A few months back, I received a call from a former co-worker, Charles, who had recently moved from Ann Arbor to DC. After the prerequisite "Its been a month, tell me everything new in your life" catch up session, he asked if I had any interest in catering the desserts at his upcoming August wedding in Northport, MI. His request: 8 sour cherry pies and 60 cupcakes with various buttercream toppings.
Without a moment of hesitation, I was in and so commenced a four month whirlwind of lists, timelines, pricing, shopping, and one very memorable sour cherry scavenger hunt. I can't say that the lead-up to wedding day didn't bring with it its own set of peculiarities. Like where I am supposed to find 16# of sour cherries in the middle of August? Or how I am going to churn out and properly chill eight pies worth of pie crusts while carpooling between Chicago/Ann Arbor/Northport? Or how do I make sure everything is baked off/cooled off/frosted/crimped/sliced before the 5:00 ceremony begins?
Through lots of planning and conversations, I drew up a plan that shockingly ended up going off without a hitch (is this real life?). Looking back now, there are a few major takeaways I gained from this wedding in terms of producing baked goods on this large a scale--just in case any of you were curious or are planning to cater a wedding anytime soon.
1. You can prep way more in advance than you think you can. Seriously. Pie crusts can be made upwards of a week in advance and chilled in the refrigerator until ready to roll out. Crimped crusts can be frozen uncovered until they are ready to be filled. Cupcakes can be baked off and sealed in air tight containers overnight. Swiss meringue buttercream can be whipped, flavored, and also stored in air tight containers overnight (unrefrigerated at that). Whole pies can (and ideally should) be baked off the night before serving so that they set up completely and are easy to slice. Honestly, if you don't think it can be done ahead, odds are it can.
2. Your baked good is only as a good as the ingredients that go into it. Take the pies for example. The sour cherries I ended up using were purchased from Seedling Farm in South Haven, MI, a small family run farm that focuses on perfectly ripened, seasonal fruit. Thanks to a steady email thread with Pete, the owner of Seedling, prior to the wedding, he graciously froze three buckets of PRE-PITTED!! sour cherries for me back in June, keeping them at their peak freshness through August. Given how special the flavor of these cherries are on their own (I'm convinced that sour cherries were solely invented to be baked into pies), I opted for a recipe that utilized minimal sugar and flavorings. Vanilla and lemon juice proved the ideal counterparts, adding just enough acidity and sweetness to bring out the cherry-ness of the cherries themselves. Nothing better to cap off the end of summer.
3. Good friends are essential to making any baking experience infinitely better. This project wouldn't have been possible without the enthusiasm of the bride/groom, Charles and Amanda, who gave me the liberty to bake all of the desserts my way. So many close friends who not only graciously lent out their kitchens and helped set up the dessert table, but offered nothing but constant encouragement and support throughout the process. My former Sister Pie boss Lisa, current pastry chef colleagues, Emily & Marissa, and dear friends Steve and Abby for great advice on prep and recipes. And my boyfriend, David, for keeping me company on the cherry pickup drive and maintaining a great attitude even when we couldn't find the farm for upwards of an hour and couldn't find a single farmer on said farm for nearly 30 minutes upon arrival. Thank you thank you thank you.
All and all, a gorgeous weekend, with gorgeous people, places, provisions, party favors (see the amazing tins of sardines below), pastries, and pie!
I know sour cherry season is pretty much over, but this sour cherry pie recipe is so good that it beckons to be shared. I recommend storing it away in your arsenal to dream about until next summer!
Sour Cherry Pie
Crust: Adapted from Sister Pie
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 sticks of butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1/2 cup water, mixed with a splash of apple cider vinegar
Make crust: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it resembles coarse meal and there are no pieces of butter larger than the size of a pie. Add the ice water a tablespoon at a time and begin to gather the dough together with a fork. Turn the dough over itself a few times until it comes together, but be careful not to overwork it. Pat the dough into two round disc and wrap in plastic to chill for a couple hours (or at least 30 minutes).
Roll out pie crust. Flour your work surface and place the unwrapped pie dough in the center. Using a rolling pin, press along the edges of the round, broadening the circle. Move the disc around with your hand as you do this, making sure to flour the surface when needed. Begin to flatten the pie dough into a larger circle by rolling from the center out. Roll, then rotate the disc and roll again. Keeping rolling until the dough is about 12 inches in diameter. Invert your pie pan or dish onto the circle, and use a knife to trim the dough, leaving about a 1 inch border around the pan. Remove the pie pan and fold the dough in half. Place the folded dough into the pie tin and gently press it in, making sure it's centered and fitted properly, and let the extra dough hang over the side. Crimp any way that you like. I enjoy the pinch method found here. Freeze until ready to use.
Filling: Adapted from Bon Appetit
1 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 cups whole pitted sour cherries
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg, whisked together with 1 teaspoon milk (egg wash)
1 tablespoon flour
Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 425° F. Whisk sugar, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Stir in cherries, lemon juice, and vanilla. Set aside.
Roll out the second dough disk on floured surface to 12-inch round. Using a small round cookie cutter, cut 8-10 dough rounds. Chill briefly in the refrigerator for 2-3 minutes. Remove frozen pie shell from the freezer. Combine the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar with 1 tablespoon of flour and sprinkle over the bottom of the frozen pie dough (this forms a layer between the filling and the bottom crust, which helps avoid sogginess). Transfer filling to dough-lined dish, making sure to let some of the excess juice drip off of the cherries into a separate bowl before placing them in the dish. Arrange dough rounds on top of the cherries in any arrangement that you like. Brush the dough rounds (not edges) with egg wash. Sprinkle dough rounds with sugar.
Place pie on rimmed baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 375°. Bake pie until filling is bubbling and crust is golden brown, covering edges with foil collar if browning too quickly, about 1 hour longer. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely. Cut into wedges and serve (preferably with vanilla ice cream).