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The Secret Revealed

July 3, 2012

Warning: This post is really long, but has pictures that will hopefully break up the boredom. I also apologize for the photo quality. I didn’t have my camera and had to take pictures on my iPhone instead.

In a previous post, I wrote about a secret adventure that I was in the midst of undertaking. Well, dear readers, I have kept you in the dark long enough and I can now bring things to light.

I’ll begin at the very beginning. A little more than a month ago, I was texting my friend Kris as I was riding the train on one of my excursions into the Tokyo area. Somehow we got on the subject of pie, and he mentioned that he really wanted to eat some. He had a list of the different kinds he wanted to eat, but cherry pie was at the top of said list. His birthday is at the end of June, so I got it in my head that it would be pretty dang neat if I could make him a cherry pie and give that to him as his birthday present along with some almond custard to use as a topping. I’d be hailed as supremely awesome, and he’d be able to eat something that he really missed.

However, there was one slight problem with this grand idea: my apartment, like many Japanese apartments, doesn’t have an oven.

I live in a LeoPalace apartment, which provides enough space for one person to live comfortably. It includes a washroom, toilet room, small clothes washer, a bedroom, and a tiny kitchen. My kitchen consists of a sink and two burners. That’s it. I don’t even have a counter.

To get an idea of the space I live in, you can see the photographic tour of my apartment from when I moved in here.

So, how does a girl make a cherry pie when she doesn’t have an oven? After scouring (which I have used on several occasions when I wanted to cook something and didn’t have the recipe on hand) I finally found a cherry pie recipe that didn’t require an oven. Instead, you cook the filling over the stove and pour it into the pie crust. I was extremely relieved when I came across this recipe, because I was about to give up and tell myself that it was a silly idea anyway, and that Kris probably would have been just as happy if I bought a cake or something.

I did run into another snag as I was going over the ingredients needed for the recipe. Let’s see if you can spot my problem. Here are the necessary ingredients:

All of the metric measurements you see are added by me, since Japan uses that system to measure the food sold in grocery stores. It’s the same for just about all of the measuring devices sold here. Luckily I thought ahead and brought a set of measuring spoons and a 1/2 cup measuring cup.

1 (9 inch) prepared vanilla wafer crust
1 (.25 ounce/7g) package unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons (30ml) cold water
4 cups (580g) pitted cherries
1 cup (200g) white sugar
2 tablespoons (15g) cornstarch
4 teaspoons (20ml) lemon juice
3 drops red food coloring

Did you spot where my snag was?

If you didn’t, I’ll give you a hint: it starts with a “p” and ends with “-repared vanilla wafer crust.”

Over the next month I went to three different grocery stores in order to slowly collect everything I needed for the pie and discovered something important about Japanese grocery stores: the baking aisle isn’t an aisle at all. It’s one tiny section, hidden with the jams, the soup, the cereal, and the 12 oz jars of peanut butter that cost ¥400 (about $5).  I’m not kidding. All of that food is in one aisle. Baking isn’t really something people do here. If you want a cake for someone’s birthday, you go buy one instead of making it. As a result, they can get expensive really fast. And, since not many people are baking, several apartments won’t have ovens. It’s saddening, because I love baking.

Anyway, back to the grocery store. I couldn’t find a prepared crust at any of the three grocery stores (which I assumed might happen), so I found a recipe to make my own pie crust. That’s when I realized that Japan also probably wouldn’t have vanilla wafers. At least, not like the ones in America. If vanilla wafers are sold in Japan they would most likely be in a foreign imports store, which Koga-shi doesn’t have.

Instead of traveling outside of Koga-shi and paying high prices for vanilla wafers, I decided to choose a more palatable option: buy small packages of different brands of cookies and determine which one had the most similar consistency and taste of vanilla wafers. It was much more enjoyable, especially since I got to eat all of the cookies that wouldn’t have worked out for the crust! The third type I bought turned out to be the charm, because the consistency was almost exactly like that of a vanilla wafer, if not a tad crunchier. The flavor also seemed to be the closest, but obviously it wasn’t exact.

I had the items for my crust, and though it took a little while to find cornstarch I didn’t have any difficulty finding any of the other things on the list of ingredients. Thank goodness cherries are in season right now! Jess and I were going to see Kris on Friday, a week after his birthday.

And now comes the grand secret adventure: How to Make a Cherry Pie Without an Oven.

I decided to embark on my adventure Wednesday evening after school. That would give me Thursday evening to make the almond custard topping and Friday night we would eat the pie. I officially started my cooking time at 6:20.

Here is all that I needed to make the pie.

I didn’t end up using all of the cherries, which was fine with me because it meant I’m set for fruit in my lunchbox for a while. Same with the cookies.

