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Sunday, April 3, 2016

April ABC Challenge: Kersenvlaai (Dutch cherry pastry)

This is an interesting change on cherry pie -- the filling is baked into a casing of enriched bread dough instead of pie crust.  It's apparently very popular in the Netherlands.

I had to make a lot of changes to the original recipe in order to work with what I had.  For starters, I didn't have a vlaai pan, which is just a large, round pan about 1" deep.  I had an 11" pan that was 2" deep, so I worked with that.  The instructions I gave in the recipe are how I would do it next time.  What I actually did was roll out a large circle of dough and then let it relax for 10 minutes as instructed, then cut it into a 13" circle.  But when I loosened it from the board, it shrank dramatically and thickened.  I should have loosened it and THEN cut it.  I tried rolling it back out again, but the dough was very springy and wouldn't cooperate.  I globbed the whole mess back together and rolled it out again, and I'm afraid all that handling might have caused the bread to be tough.  Anyway, I think what I described below would be a better method.

The recipe called for a jar of dark sweet cherries in light syrup, which I couldn't find.  However, I had cherries in the freezer and sour cherry juice on hand, so I improvised.  It took a little doing, getting the right quantity, the right consistency, and the right sweetness.  The first go, it must have cooked down because I didn't end up with nearly enough.  I made a second batch, and while it was cooking I noticed an unfinished bottle of red wine on the counter that was too old to drink.  I thought that might be a tasty addition, so in it went.  I had also added cloves because I always wanted to try that with cherries.  (My hunch was right -- it's a good combination.)  I had a little leftover cream cheese, so of course I had to use that.  Then on half the pie I sprinkled chocolate chips to see how that would work out. 

Because the cherry juice was fairly sour (no sugar added), I skipped the lemon juice in the original recipe, but I had to guess at how much sugar to add.  (I erred on the side of less.)  I also had to use a lot more corn starch than I had expected.  In the future I would try to use a different thickener, like tapioca that might have given a lighter results, but the corn starch work okay. 

The recipe for the filling is so drastically changed from the original that I haven't shown my changes.  Here's what I used:

For the filling
2 cups unsweetened sour cherry juice
1 cup red wine
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cup corn starch*
1/8 teaspoon cloves
350 grams (about 2 cups) previously frozen cherries, halved
3-4 ounces cream cheese or mascarpone
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

For the dough
300 grams flour
6 grams instant yeast
120 grams lukewarm milk
20 grams sugar
3 grams salt
30 grams unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
coarse sugar for sprinkling pie lattice

In a small dish, whisk together the corn starch with about 1/2 cup of the juice until thoroughly mixed.  Pour the remaining juice, the cornstarch mixture, and sugar into a pan and heat to boiling, stirring constantly.  Lower heat and boil gently for 2 minutes.  Check consistency by cooling a small amount in a dish.  It should be about the consistency of semi-firm gelatin, or a loose jelly, thick enough to hold some shape, but not firm.  If it's still too thin, cool some of the mixture and add a teaspoon more cornstarch to it, whisk thoroughly, and add to the mixture in the pan.  (Never add cornstarch to a hot liquid or it will clump.)  Stir to fully incorporate and repeat the process of boiling for 2 minutes, then checking consistency.  Repeat until the right consistency is achieved.  Add the cloves and the cherries and stir to combine.  Set aside.  (This can be done in advance, and the mixture kept refrigerated.)

For the dough, dissolve the yeast in the milk and let prove. Whisk together the salt, sugar, and flour, then add the milk and egg and bring it together. When it starts forming a ball, add the butter.  Knead for 8 to 10 minutes by hand. Put the dough in a greased bowl, cover and let it rest for 1 hour in a warm place.

Preheat oven to 425ºF.  Lightly butter an 11 x 2-inch round pan.  Roll the dough into a large circle about 3 mm/0.12-inch thick, about 15 inches in diameter, and fit it into the prepared pan.  Cover it and let relax for 10 minutes.  Carefully trim the side of the dough so that it is only 1" high all around; set the extra dough aside.  Spread the bottom of the pie with the cream cheese, then add the cherry filling and distribute evenly.  Sprinkle with chocolate chips.  Make a lattice with the leftover dough and cover the pie decoratively; sprinkle the lattice with course sugar.  Bake in the preheated oven for 22-25 minutes. (Check after 15 minutes -- if it's browning too quickly, reduce the oven temperature to 350.  I turned my oven down after 10 minutes.)  Leave to cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then carefully lift it out with the help of a spatula or pie server. (The curved spatula that's used for woks worked well.)  Cool completely on a cooling rack.  This is typically served with a dollop of whipped cream.

Conclusion:  I'm not sure what I think of this.  I'm having a hard time envisioning it as a dessert -- it seems more like a breakfast food or snack to me.  Partially it's the bread, and partially it's that I didn't make mine very sweet.  Also, this is not a rich dessert -- there's nearly no fat.  (And yet I didn't much like adding whipped cream.)  And I can't imagine how one could eat this with a fork because the bread is too firm.  It just makes sense to pick it up and eat it like pizza.  The dish seems too casual for a real sit-down dessert.  

Do I like this better than traditional cherry pie?  No, I don't think so, although I'd really like to try a "real" one, by someone who knows what he or she is doing.  I might think differently.  My bread was slightly overcooked, probably due to the dark pan I used, so it was a bit tough.  (It got much tougher after a day or so -- this is not a recipe that keeps well.)  Besides, it's so much easier and faster to make pie crust than bread dough.  I'd also like to try macerating the cherries in wine, kirsch, or cherry brandy before using.

I liked the addition of the red wine, and the cloves, but I did not like the chocolate.  I don't know why -- it seems like a no-brainer.  Also, I wish I'd had more cream cheese -- what I'd put in wasn't detectable for flavor or creaminess as far as I could tell.  I'd double the amount next time, though I'd have to cut down on the cherry filling or make the pie higher.  And I think I'd like this much better if the bread had been a little more crumbly; perhaps adding more butter would help. 

Original recipe:  ‘Kersenvlaai’: A Very Cherry Pie with Bread Dough via Weekend Bakery

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