Strawberries are the first fruit that can make me do a “happy clap” at the markets and it’s no wonder why. While the greens of spring are undoubtedly welcome after a grey winter, the first red strawberries mean summer is really and truly here, and other colors, other flavors will follow soon. The first real, sweet fruit of the season is heaven, but after gorging on no less than 4 quarts over the course of a few weeks, I’m ready for the next sign of summer, my hands-down favorite: sour cherries.
I don’t remember when I first fell in love with sour cherries. We had a Ranier cherry tree at my house growing up, and I remember liking those yellowy-red treats well enough (when we could beat the bugs and squirrels to them). I also remember picking sour cherries at you-pick orchards with my family for pie, but it was never something I craved, like strawberry or peach pie, my favorites growing up. Maybe it was just one of those tastes I had to mature into.
Now, the first sighting of those unmistakable, uniquely translucent-red cherries makes me stop in my tracks. I can eat them straight, and have done so quite happily. My favorite use, however, is this cherry crostata I discovered a few years ago. The crust is simple and holds up very well to the fruit (no sogginess, one of my major issues with most fruit pies), and it takes well to adjusting the sugar level to the level of tartness I prefer, letting the sour cherries live up to their name.
The other nice thing about this recipe is that it’s easy to make the dough and filling separately and assemble when you’re ready to bake. Plus the lattice looks very impressive, but is really simple, and the fluted edges from the tart pan just make it look that much fancier.
With the crazy spring this year in Illinois, New York, Michigan, etc., cherries (and peaches and apples) are going to be harder to come by than in the past few years. But as long as I can get one of these out of the summer, I will count myself lucky.
Sour Cherry Crostata
Slightly modified from a Gourmet recipe
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I use 3/4 cup whole grain flour mix and 1 1/4 cup AP flour, but you can adjust as you like)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 1/4 cups (about 2 quarts) fresh sour cherries, pitted (the best tool I’ve found is a potato peeler inserted into the stem end to pry the pit out)
1/2 cup sugar (1/4 cup more of you prefer a sweeter filling)
2 tablespoons cold water
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon turbinado or regular sugar
Make the crust:
Beat together butter and 1/3 cup sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat egg separately in a small bowl and reserve 1 tablespoon for egg wash. Beat remaining egg into butter mixture, then add vanilla, beating well. Slowly mix in flour, salt, and zest until mixture just forms a dough.
Halve dough and form each half into a disk. Wrap disks in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.
Make the filling:
Heat the butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until the foam subsides and the butter smells nutty and is near browning. Add the cherries with any juices and sugar and simmer, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Continue to simmer until cherries are tender but not falling apart, about 8 minutes. Stir together water and cornstarch in a small bowl, then add to the simmering filling and boil, stirring frequently, 2 minutes. Set filling aside to cool. Everything can be made up to this point and assembled later.
Assemble and bake:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out one piece of the dough into a 12-inch round (you can do this between sheets of wax paper to cut down on sticking) and place the dough into a 9″ fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Don’t worry if it sticks to the cutting board, or the rolling pin, just patch any cracks or holes together in the pan. Press the dough into pan corners and the fluted edges, and trim any excess dough. Return the shell to the fridge and roll out the second piece of dough. Cut dough into 10-12 strips and return strips to the fridge on a baking sheet for about 5 minutes. Put a foil-lined large baking sheet (preferably a pan with raised edges like a jellyroll pan) in the middle of the oven.
Spread the cooled filling in the tart shell and arrange half the strips 1 inch apart over the filling, pressing the ends onto the edge of the crust. Arrange remaining strips 1 inch apart diagonally across first strips to form a lattice with diamond-shaped spaces. Don’t worry if any of the strips break, either use them for the shorter edges of the pan, or patch them back together. Trim all edges and brush crust with reserved beaten egg and sprinkle with turbinado or regular sugar.
Place the crostata onto the pan already heating in the oven and bake about 1 hour until the crust is golden and filling is bubbly–it most likely will overflow onto the pan. Cool completely in the jellyroll pan on a rack for about 2 hours to allow juices to thicken. To remove from the pan, carefully lift the edge of the tart pan from the baking pan and gently peel the sticky tinfoil from the bottom, working your way around. Then, very carefully, hold the bottom of the tart pan in your hand as if you were a waitress holding a tray and gently work the fluted part of the tart pan down off the crust. You’ll end up wearing the fluted edge of the pan as a giant bracelet for a minute. Place the tart (still on the bottom of the tart pan) on a cake stand or a plate and enjoy.
The crostata is best served slightly warm, but it will also keep for a day or two covered on the counter, or longer in the fridge.