I've wanted to make this recipe since I saw Rick Stein make it on his French Odyssey TV series, and that was back in 2005. It wasn't until I was planning my Easter cooking, and around the same time noticed large jars of reasonably priced Morello cherries in Aldi, that a plan fell into place. Rick's recipe uses fresh cherries, but they aren't in season yet and I couldn't see any reason why preserved cherries wouldn't work.
This is more of an assembly job than an exercise in cookery skills - ready made puff pastry, a jar of cherries, a simple frangipane paste - but there are still obstacles to perfection. I fell at the last hurdle, and made a mess of the traditional pithiviers markings on top of the pie, but overall I was really pleased with how the dessert turned out.
I used ready-rolled sheets of all-butter puff pastry, which was all that was available when I was shopping. This made assembly even easier - one sheet was rolled slightly thinner so that I could cut a 29cm disc, and the second sheet was just the right size to cut out a 25cm disc for the base.
The pastry base was placed on a baking sheet covered with baking parchment, and the cherry frangipane mixture was heaped on and spread out to leave a 2.5 cm border of pastry. This border was brushed with an egg wash made from an egg yolk and a teaspoon of water, then the top layer of pastry was carefully placed on top. At this point it's necessary to exclude as much air as possible, seal the two layers of pastry together then crimp around the edges of the pie - a little tricky, and the top pastry may need trimming if it has stretched during handling. Once this assembly was complete, the pie was chilled again for 20 minutes.
After chilling, the pie was brushed with egg wash and the traditional arcing cuts were put on top. It's important to egg wash first, then mark with the tip of a sharp knife. If you cut first, the egg wash will seal up the cuts and they won't open during baking to give the markings you need. It's also important just to mark the surface of the pastry and not cut right through. (I just couldn't get the cuts right - after the second cut I could see I was already going wrong, so I just did the best I could, filling any large gaps with odd short cuts. Rick Stein says in his book that he couldn't do it correctly either!)
Traditionally, pithiviers are sprinkled lightly with icing sugar (you only need a teaspoonful), then returned to a 220C oven for a few minutes to caramelise the sugar and give a glazed look. I had something else in the oven and couldn't turn up the heat, so flashed the sugared pithiviers under a hot grill to glaze it.
This is best eaten warm or at room temperature, on the day it's made. I kept mine for three days, and although it still tasted good, the pastry didn't stay as crisp as when freshly baked. This was a really delicious version of the traditional pithiviers, which only uses frangipane paste. Cherries pair really well with almonds, and the soft frangipane and crisp pastry gave a good combination of textures. It was really odd to see the pastry puff up so much around the edge of the pie, so that the domed raw pie came out of the oven as a flat disc. I was happy using preserved cherries - I wonder now how much liquid would have come out of raw cherries, and if that would have made the frangipane too sloppy?