How to make a cherry pie without an oven… in Japan

Guest post by Carolyn

Recently I got it in my head that it would be pretty dang neat if I could make a cherry pie and give it to a friend as a birthday present. However, there was one slight problem with this grand idea: my apartment, like many Japanese apartments, doesn’t have an oven. My kitchen consists of a sink and two burners. That’s it. I don’t even have a counter.

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.

  • Recipe for vanilla wafer crust can be found here
  • Recipe for the cherry pie can be found here

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

Here are the necessary ingredients:

  • 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.”

My fix: 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!

First came making the crust. 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.

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.

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

Step 2:

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. As I was slicing the cherries, I put the first two cups straight into my saucepan and set the rest aside in a bowl.

Step 3:

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.

Step 4:

Slice remaining cherries into the crust, and pour gelatin mixture over cherries. Chill at least four 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.

Step 5:

Finally, the filling 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.

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. 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!

Comments on How to make a cherry pie without an oven… in Japan

  1. You did great! I remember when I lived in Japan making do for lots of things I cooked. No fish oven in your apt? That thing saved me many times.

  2. I would kill to live in Japan, but I would need an oven! I bake whenever I get the chance! So kudos to your ingenuity and brains! I am so trying this…

    • I can’t speak that authoritatively for Japan, but in much of Asia where ovens aren’t standard in kitchens, stand-alone electric or convection ovens are popular. We have one for our apartment in Taiwan (I do plan to do a home tour at some point, but have been busy ever since we moved in). It would cost more in Japan than Taiwan, but if you lived there and desperately needed an oven, you could get one.

    • Most newer microwaves in Japan come with an oven function. Works just like the oven you’re used to just smaller. I could bake a square sized glass dish or six muffins at a time in mine. And I go creative with the rack space to make a dozen cookies at once.

      Of course, you can always do what I did and become friends with all the restaurant owners in your town so you can just bum their commercial kitchen ovens lol. We cooked many a Thanksgiving feast in the tiny kitchen of a bar we frequented thanks to their oven. I’d also do food culture lessons with my students at school where we took advantage of the bajillion full-sized ovens the home ec department had at their disposal.

      • You read my mind! There’s a cafe I go to a lot and I had mentioned that I recently had to make a pie without an oven, and the owners turned to me in shock and asked, “Well, why didn’t you ask us? We could have helped!”

  3. Sounds delicious! I have a question: is there a reason for the corn starch AND gelatin? When eating leftover pie from the fridge, the insides are pretty solid just from the flour.

    • I don’t have a complete answer for that, since I was only following what my recipe told me. It worked out really well having a solid pie in the end, because we topped it with almond custard and it made for a perfect picture. I wish I had my camera then!

    • Actually, using the Annie’s brand gluten free bunny cookies works perfectly for cookie crusts. They have vanilla, but I LOVE the snickerdoodle ones in place of graham crumbs.

  4. So this guestpost is by one of my dearest friends in the world & I am ridiculously giddy that she’s all famous-like on Offbeat Home. That’s all.


  5. I can only imagine how much that pie must have cost you with all those cherries haha. I rarely bought cherries in Japan because they were just so prohibitively expensive!

    • Oh believe me, my wallet is still hurting from all the cherries I bought! Luckily I got them when they were in season so they were a bit cheaper than usual.

  6. Awesome idea and usage! What a lovely pie!
    The problem with getting a stand alone oven or microwave with over capability in Japan is it can be prohibitively expensive, as almost everything related to baking seems to be out here. If you live in a big city and have a nice salary, they are obtainable. Also, if you know you’re going to be here for a while and can handle putting that kind of investment into a thing. In the little mountain town where I lived and worked for 2 years, this was not an option. Instead I developed a recipe for rice-cooker meatloaf. Friends I’ve met since then in larger cities have mostly used similar recipes that don’t require ovens so much as boiled filling.

    • They’re not that expensive. I bought one for about 15,000 yen, which at the time was around $150. And I was living in a small prefecture with not much around it. The trick is shopping the sales and “last year’s models” just like anywhere else 🙂

  7. I am going to be living in a teeny studio with only a sink and a two-burner stove and I am SO HAPPY ABOUT THIS.

    also I love cherry pie.


  8. That’s a good looking pie. Here’s a tip for cherry pitting: put the cherry on a beer bottle, push a chopstick through the cherry. The pit falls in the bottle, the cherry stays mostly intact, and your hands get to stay a little less stained 🙂

  9. As someone living in China, also without an oven, I am so excited to try this recipe!!! Cherry Pie is my favorite! And to have western food *swoon* (I live in an inner province about 4 hours away from an international city)

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