#32 : Sour Cherry Hazelnut Pie
"Don't bother making it again...."
Yes, once again a pie made with a top crust of stars. I must get some other cookie cutters...hearts? leaves? diamonds?...to avoid repeating this star-spangled top crust all the time. I had planned on a lattice-top crust this time around, but the dough was so unwieldy and crumbly I knew it would never work and gave up on that.
Apparently even the great America's Test Kitchen makes mistakes? This recipe sounded terrific and I was interested in the crust which substitutes ground nuts (in this case, hazelnuts) for some of the flour. What could go wrong? Apparently...everything!
The "foolproof" pie dough calls for a cup of hazelnuts in place of a cup of flour. (The recipe is copyrighted by America's Test Kitchen so a similar recipe for the crust is here, if you want to bother.) I had bought a huge bag of hazelnuts at Costco a while back and thought this would be a perfect dessert after dinner on our friends' boat. But, the recipe specifically states "do not use toasted nuts for this recipe" and my nuts had been already toasted, so another trip to the store for "raw" hazelnuts was required.
I made the crust the day before our dinner, allowing it to fully chill overnight. When I tried rolling it out the next day, the ratio of butter to dry ingredients (nuts and flour) was clearly off as the dough just shattered into a buttery, crumbly mess instead of rolling out smoothly. I managed to press the bottom crust into a decent shape and get it into the pie pan, but I knew immediately that there was no way I could make a lattice top with the crumbling pie crust. So I pre-baked the bottom crust and prepared the cherry filling while I rolled the top crust out gently, and cut it into star shapes with a cookie cutter. The stars went into the freezer while I prepared the pie. I was pleased that I had managed to rescue the dough and I figured we'd have a terrific pie.
By the way, the dough also called for grating some of the butter on a box grater and freezing it, then adding the frozen butter to the rest of the butter and dry ingredients in a bowl at the end. I've tried this once or twice before, and it seems overly fussy to me - you just end up with butter smeared all over your hands from grating it, and the end result doesn't seem to be an improvement over adding all the butter all at once. It might work better if you freeze the butter before grating it? Or is it still too much work for too little reward?
I had some of my sour cherries left, and added three tablespoons of hazelnut liqueur to the cherries, sugar, and tapioca and drained it before adding it to the baked pie crust.
Assembly was then pretty easy. I topped the filling with the cookie-cutter stars, and then painted an egg wash on the top crust and baked it. It looked pretty good, if maybe a touch overbaked. Jeff had read somewhere that one trick is to use the egg wash in the last stages of baking to prevent the sugar-coated crust from browning too much and I may try that.
We hadn't seen our friends Richard and Beverly since last year, and it was great to catch up on their doings and the latest boatyard gossip. They have two dogs who were more than happy to occasionally contribute to the conversation.
Richard served us pasta with shrimp. The dinner, the red wine and the conversation were all delightful!
(Note the slightly singed edges as the nuts got overbaked.)
The pie, however, was a disappointment. It was impossible to slice, and each piece of pie collapsed into a crumbly mess before reaching the plate. Richard and Beverly liked it, though Richard did get a cherry pit in his pie (oops! Fire the chef!) but they have not had my previous pies, so they didn't quite understand that this pie wasn't up to my usual standards.
Later on I looked up the crust recipe again, thinking I had erred somewhere, but there were several comments online that the ratio of butter to dry ingredients seemed off in the recipe. More than one reader stated that rolling the crust out was impossible, and it just collapsed. A few people suggested adding more flour to make the crust less of a disaster. I mentioned this to Jeff, who said, "Don't bother making this pie crust again." (Yikes!)
The Verdict: Not worth the trouble.
There may be some way to figure out the proper balance of butter and flour/nuts to make a more pliable dough, but Jeff wasn't wild about the taste, either, saying that the oil from the hazelnuts added a slightly greasy texture and slightly unpleasant taste. The hazelnuts also didn't really add much to the sour cherries. The crust might work better with almonds or some other nuts...or maybe it's just best to pretend this one didn't happen, and move on.
The best part of dessert, of course, were the sour cherries, and the ice cream on top of the pie! And it's nice to have good friends willing to overlook a little imperfection.