Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hands on.

Today I'd like to talk about pies.  I've been thinking about them for a while now--maybe on and off for a few months.  I was flipping through a cookbook, and I came across a recipe for these, and they immediately brought me back to my childhood, when I would go to the grocery store with my mom and linger in the baked goods section, begging and pleading for a sweet treat.  Sometimes the market would have sales on the Hostess fruit pies (or the supermarket brand equivalent, which was often cheaper--I couldn't taste the difference), and my mom would give in, and the moment we got home I would search through the grocery bags to find the pies and savor every bite.  I may even like these hand-held versions better than the traditional large round pies, if only for the nostalgia.  The crust wasn't flakey and buttery, but firmer with a sugary glaze on top.  "Real fruit filling" meant pieces of fruit suspended in gelatinous, brightly colored, sickly sweet goo.  But for the non-discriminating sweet tooth that I was, what did I care.  

I saw them recently at Whole Foods.  These perfectly shaped crescents, crimped at the edges, with cherry filling and a slight sheen.  They looked delicious.  I was inspired.  I could recreate the childhood experience--and make them just slightly more wholesome and...refined.  I bought the ingredients, but forgot the yeast for the pastry dough.  Not feeling like going back to the store, I searched on-line for an alternative recipe and found one on that didn't require a yeast-based crust.  Perfect--or so I thought.  

The dough turned out sticky and unwieldy, but I was determined to make it work by tweaking the flour proportions.  Eventually I was able to get it to a consistency I could roll out to cut out circles, though it would stick to the fork when I used it to seal the edges.  I had enough patience at that point to make only 9 small pies, and during the baking process, the juice from the blueberry filling oozed out of many of them.  I felt defeated.

But biting into one did not disappoint.  The crust was like a sugar cookie, and I liked it even better a day later, when it softened up so that it didn't break apart as I bit into it, holding the pie in my hungry hands.  Some call them empanadas, buns, hand pies...  Whatever they're called, and despite the little bit of extra labor (e.g. if working with defiant pastry dough), these pies are fun to eat, and even more fun to give out. 

Blueberry Hand Pies

Crust recipe adapted from, filling recipe adapted from Marcy Goldman's A Passion for Baking.

Makes approximately 18 pies

Line baking sheets with parchment paper, and preheat oven to 375F degrees.

1.  Using a wire whisk, mix together in a bowl:
- 2-1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 t. baking powder
- 1/2 t. salt

2.  Using a pastry hand-held mixer, blend in:
- 1/2 cup of butter, cut into cubes

3.  Continue mixing in the following, using your hands to blend completely until the dough comes together:
- 2 T. yogurt (or sour cream)
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/2 t. vanilla
- 1 egg
- 3/4 cup sugar

4.  Form the dough into a round mass, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate the pastry dough for at least one hour.

5.  While the dough is being chilled, cook over medium heat in a small saucepan:
- 2 cups of blueberries (fresh or frozen)
- 3/4 cup of sugar
- 1 t. cinnamon
- 1 T. water or lemon juice

6.  Once the mixture in #5 begins to bubble, add the following, and cook for another 4 or 5 minutes, until the mixture thickens; allow filling to cool, then cover and refrigerate:
- 1 T. corn starch dissolved in 2 T. water

7.  When ready to make the pies, break of pieces of dough to roll out at a time, keeping the rest of the pastry dough refrigerated.  Roll out the dough using a rolling pin to 1/4 inch thickness, and cut out 5" circles.  Spoon out about 1-1/2 T. of filling in the center of the circle, and fold the circle in half, sealing the edge with the tip of a fork.  Poke the top of the crust with fork a few times to allow steam to escape.

8.  Bake the pies for approximately 20 minutes, or until slightly golden brown.  Sprinkle powdered sugar on top when ready to serve.