Phyllo stands in for crust in healthy cherry pie

My all-time favorite dessert is cherry pie.

But I admit I felt slightly virtuous when I discovered that cherries are such a healthy ingredient, rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. I had a lot of fun whipping up a new version of this American classic, one that swaps out the buttery crust for less-caloric phyllo dough, which then concentrates on the succulent fruit.

It wasn’t until I began my life as chef that I understood that cherry pie is supposed to be made with sour cherries, which boast more flavor, and not the sweet ones. Unfortunately, the sour cherries’ season is roughly two weeks a year.

And then there are those darn pits. That’s why I reach for the sweet cherries, adding lemon juice and lemon rind to tart up their flavor.

There are plenty of kitchen gizmos for pitting lots of cherries. I’m partial to the kind that’s also an olive pitter. If you don’t own one, whack the whole cherry with the side of a chef’s knife, after which the pit slides right out. I thicken the filling with cornstarch rather than flour because I prefer its translucence. However, cornstarch breaks down and thins out if you boil it for too long, so keep an eye on the cooking time. Also, if using frozen cherries, which tend to be watery, you’ll probably need to increase the thickener.

In the phyllo dough crust, I layered in almonds ground up with a bit of cinnamon-sugar. The finished crust, then, is less doughy and more flakey than the traditional kind.

Finally, these are mini-pies, each the size the size of a muffin cup and served one per customer. To make them a little bigger, I flipped the tin over and draped the phyllo on the backside, not the inside, of each cup. Now there’s ample room for those cherries.

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MINI CHERRY PHYLLO PIE

Start to finish: 45 minutes

Servings: 8

For the filling:

1 pound sweet cherries, pitted

¼ cup sugar

1 tsp. lemon zest

1 tbl. lemon juice

2 tbls. cornstarch

¼ cup water

For the phyllo shells:

¼ cup plus 2 tbls. slivered or sliced almonds

2 tbls. sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

8 sheets phyllo dough

3 tbls. unsalted butter, melted

Cooking spray

8 small scoops frozen yogurt (optional)

Heat the oven to 350 F.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high, combine the cherries, sugar, lemon zest and juice. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes. In a small bowl whisk together the cornstarch and water. Add the cornstarch mixture to the cherries in a stream, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to a boil, then remove from heat. Let the filling cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, in a spice grinder, small blender or the small bowl of a food processor, pulse the almonds with the sugar and cinnamon until finely chopped but not pulverized. Transfer to a small bowl.

Fold the stack of phyllo sheets in half, then fold it in half again and trim off the edges (reserving the trimmings), to produce a stack of 32 squares, each 4½-inches across.

Lay one phyllo square on a work surface, then use a pastry brush to lightly dab the square with a little of the melted butter. Sprinkle a teaspoon of the almond mixture on top, then set a second square over it. Brush the second square with a little butter and sprinkle with another teaspoon of almond sugar.

Set a third square on top of the second at a 45 degree angle, forming an eight-pointed star. Top with one last square, brushing lightly with butter. Drape the stack of phyllo over one cup of an overturned muffin pan. Mist the stack with cooking spray. Repeat this layering process to form another seven stacks, also setting them over the muffin cups. Reserve a little of the almond mixture and butter.

Lay the phyllo trimmings flat and brush them with the remaining butter. Sprinkle them with the remaining almond mixture, then transfer them to a small baking pan.

Bake the phyllo shells and the scraps on the oven’s middle shelf until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

To serve, spoon the cherry filling into the shells, then top with the crispy scraps and the frozen yogurt, if using.

Nutrition information per serving: 190 calories; 70 calories from fat (37 percent of total calories); 8 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 29 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 13 g sugar; 3 g protein; 95 mg sodium.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”