This star-spangled cherry pie is patriotic perfection
In search of a beautifully crafted and patriotic pie, Coast Monthly turned to islander and pastry chef Becky Kastelz, known for award-winning desserts and wedding cakes.
Kastelz, who earned a degree in Marine Science from Texas A&M University at Galveston, went on to complete the Pastry Arts program at Houston Community College. She, along with her husband, Frank, in 2007 opened the fondly remembered Speculoos Patisserie and Café in Galveston’s downtown. The café quickly became a local favorite and won national attention through such publications as Southern Living. The restaurant closed after the devastation of Hurricane Ike in 2008.
In 2009, Kastelz joined Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa, and Convention Center in Galveston as pastry chef under Executive Chef Urs Schmid and began teaching baking and pastry courses at Houston Community College. Motivated to continue to educate and mentor aspiring chefs, she joined the faculty of The Art Institute of Houston. In 2013, she moved to California and continued teaching for the college at the San Diego campus.
While in California, Kastelz served as the corporate pastry chef for celebrity chef Brian Malarkey — of “Top Chef” fame — where she oversaw pastry operations for five of his restaurants. Work allowed her to travel and cook at the James Beard House in New York City and twice at the Sundance Film Festival.
Luckily for us, Kastelz moved back to the island in 2019 and returned to teaching at Houston Community College. When instruction turned virtual during the pandemic last year, she started a YouTube channel to help her students continue to learn. The channel audience has grown beyond current and former students, and Kastelz continues to make new videos for anyone interested in baking.
Yield: one 9-inch pie
2 pounds dark sweet cherries, fresh and pitted, or frozen
1⁄3 cup granulated sugar, plus more for garnishing top crust if desired
1⁄3 cup, packed light brown sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons orange juice
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
Pie dough for 2 crusts
Egg wash: 1 egg plus 2 tablespoons water
Combine cherries, sugar and cinnamon in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat, stirring occasionally, until cherries have begun to release their juices and the mixture simmers.
Make a slurry with cornstarch and orange juice; add to saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring continuously, until mixture thickens.
Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and butter. Let cool to room temperature.
Assembly and baking
Use your favorite pie dough recipe and prepare enough for two crusts. Divide dough in half. Roll out one piece of dough and line a 9-inch pan. Pour cooled cherry mixture into the crust.
Prepare egg wash by whisking egg and water together. Moisten edge of bottom crust with egg wash.
Roll the second piece of dough and brush with egg wash. Cut out a few stars using a small cookie cutter, then cut the rest of the dough into wavy strips — a pizza cutter works great. Place top crust pieces on top of filling. Gently press the tines of a fork around the outside edge of the crust, sealing the dough together. (If the fork sticks to the dough, touch into some flour.) Sprinkle with granulated sugar, if using.
Place the pie onto a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil. Bake at 400 F for 30-40 minutes, or until filling bubbles.
Allow the pie to cool for 3 full hours at room temperature before serving; cool overnight for best results. This time allows the filling to thicken up. Loosely cover leftovers and store at room temperature up to 3 days.