Cherry slab

JAMES PERIERA/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Pictured is a piece of cherry slab pie, made by James Periera and the GourmentGents. A slab pie, much like a galette, is a free-form pie made in a rimmed baking sheet rather than a pie dish

I was watching “Call the Midwife,” when a passing mention of a “cherry slab” caught my interest. I’m a fan of cherries and desserts served in portions that could indeed be deemed slab-like, so I wanted to know more. This led me to a recipe for cherry slab pie on Smitten Kitchen, where, once hearing it described as “a giant Pop Tart,” I was in love.

Much like a galette, a slab pie is a free-form pie made in a rimmed baking sheet rather than a pie dish. It just goes the extra mile and fills things to the sides of the pan. This means it’s shorter than most round pies and consequently stretches the ingredients to feed more people. A pie for crust-lovers, it also increases the proportion of buttery crust to fruity filling, which is again more budget conscious. The whole hand-tossed affair has an elegant, shabby chic, that still makes it perfect for revelers of all incomes and ages.

Cherries end up being a bit of a less economical choice just because they’re so expensive, but that acts as an excuse to go out of season and take advantage of preferable pricing on the frozen variety (bonus: already pitted!). Cherries are specifically a seasonal fruit because, like other many drupes (stone fruits like apricots, peaches, and plums) they require a cold spell to kick off germination, this prevents them from “wasting” fruit on winter, but also prevents them from being commercially grown in tropical regions.

All cherries originate through Western Asia and North Africa, roughly around the region of what is now Turkey, which produces the majority of the world’s commercial cherries. They mainly come in sweet (Prunus avium) and sour (Prunus cerasum) varieties, primarily intended for eating raw and baked, respectively. While the Smitten Kitchen recipe calls for sour cherries for baking, I used sweet based upon availability and tried to reduce the sugar and increase the inclusion of lemon in order to compensate for a sweet that’s not too sweet. This makes the sugar glaze is an important requirement because the sweetness, tangy lemon, and woodsy vanilla it contains develop and complement he overall flavors of sweet cherry filling and rich, buttery pastry.

Cherry slab

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen (https://smittenkitchen.com/2009/07/sour-cherry-slab-pie/)

You can substitute ice water for half to all of the vodka in the crust, but I maintain that vodka yields the best results.

For the crust:

5 cups pastry flour

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons sea salt, finely ground

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, very cold, diced

1 1/2 cups vodka, ice cold

For the filling:

6 cups dark sweet cherries, pits removed (fresh or frozen, if frozen, thaw and drain)

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

Zest from 1 lemon

Juice from 1/2 a lemon

For the glaze:

1 cup confectioners sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the crust, toss the flour, sugar and salt in a large glass bowl to combine. Use a hand-powered pastry blender to cut in the butter until roughly pea-sized clumps form, then drizzle in the vodka, tossing with a fork, until combined. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead with your hands until it just comes together, then divide into two disks, wrap with plastic and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

Preheat an oven to 375 F, and roll out one of the dough disks on a floured surface until it drapes into the bottom of a rimmed baking sheet.

Combine the cherries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest and lemon juice in a large bowl, then pour into the prepared sheet pan.

Roll out the final disk of dough and cover the filling, crimping the edges together. Use a fork to perforate the crust all over and bake 45-55 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned and the filling is bubbling. Cool on a wire rack for 45 minutes.

Whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla extract and drizzle over the baked slab. Serve warm.