Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hand Me a Pie

I have considered not posting this until I have a foolproof, all fruit method for you but the fact is these little guys are so delicious, and it may take me eons to figure out what the problem is, that I would feel like I was holding out on you and depriving you of perhaps one of the finest summer treats of which you should partake. How was that for a run on sentence? (And to think I once planned on being an English major!)

The story of me and hand pies began last summer. I blame it on Alton Brown. Through some stroke of luck my roommate and I were the recipients of the Food Network channel though we had no subscription to cable. This being the first time in my life that I have had unrestricted access (read while neither visiting my grandparents nor in a motel while traveling) to television that is about food, all the time, I became an addict. Really it is not my fault, for what other self proclaimed foodie could resist that with the click of a button you can invite Giada or Ina or Alton into your living room to cook amazing food and throw lovely little dinner parties?

Back to the point. One evening I happened to have the Food Network on and lo and behold Alton was doing an episode about things wrapped in dough that you eat with your hands. True the focus of his show was savory hand pies such as empanadas, pasties, etc. that you could make and throw in a lunch box for a hearty meal on the go. This did not deter me however from immediately deciding I needed to pursue making one of these hand held pastries filled with fruit. Forget the hearty meal-on-the-go, I wanted a handy dessert-on-the-go!

Having found all kinds of berries at the market I decided it was time to give the hand pie a go and decided to treat my colleagues at TCR to a little 4th of July pie. Things did not go as planned. The filling was delicious. The crust was delicious. They looked really cute. But somehow when you put a dab of filling into a little round of dough, fold it over, pinch it closed and bake it what you end up with are empty fruit flavored pockets. Not quite what I was going for. My co-workers were polite and ate them and a few even thanked me for them, but I know they were really thinking "wasn't there supposed to be something in here?!".

A few weeks ago I once again found myself on the 4th of July wanting to make hand pies. This time I determined that I should make much larger rounds of dough and stuff them to the gills with fruit. Surely this would work. There's good news and there's bad news. The good news is that using larger rounds of dough was a step in the right direction. The bad news is that  7 out of 13 pies still ended up as empty fruit flavored pockets. "Why?!" you ask? If only I knew. For some reason when filled with sturdy, less juicy fruit such as apples the pies (6) turn out gloriously. When filled with a mouthwatering filling that I was oh-so-looking-forward-to such as raspberry rhubarb the pies (7) blow out their sides partway through baking and inevitably ooze all that tasty filling out onto the tray leaving you with an empty pocket and something resembling a seedy fruit roll up.

A couple of weeks ago I made the trip to Lincoln, NE to visit a couple of wonderful and amazing friends for the weekend.(On a side note, can I just say how smitten I am with the mid-west and big pink skies and farmland and little one horse towns of yesteryear right now?) 

This is the ORIGINAL(!) Pony Express Station in a little town in NE!

For our Friday night dinner party I was summoned to make dessert. Upon asking what kind of dessert would be most desired the answer was pie. Here it was, my chance to give this another try. "What do you think of a hand pie?" I asked. "A pie you eat with your hands?! Why, that would be divine!!" (I may be embellishing a little.)

Again I chose a firmer filling, this time making peach hand pies, and again they turned out glorious. As lovely as those were and as many compliments and commands that I become the official 'Butter Book Club' baker as I recieved, I am still vexed that I can't make my raspberry rhubarb (or for that matter I would guess any berry based filling) pies come out as anything other than something to be scraped off the tray and eaten with a fork.

So until further testing and investigation occurs, here it is. A hand pie recipe that only works with firm fruit. I know. I'm sorry. But a firm fruit hand pie is better than no hand pie at all. I speak the truth.

Firm Fruit Hand Pies

1 recipe Best Pie Dough chilled, rolled to 1/8-inch thick, and cut into rounds. I traced an upturned cereal bowl that is about 6 inches in diameter with a sharp knife for my rounds. Chill the rounds slightly before you fill them, but you want them to still be pliable.

Peach Filling:
4-5 firm-ripe peaches cut into small-ish cubes, I like to wash the fuzz off and leave the skin on
1-2 Tbsp minute tapioca
3-4 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

These are approximate measurements and will vary with regard to the sweetness/juciness of your peaches, feel free to adjust accordingly. Toss peaches, sugar to taste, salt, and vanilla extract in a bowl. When you add the tapioca it should start soaking up the juices within a few minutes, so start with the smaller amount and then if it still seems too watery you can add more. What you don't want is to end up with over-starched pie filling that is gummy.
Apple Filling:
6 cups sliced tart baking apples, I like to leave the skin on for texture
(if your apple are big measure them in slices then cube them up so they fit into the dough rounds easier)
3/4- 1 c sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2-3 Tbsp brandy
1/2- 1 Tbsp minute Tapioca

Again these are approximate amounts. I find that I like a lightly spiced apple pie versus a pie really heavy on the cinnamon. If you like a spicier pie feel free to double the cinnamon, and add 1/4 tsp ground cloves. I have also decided that brandy is perhaps my new favorite ingredient. It is divine added to anything chocolate, apple pie, and even chicken with mushrooms! I digress. So, on that note I have upped the brandy amount in this recipe. If you don't have any on hand you could substitute part vanilla extract and part water.

I pre-cooked my apple filling on the stove to make sure the apples would be tender enough in the finished pie since a hand pie only bakes for 20 minutes or so. Mix all ingredients in a pot and cook gently over low heat until the apples are tender. Allow the mixture to cool before filling the pies.

Preheat the oven to 375 F (I might even go so far as to say 400 to really get a jump on that flaky, crispy crust, just be sure to keep an eye on them that they aren't getting too brown)

To fill a pie:
Take one round of dough. Place 2-3 Tbsp of cooled filling in the center of the dough. Using your finger wet the edge of the lower flap of dough with water. Carefully fold over the top flap of dough, being sure not to let any filling ooze out because this will prevent the dough from sealing properly and you will end up with fruit roll ups rather than pie. Gently but firmly press the seam together with your fingers and then seal again with the flour dusted tines of a fork. Place on parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough rounds. You can re-roll your pie dough scraps a couple of times, I found that even on the 3rd roll they were still delicious, though a little less flaky. However I personally would rather have a less flaky pie than fewer pies and a garbage can full of dough scraps. It's your call.

Now if you are patient you can put the whole tray of pies into the fridge to chill for 30 minutes or so before baking them. This will aid a flakier crust. I was not so patient and didn't chill my pies. Either way brush the top with a little egg wash (egg and water or egg and a pinch of salt whisked together) and sprinkle with some cinnamon sugar or sugar in the raw crystals. Cut a little slit in the top of each pie to allow steam to escape (I initially thought my failure to do this was the downfall on the rhubarb raspberry pies, but they didn't work any better with a slit, in fact it seemed to be just an easier escape route for the filling).

Pop into the oven on the middle rack. I found in my oven that baking one tray at a time works best. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the dough is turning golden and you begin to see bubbling juices through the slit or perhaps out of the seam of your pie. Cool slightly or to room temperature. These pies are great for breakfast too, should you have any left over and wonder what to do with them(!).

Yields 8-10 pies

The filling recipes yield more than you will need for the pies, but they are delicious cooked stovetop and served over ice cream or pancakes or what have you.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, sweet sweet memories of hand pie and your visit!