First came making the crust. Obviously you need to have a crust before making the filling! The ingredients I needed were:

1 1/2 cups (270g) vanilla wafer crumbs
1/3 cup (75g) butter

The only directions the recipe gave were as follows: “Combine wafer crumbs and butter or margarine together thoroughly. Press into 9 inch pie plate. Chill until set.”

My first order of business was to create my cookie crumbs. I didn’t want a crumb explosion in my kitchen, so I sealed a few cookies in a Ziploc bag at a time and then took a rolling pin to the bag. The cookies crumbled extremely well, and it was oddly relaxing to roll them into oblivion. Overall I used 25 cookies, which gave me two cups of crumbs. Some of the comments I had read on the recipe mentioned that 40 cookies ended up getting used, so I bought that amount as preparation. I was relieved that I didn’t end up using all of those cookies, and now I have something to snack on for a little while.

They see me rollin’

The butter I purchased came in individually wrapped pieces, because the sticks of butter were all sold out when I went grocery shopping. This worked out pretty well, because I was able to better control the ratio of butter to cookie crumbs. I left them out at room temperature so they softened a bit and then kneaded the pieces one at a time into the cookie crumbs. I ended up using less butter than what the recipe called for, which probably worked in my favor since the crust was getting pretty buttery by the end of the process. Thank goodness for the extra half cup of cookie crumbs!

Pressing the crust into the plate didn’t take much, though it took me a little while to make sure that I wasn’t making the bottom too thin. I stuck the finished crust in the fridge so it would set, and then began on my filling.

Pie crust!

We already saw the ingredients needed for the cherry pie so I won’t repost them. On to the directions!

Step 1) In a small bowl, soften gelatin in cold water. Set aside.

No problem. Done.

Step 2) In a medium saucepan, mash half the cherries with the sugar. Stir in cornstarch, lemon juice, and food coloring. Cook over medium heat, stirring until thick and transparent. Remove from heat. Add gelatin, and stir briskly.

Before I could start this step, I had to pit all of the cherries. It didn’t take too much effort to slice them around the pit and twist the halves so they’d come apart, but it definitely took a bit of time.

Here’s an idea of what I had to do.

After slicing up 4 cups of cherries, my hands looked like those of a mass murderer due to all of the cherry juice.

My fingers were stained for two days afterward.

As I was slicing the cherries, I put the first two cups straight into my saucepan and set the rest aside in a bowl. Separating them ahead of time worked out really well, but I did have to be careful to remember how many 1/2 cups I had already put into the pan as I was filling up the next one! Mashing the cherries was a lot of fun, though I did have one particularly juicy moment where cherry juice splattered one of my walls as I was mashing. I was just glad it wasn’t splattered all over me, because I realized at that moment that I was wearing a white shirt! After I finished mashing, I added my other ingredients and turned on the heat.

Mashed cherries.

3) Slice remaining cherries into the crust, and pour gelatin mixture over cherries. Chill at least 4 hours before serving.

I decided to do this step as the filling was cooking in order to save on time. I didn’t want all of the remaining cherries to be the same size, so as the filling in the saucepan was cooking I cut some into quarters, others into eighths, and left some as halves. Once that was finished, all I could do was wait until the other half of the filling was cooking.

Slicing time!

Waiting for the next step.

Finally, the filling felt like how it was described in the recipe. It never did get transparent, but once it reached a thick consistency and seemed to stay that way I took the filling off the heat and stirred in the gelatin as directed. I broke the softened gelatin into chunks and quickly dropped them on the filling before stirring it in. I wanted to make sure that the gelatin was distributed evenly.

I waited about a minute before pouring the cooked filling over the sliced cherries. Then I stepped back and admired my finished product.

Ta da! One no-bake cherry pie.

My official ending time was 8:50, so two and a half hours of pie-making. I was really happy with the way it turned out, especially since I was getting a little worried that maybe there would be too much filling for my crust. My fears were alleviated, though, when everything fit perfectly. I even had a little crust left over on the edges! My one remaining worry was how it would taste, because I never was able to sample the filling and make sure that tasted okay for fear of burning myself.

I let the pie cool a little while before covering it and putting it in the fridge. My one remaining worry was how it would taste, because I never was able to sample the filling and make sure that tasted okay for fear of burning myself. Friday evening I packed it up with the custard and Jess and I drove to Kamagaya. The pie ended up not getting eaten until Saturday morning, when Kris wanted to eat some for breakfast and was gracious enough to share with us. My worries were unfounded, because it tasted wonderful.

And there you have it! My secret adventure, which was making a no-bake cherry pie. I have to say that it was pretty successful overall. I look forward to making it again!

Recipe for vanilla wafer crust can be found here:

Recipe for the cherry pie can be found here:

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