This sour cherry pie is summer’s ultimate dessert

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Sour Cherry Lattice Pie. (Photo by Laura Chase de Formigny for The Washington Post.)

“The sour cherries are here again, aren’t they!” Rose Levy Beranbaum is practically giddy when I reach her by phone to talk about cherry pie. She’s written hundreds of pie recipes and at least a half-dozen cherry pie recipes, but the pie she comes back to most is one where sour cherries are baked under a flaky cream cheese lattice crust.

“Sweet cherries are easier to find, of course, but nothing compares to sour cherries in pie,” Beranbaum says. In her 1998 “The Pie and Pastry Bible,” which is in its 11th printing, she writes that “their tart flavor is as pure and joyful as the piercingly clear song of a cardinal.”

The only trouble with the crimson stone fruit, also called pie cherries or tart cherries, is that their season is fleeting. For only a few weeks each summer, fragile pints or quarts of bright red sour cherries can be found at markets in most cities in the continental United States—unless you live in or near Michigan or Wisconsin, where the majority of the country’s sour cherry varietals, including Early Richmond, English Morello and Montmorency, are grown. (New York, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Utah and a few other states also produce sour cherries, but in much more limited quantities. For everyone else, and outside of their brisk season, there’s frozen or canned.)

Cherry trees thrive in places where winters are cold. The trees need that chill to induce dormancy, a frost-free spring to let the blossoms bloom and bees pollinate—though sour cherry trees are also self-pollinating. In late spring, the fruit ripens slowly, but hopefully before birds returning from the South have time to peck pockmarks into it.

Jolly Rancher red and mouth-puckeringly tart, the fruit is rarely eaten fresh out of hand. Sour cherries’ pale pink juices beg for sugar, which balances and enhances its singular flavor. Nowhere does that flavor shine brighter than in a pie.

For Beranbaum, sour cherry pie filling needs only the fruit, sugar, a pinch of salt and the tiniest hint of almond extract, which pulls the flavor out of the fruit in the most subtle, bewitching way.

You could turn the cherries into a crisp or crumble, but for Beranbaum, a crunchy brown sugary topping isn’t nearly as good as a tender pie crust. Her pie dough recipe is enriched with cream cheese and cream, making it supremely tender and just a little bit tart.

A lattice crust encourages the cherries’ moisture to evaporate as they cook. Cornstarch in the filling won’t distract from the fruit’s flavor, and thickens its juices, but not so much that they won’t bubble up along the edges. Wait for big, thick bubbles that pop slowly; that’s how you know your pie is really done. If you need to cover the edges of the crust with aluminum foil so they don’t burn, do—it’s crucial that you let the filling boil until it thickens, or you’ll taste the starch.

Beranbaum suggests serving slices of sour cherry pie with a scoop of cheese cake or lemon curd ice cream—both recipes can be found in “Rose’s Ice Cream Bliss,” published last July, “though vanilla, America’s favorite, is always good, too, because it’s not too distracting. It lets the cherries be the star.”

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Sour Cherry Lattice Pie

Active time: 40 minutes | Total time: 1 hour 40 minutes

6 servings (One 9-inch pie)

Cookbook author and baking instructor Rose Levy Beranbaum says sour cherries make the best pie, and cherry pie is her father’s favorite kind.

If you must use bing cherries, which are much sweeter, reduce the sugar to about 2/3 cup (133 grams) and cook the filling on the stove top over medium to medium-low heat until thickened, 8 to 10 minutes, before filling the bottom pie crust. Chopped rhubarb makes a nice, slightly tart addition, as well.

Make Ahead: The suggested Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust needs to be made and chilled at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours in advance of baking. It can be wrapped tightly and frozen for 3 months.

Storage Notes: Leftover pie can be lightly covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days.


2 pie crusts, for a 9-inch pie pan, (see related Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust, a 2-crust pie recipe)

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (175 grams) granulated sugar

2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

Pinch fine sea or table salt

1 1/2 pounds (680 grams) fresh sour cherries, pitted, juices reserved (scant 4 cups)

1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

All-purpose flour, for dusting the work surface, if needed


If using the Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust, prepare it according to the recipe instructions, fit one of the crusts in a 9-inch pie dish, cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours. If using another pie crust recipe or store-bought crusts, have it ready in the pie dish as well, but note the baking timing may vary.

About 20 minutes before you are ready to bake, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and salt until combined. Add the cherries and their accumulated juices, and the almond extract, and stir to combine. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes and up to 3 hours.

About 10 minutes before assembling the pie, remove the second disk of pie crust dough from the refrigerator to allow it to soften and become more pliable.

Remove the pie plate with the unbaked bottom crust from the refrigerator; remove the covering. Spoon the cherries and their juices into the bottom pie crust.

Place the second dough between two sheets of parchment paper, and roll out the dough to an oval about 10 1/2-by-8 inches wide and about 1/16-inch thick. Rotate your parchment-encased dough periodically to ensure an even thickness. Work quickly, so the dough remains smooth and cool. (It’s best to use parchment paper, but if you do not have any, lightly flour the work surface before rolling out the dough.)

