Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

Fourth of July

Red, White and Blue – Deep Purple Fresh Cherry Pie Pockets

Happy Fourth of July weekend, everyone. God Bless America!

The following recipe is adapted from my next cookbook,  Tart Love – Sassy, Savory and Sweet (Gibbs Smith, October 1, 2011). Dress it up with a fat, fresh strawberry and a cool scoop of fresh, best-quality vanilla ice cream and you’ve got a 4th of July color-coded dessert as American as apple pie.

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A great bargain on beautiful Bing cherries and a lingering curiosity about fried fruit pies (a hot Southern tradition) inspired me to take the plunge into the wonderful world of deep fried pies. Like so many things, once you try it, you realize it is not as difficult as you may have thought. The trick is that the pies go in cold and dry and that oil temperature is right (between 360-375F). Also, take care that they are not overcrowded and are treated with care when turning them.

The fresh cherries are cooked down with Cassis (or you could substitute a nice Merlot) and finished with fresh dried cranberries, some citrus, cinnamon, and allspice. The filling is gently chewy and has a gorgeous deep purple hue. It all merges exquisitely with each flaky bite, fresh from the fryer. Amazingly, they’re almost as delicious cold, if there are any left-over the next day. I recommend you prep the filling and the pastry the day before, compile the little pies the next morning, chill for several hours, and fry just before serving. Toss your calorie counter the day you make these beauties. They’re just too comely to make yourself feel badly and this is perfect party food!!!
Deep Purple Fresh Cherry Pie Pockets
(Makes 14 individual pies)
Equipment needed: 1 cherry pitter, one 4″ round pastry cutter
For the pastry:
2 1/4 cups White Lily All Purpose  Flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Generous pinch kosher or sea salt
2 sticks (or 1 cup) best quality AA grade unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4″ cubes
Ice cold water – about 3 tablespoons or just enough to hold the pastry together
For the filling:
3 1/2 cups fresh, whole pitted Bing cherries (or substitute another seasonal varietal)
1/2 cups dried cherries
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (do not substitute concentrate!)
1/2 cup Cassis (or substitute good quality Merlot)
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Pinch sea salt or kosher salt
Pinch allspice
Juice of 1/2 lemon
For frying:
2 cups canola oil
Garnish with about 1/2 cup powdered sugar
Prepare the pastry, ideally,  the night before. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a plastic blade. Pulse several times to combine. Add the cold butter, pulsing 40 – 50 times until the butter forms small, tiny balls about the size of sand. Gradually, incorporate the ice cold water into the mix, drizzling through the mouth of the processor and pulsing until it just holds together into a loose, clumsy ball. Turn out onto  a lightly floured board, form into a flattened disk, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Meanwhile, also the day before, prepare the filling. I recently purchased a cherry pitter which makes

Deep Fried Cherry Pocket. Photo by Helene Dujardin

easy and fun work out of removing the pits. If you don’t have one, however, cut the cherries in half with a paring knife and do the best you can to extricate the pit without losing too much of the fruit or its juices.

Place the pitted cherries into a medium size sauce pan along with the remaining filling ingredients.  Bring up to a simmer over medium high heat and cook until the juices have cooked down to about 1 cup cup and the fruit has softened and thickened into a compote-like consistency. Set aside to cool. Refrigerate, covered, overnight. Remove the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Return the seeds to the compote, stirring, and discard the outer pod casing.
The following morning or afternoon, depending on when you plan to serve, roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board to about 1/4″ thick. Cut with the pastry cutter into 4″ rounds. Arrange in a single layer on a plate or baking sheet and refrigerate.
Prepare to fill the pie pockets. Arrange the prepared pastry rounds on a lightly floured surface. Working quickly, form each tart individually. Take about 1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons of the cooled filling and place it off to the right side of the pastry round, leaving about 1/4″ space for the border. Guide the “free” side of the pastry over the top to make a crescent shape. Seal the edges gently with your fingers and finish by pressing along the outer edge with the tines of a fork to seal. Repeat until complete. Place the pies on a large plate or platter and refrigerate while you work.
Now, you’re ready to fry. Use a pan with deep sides that’s large enough to ensure you have at least 2″ of free room at the top. Add the oil and heat over medium high heat. If you have a thermometer, use it and bring the oil up to about 365F. If you don’t, look for movement of the oil at the bottom of the pan, smell for the scent of warm oil and listen for the occasional pop. To be sure, pop a cube of bread in the pan. If the oil’s ready and at the right temperature, the bread will brown to a golden color in about one minute and sizzle gently in the oil.
Whe the oil’s hot, gently guide two to three pie pockets at a time into the oil. Fry for two minutes on the first side (until golden) and flip gently with a spatula to fry the second side. Cook another two minutes, or until golden and puffy on the second side. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining pie pockets. Discard the oil after it has cooled. Serve the pies fryer-warm. I like them served on individual plates with a spoonful or two of the remaining compote drizzled with a light coating of powdered sugar. If desired, add vanilla ice cream (and a strawberry or two!).  You are going to be so proud of yourself – these are so delicious and beautiful. (Note: If you want to skip the frying, just prep and fill as outlined, chill, and bake off in a 425F oven on a parchment lined baking sheet for about 25 minutes or until flaky and golden. Serve warm!)
Happy Fourth of July! Cook, eat and drink in good health and to good times.
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