Cherry Lime Slab Pie is a big sheet pan of a pie, with a high crust-to-filling ratio. The tart (or “sour”) cherries are key to classic cherry pie flavor.
I pride myself on being able to put together a decent pie lickity split, without a lot of fuss. Knowing how to make great food without recipes was the heart and soul of my culinary school training: get it memorized by making again and again and again, then you’ve got all of this skill just waiting to jump out of your brain and onto the table, fast.
Admittedly, the No Recipes approach was not applied across the board. Pastry often requires not just a recipe, but the most precise measures and weights to get it right. You go packing your flour hard into the measuring cup, and trouble is on the way.
Yet. Yet when it comes to pie, it seems I think I can go in there and eyeball my standard 5-6 cups fruit per 9-inch pie, with my big scoopful of flour and another of sugar to sweeten and hold it all together.
So why am I so shocked when my pie is runny? I had a runny cherry pie recently. The pie tasted great (thank goodness), but the filling ran all over. My adorable niece asked the million dollar question, so sweetly:
Did you measure, Aunt Maureen?
Oh Aunt Maureen, she said.
My sister-in-law Amara bakes up a never-runny pie. Her trick is to cook the filling ahead, so she can control the juice. She wants to leave nothing to chance, a method I appreciate. Plus she makes big batches of filling, freezes measured quantities, and when she wants pie (often), she’s set. She is a devotee of anything cherry, and has the Michigan cherry pie filling, cooked a head, down to a science—including a twist with the addition of lime, divine.
My sister Peg’s pies are similarly never runny, not ever. She was more than surprised—I mean, she shook her head—when I told her I don’t measure the fruit. You’ve gotta change that, sister, she said. Her thickener of choice is flour, a heaping tablespoon for every cup of fruit.
Peg whipped up (and I do mean fast, somewhere between 5 p.m. and dinner at 7) a first for our dessert-loving crew: a slab pie, at my brother’s request for the high crust-to-filling ratio. She worried not at all about the crust’s crimp, and used Mom’s no-butter crust recipe (because we just won’t ever quit that one for another).
I’m all for the slab’s crust-fruit ratio but I wanted to go after cherry slab in particular, to test my newfound commitment to measures and methods to avoid the runny filling. I figured I couldn’t help but find success using a just single layer of cherry filling, and cooking it cooked first using a very reliable cornstarch thickener, which also allows the cherry color to shine through better than flour does.
I’ve shocked myself by not worrying much about the perimeter crimp, like Peg. The cut slab pieces don’t need a fancy edge, they just need to be who they are, which is bar-like, filled-cookie-like, but with that lightly salted oil-based crust that is my mother’s great gift to her offspring.
Mom always tops her pies with a dusting of sugar; I always top mine same. Slab pies will typically have a drizzle of glaze, which is also great, but here let’s go with a special sugar treatment for our cherry lime slab pie, rubbing lime zest with granulated sugar to release the lime oils, a beautiful finish on a pie whose goodness knows no measure.
Cherry Lime Slab Pie
This is the ultimate pie to feed a crowd! Be sure to use tart (also known as "sour") cherries for this pie. Keep the cherry slab pie loosely covered with wax paper at room temperature and it will stay nice for a two- to three days.
For the filling:
- 8 cups pitted tart cherries, from fresh or frozen
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- Juice and zest of 1 lime
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 teaspoon rose water
For the crust:
- 5 1/3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups neutral oil, such as canola or vegetable
- 3/4 cup ice cold water
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
For the lime sugar topping:
- 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
- Zest of 1 lime
Place an over rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a medium heavy pot, cook the cherries over medium high heat until the cherries have burst and released their juices, about 10 minutes. Add the sugar and cornstarch and cook over medium heat until thickened. Stir in the lime juice, lime zest, almond extract and rose water. Set the filling aside.
Make the dough in a large bowl. Whisk the flour and salt to combine. Add the oil and stir just until combined. Add the ice water and cut the water into the dough using the side of a large metal spoon. Less handling is better here. The dough will appear streaky with areas that are more hydrated than others; this is correct.
Roll out the dough between sheets of wax paper. Cut four sheets of wax paper the length of a half sheet pan (which is about 18 x 13 inches). Wipe down the work surface with a sponge that has been dipped in cold water and wrung out (in other words, not too much water on the counter, just enough to hold the wax paper in place).
Lay a sheet of the wax paper on the damp counter, and shape just over half of the dough into a rectangle. Top with another sheet of wax paper, and roll out a rectangle just a bit larger than the sheet pan to account for the crust coming up the sides of the rimmed pan. Pull the top sheet of wax paper off the rolled dough, then use the bottom sheet to move and flip the dough onto the sheet pan, arranging it before carefully peeling the wax paper from the dough.
Tuck the dough into the pan. Cut scraps from the areas where the dough may be too large, and use those scraps to make up for short areas of dough around the pan by pushing the scraps into the short or open areas.
Spoon and scrape the cherry filling from the pot into the dough-lined pan in a single layer of cherries.
Roll out the top layer of the crust in the same manner as the bottom layer, but not quite as large as this piece does not need to come up the sides as the bottom layer did. Peel off the top piece of wax paper, and use the bottom piece to flip and arrange the top crust dough over the cherries. Peel the wax paper from the top crust.
Seal the edges of the top and bottom crust around the perimeter of the pan. Using your fingers, rub the heavy cream over the top of the crust. Prick the crust here and there with the tines of a fork.
Bake the pie for 40 minutes. While the pie bakes, make the lime sugar by rubbing the zest of a lime with 4 tablespoons of sugar, until the sugar is damp and the lime oil is released. Immediately after removing the pie from the oven, dust with the lime sugar.
Cool the pie completely before cutting and serving.