Using a ruler and a fluted pastry wheel or a sharp paring knife, cut the dough oval into 10 strips. Arrange five strips evenly over the cherry filling. Gently fold back every other strip just past the center point of the pie and then place a strip on top that runs perpendicular. Reposition the strips so that they lie flat on top of the perpendicular strip. Working in the same direction, gently fold back the strips that were not folded back the first time. Lay a second perpendicular strip on top and unfurl the folded-back strips. Repeat with a third perpendicular strip, folding back the strips that were folded back the first time.

Apply the remaining 2 strips to the other side of the pie, starting toward the center and working toward the edge. Remember to alternate strips that are folded back so that the strips form a woven pattern.

Using sharp kitchen scissors, trim the strips to a 1/2-inch overhang, if necessary. Use water to moisten the edge of the bottom crust where it contacts each strip, then tuck the overhang under the bottom crust edge, pressing down to seal it.

Crimp the edges in a decorative fashion.

Use a pie crust protector or create a protective shield for the edge of the pie crust (to prevent overbrowning) by lightly crimping a ring of aluminum foil over it. Place the pie on the floor of the oven for 20 minutes, then transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Adjust an oven rack so it is on the lowest level in the oven, place the baking sheet with pie on that rack and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the juices bubble through the lattice and the center is slightly puffed. If the lattice becomes too dark in the last 15 minutes of baking, cover it loosely with a piece of aluminum foil with a vent hole in the center.

Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for at least 3 hours before cutting.

Nutrition per serving (1 slice), based on 6 and using Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust | Calories: 630; Total Fat: 30 g; Saturated Fat: 18 g; Cholesterol: 83 mg; Sodium: 235 mg; Carbohydrates: 85 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugar: 39 g; Protein: 7 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

From “The Pie and Pastry Bible” (Scribner, 1998), with adaptations by its author, Rose Levy Beranbaum.

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Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust

Active time: 15 minutes; Total time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

8-10 servings; makes enough for a 9-inch, 2-crust pie

Rose Levy Beranbaum says this crust holds its shape better than any other pie dough. Keeping the elements as cool as possible helps make a perfect pie crust. Wear food-safe latex gloves, and/or handle the dough as little as possible. You can keep a bowl of ice water near the work surface to dip your hands into; that will help keep them cool.

This recipe substitutes cold heavy cream for the water used in Beranbaum’s original Perfect Flaky and Tender Cream Cheese Pie Crust recipe, as printed in her “The Pie and Pastry Bible” (Scribner, 1998).

Make Ahead: The dough needs to be made and chilled at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours in advance of baking.

Storage Note: The prepared dough can be tightly wrapped and refrigerated for up to 3 days and frozen for up to 3 months.


1 1/2 sticks (170 grams/6 ounces) cold unsalted butter

2 cups plus 3 tablespoons pastry flour (285 grams; may substitute 1 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour (188 grams) plus 3/4 cup (100 grams) cake flour]

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder, preferably Rumford or other non-sodium-based brand

4 1/2 ounces (128 grams) cold cream cheese, cut into 3 to 4 pieces

3 tablespoons cold heavy cream

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar


Cut the butter into 3/4-inch cubes, transfer to a small bowl and freeze for at least 30 minutes or until solid. In a large bowl or 1-gallon resealable plastic bag, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder until combined, and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

To the bowl of a food processor, add the flour mixture and pulse for a few seconds to mix well. Add the cream cheese and process for about 20 seconds; the mixture should resemble a coarse meal. Add the frozen butter cubes and pulse until the butter pieces are no larger than a pea. Add the heavy cream and vinegar and pulse until the dough is in pea-size pieces. Divide the dough in half and transfer to 2 separate 1-gallon resealable plastic food storage bags. (If desired, spray the inside of each bag with nonstick cooking spray to keep the dough from sticking.)

Working with one bag at a time and leaving it unsealed, knead the mixture through the bag by pressing with the heel of your hand to help the dough come together. Remove the dough from the bag and knead it lightly just until it is slightly stretchy when pulled. Flatten the dough into a disk, return to the resealable plastic bag (see Storage Note), squeeze all of the air out, seal and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes and up to overnight.

When ready to make a pie, remove one dough disk from the refrigerator and let sit for up to 10 minutes, if necessary, to become pliable enough for rolling.

Place the dough disk between two large pieces of parchment paper and roll it out to a 12-inch wide and 1/8-inch thick circle, rotating the dough a quarter-turn regularly to ensure even thickness of the pie crust. Work quickly so the dough remains smooth and cool. (If you do not have parchment paper, lightly dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour.)

Carefully drape the dough over the rolling pin and then unroll it over a 9-inch pie plate. Trim the border just short of the edge of the plate. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours.

Repeat with remaining dough, if needed.

Nutrition per single crust | Calories: 1,230; Total Fat: 97 g; Saturated Fat: 59 g; Cholesterol: 270 mg; Sodium: 580 mg; Carbohydrates: 79 g; Dietary Fiber: 10 g; Sugar: 2 g; Protein: 18 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

From cookbook author and baking instructor Rose Levy Beranbaum.

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