the recipe’s “look” is developed second. With this pie, however, the opposite was true. Using a lattice top crust on the pie was out for a number of reasons; everyone agreed it would look too quaint and too straightforward. But this proved problematic, because, as anyone who’s spent time baking can tell you, the natural venting that a lattice crust provides allows the filling’s temperature to rise more quickly when baked, causing it to boil, which in turn thickens it. With a solid crust, the center of the pie’s filling wasn’t getting hot enough, and the pie’s filling ended up being too runny. But then an idea based as much on its aesthetic appeal as on its practicality occurred to Melissa: Why not just cut oversized teardrop vents in the top? A brush of milk and a sprinkle of sugar on the crust to give it a little gloss, and it was done. The result was a perfect pie. Of course, photographing the pie was a different story. Because pie can’t be moved from plate to plate the way, say, a steak can, seven of them had to be baked for the shoot on all manner of pie dishes—a white one, a metallic one, ones that were plain, ones that were patterned. Of course, the upside of having to bake all those perfect pies was that, at the end of the day, somebody had to eat them all.

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