© 2018 Can Caramelo

Cherry Pie

Although it’s being a little slow this year here in Spain, summer is in the air, and with summer, the most gorgeous summer produce. Enjoying a bowl of overnight oats topped with cherries, peaches, strawberries and blueberries in the warm morning sun – or a cherry pie like the one I’m showing you how to do today, warm or cold, just like it is or topped with ice cream or fresh cream… – I think there are few things more pleasurable. It’s a special moment when all the summer produce is available in it’s color, variety and juiciness. Especially just before the summer fruit arrives, it becomes hard to wait. We grow impatient, tired of the limited options that winter offers us. That, and my older (3 year old) son being almost incapable of waiting 10 minutes for dinner made me think about patience and how it is implemented in our brain. I was also wondering about the special pleasure that lies in anticipation and the knowledge that you will have something that is not available immediately at all times. The pleasure of having to wait. Of a potentiated joy due to the consciousness of it’s temporal limits.

There has been an interesting psychological experiment in the late 1960s and early 1970s that has become known as the “Stanford Marshmallow Experiment” in which a 4-6 year old child was left in a room with a treat of their choice which they could either eat or wait until the experimenter came back after 15min in which case they would be given another candy (it was made sure that the instructions were well understood). They observed that some kids just ate the candy as soon as the experimenter left the room while others would cover their eyes, start kicking the table or stroke the candy like it was a little animal. It was later found that the children who were able to wait longer, were described to be more competent adolescents with better academic achievements, lower obesity and better performance in cognitive tasks. When a neuroimaging study was run when these kids were adults, differences in activity in the prefrontal cortex (higher in those who were able to wait, an area involved in executive function) and ventral striatum (higher in those who attacked the candy, part of the reward system) were shown.

Variations of this task are still commonly used to investigate patience. An established fact is that people are impatient in the short term, but more rational when it comes to the longer run. So when people are asked if they want 10 dollars today or 11 dollars tomorrow, many will choose the instantaneous 10 dollars. If, on the other hand, the choice is 10 dollars in a year or 11 dollars in a year and a day, most people choose the 11 dollars. An explanation for this behaviour lies in the discovery that two dissociable networks in the brain seem to be involved: the limbic system (an evolutionary old part of the brain, below the cortex, important also for emotional processing) is involved in immediate rewards, while being less sensitive to future promises. The lateral prefrontal cortex on the other hand, an evolutionary advanced structure of the brain, important for temporal planning, is involved in judging more abstract and delayed rewards.

A recent study has found an interesting connection between willpower, patience and imagination. To my surprise, there seems to be a general agreement about willpower as a limited resource that becomes depleted if you use too much of it. Intuitively, I would have rather imagined it working like a muscle, the more you exert it, the stronger it gets. Neuroimaging studies have shown however that there is less activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex after willpower has been exerted. It seems however that patience not only depends on willpower, but imagining the consequences of being impatient can help to extend our patience.

That said, imagining the cherries before I can have them, only makes my longing worse and I have to confess that I try to overcome the temporally limited availability of cherries by ignoring any quantitative limits and eating kilo after kilo of red, ripe and sweet cherries. Mostly straight out of the bowl. But sometimes I can come up with slightly more patience and pit a whole kilo of cherries, throw together a pastry, roll it out and fill it with all the cherry-goodness.

A note on the photos: I was trying out different types of light and shadow with bright and dark backgrounds and while I thought it would be better to decide for either series to have a visually coherent post, I couldn’t decide, so here you go with coherently light and dark pictures.

Makes one large pie (around 22cm/9in diameter) or 7-8 mini pies (10cm/4in diameter).

For the dough:

  • 1 cup/ 250g white spelt flour
  • 1/2 cup/ 120g almond flour (ground almonds)
  • 80g/2.8oz cold butter
  • 3 tablespoons/75g maple syrup
  • 1 egg
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the filling:

  • 1kg/2 pounds cherries, pitted
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons corn starch or arrowroot
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla
  • 1 egg (for brushing the pie crust)

Prepare the dough. You can make it in a bowl or directly on the countertop. To achieve a flaky texture as opposed to a tough one, don’t overknead and don’t let the dough get to warm. You can use your hands or a dough scraper to bring it together. Put spelt and almond flour, salt and lemon zest in a bowl, whisk to combine. Make a small mould in the middle and add egg, butter and maple syrup. Combine with your hands or a dough scraper. Do this quickly and once everything is smooth, put it into the fridge. Let sit for at least 20min.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Heat the cherries in a large pot. Add the maple syrup and vanilla. Dissolve the cornstarch in the lemon juice and add the mixture to the cherries once they are boiling. Simmer on low heat until the filling thickens a bit, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Grease your pie pan. Divide the dough in two. Place the larger half on top of a sheet of parchment paper. Put another sheet on top. Roll out into an even circle (around 0.5cm/o.2in thick) that is around 5cm larger than your pan. Remove the top parchment paper and grab from the bottom to carefully lift and place it into the prepared pan. You might loosely wrap it around the rolling pin and unwrap over the pan. You can either put the parchment paper side down, to leave it there while baking and an easy remove afterwards or put the pastry in to the pan with the parchment paper on top and then carefully pull it off (that’s what I did here as in this case it allows you for a nicer decoration and pies are usually cut in the pan anyway). Pour or spoon the filling inside, then roll out smaller half of the pastry (same technique as before, between two sheets of parchment paper works well). It should overlap the pan by a minimum of 2cm. Peel off the top parchment paper and use the one on the bottom to lift and carefully place on top of the pies. Peel off too. Press bottom and top pastry together and cut off large overlapping parts (you’ll need these for decorating). In one of the pictures you can see how to make a nicely fluted edge. Cut out any shape you like of the leftover pastry pieces and use to decorate. With a sharp knife, make a few cuts into the pastry on top to prevent it form forming bubbles. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the filling is all bubbly and the top slightly browned.

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