Baking up beginnings.

One never knows what the weather is going to do this time of year in Wisconsin. Spring here is a little bit like my life plan: it doesn't really exist. The season sometimes (like this year) takes an age to finally meet us with green leaves on the trees and warm thunderstorms, but by the time it does, it's practically summer already. But with what little sliver of the season does exist, I've been taking in as much as possible.

Last night marked the third in a recent string of summer-please-come-soon backyard fires with good friends. Some fires have burned much longer into the night than last night, however I still woke up this morning late and thinking that I needed to do something to make today a productive one. Something about losing those few hours of daylight in the morning kicks me into high gear in the afternoon.
I figured cherry pie seemed as yummy an opener as any to the chronicle of my adventures in my small part of the world. So I drove out to grab the only ingredient I was missing: eggs, along with a quick stop in at the local Goodwill (where I found a pair of pleated trousers and a brand new Urban Outfitters top, SCORE!), and thus began the mini adventure that is making a pie.

The jar of Wood Orchard Market pie filling inspired me to get crackin'. A day trip last Saturday with my mom to a shepherd's market, along with a few shops, included a stop at the Wood Orchard Market, which we've seen many times throughout the years and had never stopped into. We left with fresh asparagus, pie cherries, raw honey, and cherry caramels. Talk about decadent! Of course, I couldn't very well let that enticing jar of cherries sit around forever. Today was the day. And because I will be eating half of this pie myself (yay!), I went for my trusty Perfect Light Desserts by Nick Malgieri and David Joachim for the crust recipe (I've included it below).

There is something cathartic about baking -- and cooking also, although I tend to bake more often. I love to follow recipes, and then mess with them when I come up with something new. Cookbooks contain their own sort of magic, imparted to me from page to flour-dusted page, and when I pull the latest creation out of the oven, it's the best kind of reward. Nothing beats homemade!

I'm ever so much more inspired when I can get my hands on local ingredients and stop at the markets and shops in town to get whatever I need. Wisconsin, being the winter-summer state it is, gives me half a year or so to really do it up right with all the local ingredients, so one has to start somewhere. Door County is famous for its cherries -- the tart pie kind, and although this year's crop is only just starting to show blossoms on trees, there is always plentiful frozen from last season, not to mention just about any kind of cherry product you could think of: salsa, butter, jams, candies... (oh yum).

It's amazing to consider how basic, simple ingredients that we take for granted, such as flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and a pinch of salt can be transformed infinitely. Before:

...and after. The hardest part might be waiting for it to cool...

Now for the best part! How to make it:

I don't have a food processor, although I included the recipe per the book here for the dough. I have a small KitchenAid mixer which worked fine for chopping up the butter and distributing it evenly enough through the dough. For the pie, you'll need to make a double batch of this: one for the bottom layer and one for the top.

Sweet Pastry Dough
from Perfect Light Desserts by Malgieri and Joachim

- Makes about 9oz of dough, enough for 9in pie crust, about 8 servings

1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into 6 pieces
1 large egg
1 tablespoon cold water

1. Combine all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse 3 or 4 times to mix.

2. Add the butter and pulse about 10 or 12 times to mix the butter in finely.

3. Add the egg and water and pulse repeatedly until the dough forms a ball.

4. Invert the bowl to a lightly floured work surface and carefully remove the blade.

5. Form the dough into a disk and wrap it in plastic.

6. Refrigerate the dough for several hours or up to 3 days. You may also roll out the dough immediately; it will be a little soft but entirely capable of being rolled.

7. Before you use the refrigerated dough, unwrap it and place it on a floured work surface. Gently knead the dough to render it malleable, then form it into a disk again before rolling.

For the pie:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with the rack at the lowest level in the oven.

Roll one half of the dough into an 11-inch disk, then fold it in half and lay it onto the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan. Pour in the pie filling. (It's worth mentioning that there are many ways to make your own pie filling from fresh berries, any of which will work wonderfully with this pie crust.) Roll the second bit of dough into a 10-inch square and use a pizza cutter to slice 1-inch wide strips. Moisten the bottom of the strips with water and lay across the pie in a cross-hatch pattern, one layer on top of the other.

Bake the pie for about 45 minutes or until the filling is bubbling and the crust looks baked through. Cool on a rack, and serve when cool and the filling has set.

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