Ok, so this is decidedly NOT the definitive word on hand pies. It isn’t even intended to be a hand pie how-to; although, if you have questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to hook you up with more detailed instructions.
As most of you probably know, Ed and I decided, for some inexplicable reason, that our first attempt at “something new” would be the baking of tasty hand pies. I can give no logical or reasonable explanation for the idea. It’s just what came to mind and we both liked the idea of having pie to show (and eat) for our efforts. After all, who doesn’t like the idea of pie?
Ed and I both like to cook, so we do have some skills in the kitchen. Even so, neither one of us is the kind of cook who can grab random ingredients from the pantry and whip up a gourmet meal. While I have been known to bake the occasional pie, they are, at best, semi-homemade, with crust by the Pillsbury Dough Boy and canned pumpkin usually the main ingredient. Hand Pie Weekend 2013 was our first attempt at “real pies” with out and out crust and fillings made with fresh ingredients.
For the savory pies, Ed chose use a recipe for samosa-like pastries we found on the King Arthur Flour Company’s blog. It was an Indian inspired filling with a combination of potatoes, onion, garlic, curry, cumin, salt, pepper, peas, and just a little Sriracha sauce. The recipe was simple and easy to follow. More importantly, the final product smelled and tasted amazing! The only change Ed made was a little added dash of coriander. Ed went bold and exotic on his filling and I, I’m sorry to say, copped out. I went the safe (some might say boring) route, choosing to fill my pies with different combinations of sautéed onions, white cheddar and provolone cheeses, Boar’s Head Sweet Slice Ham, and Genoa salami. We used the pastry recipe we found on the same page as the samosa recipe for the crust on all of our savory pies. It was basic butter pie dough. The recipe and directions were beginner-proof. Our dough turned out perfectly.
Saturday was a long day of shopping and baking. In fact, it was such a long day that we decided to save the fruit pies for Sunday. Even though it was a lot of work, Ed and I had fun and our house smelled heavenly. I’m sad to report, however, that, while the savory pies were good, they were not great. I know I said in my last post that I didn’t expect perfect pies on our first attempt, except that, subconsciously, I think I did. Buried deeply inside of me is a perfectionist struggling to get out. Those pies weren’t the best we can do and I won’t be happy until we perfect the art of the savory hand pie. Ed feels the same. We agree that we need to find a recipe for a softer, lighter pastry. The pie dough worked and had a nice flavor, but it was just too dry. The savory pies also need to be large enough to accommodate more filling. When I bite into a ham, cheese and onion hand pie, I want melted cheese running down my chin. Sadly, that didn’t happen. The flavors were there, but the gooiness was missing, a problem we will have to rectify.
Undaunted, we woke up Sunday ready for day two – sweet pies! We used a recipe for tart dough that I found on Williams-Sonoma’s web site. This dough was lighter, sweeter and butterier than the basic pie dough we used for the savory flavors. Before you say it, I know butterier isn’t a word, but I like the way it sounds. It’s my blog. I reserve the right to make stuff up as I go along. Anyway, the tart dough was a good choice for the fruit pies. They wouldn’t have been as good using plain old pie dough. The recipe for the tart dough is very similar to the pie dough, but, for some reason, I found the tart dough easier to work with. Of course, by the time we got around to making the sweet pies, I was a dough pro. Quick tip: dough (pie or tart) is very forgiving. Don’t be afraid of it. I, personally, think it’s easier to work with the dough without chilling it, as most recipes instruct you to do. Use flour to keep it from sticking as you roll it out. Making homemade crust is quick and easy. If you have 10 minutes, you can make a pie crust. So, the next time someone tells you they make their crust from scratch, don’t be too impressed. If I can do it, anyone can. I guarantee it!
For the fruit fillings, Ed and I went crazy at the Super H Mart. Ed doesn’t want me to tell you this because he thinks it’s a well-guarded secret, but if you’re unfamiliar with the H Mart, you don’t know what you’re missing. They have the best prices and the best produce in Houston. If you decide to check it out, I would avoid going on the weekend, if you can. For a “secret” grocery store, it sure does get crowded.
We bought cherries, apples, pears, peaches, strawberries, and lemon curd for our fruit fillings. It sounds like a lot of fruit, but we didn’t get a lot of any one thing. That’s the great thing about making hand pies. You don’t need a whole pound of cherries or strawberries. A large handful of berries will make enough filling for several hand pies. We made apple filling with one large Granny Smith apple and pear filling with one large pear. I think we used two peaches because they cook down quite a bit. When you’re making hand pies, everyone can have the kind of pie they like. PIE FOR EVERYONE!
I didn’t follow a recipe for the fruit filling. I looked at recipes for a lot of different fruit pies before we started on Sunday and took bits and pieces from the ones I liked. We chopped our fruit up into small pieces and put each fruit into its own cereal sized bowl. I put a couple of tablespoons of sugar in each bowl, along with about a teaspoon of cornstarch. I added cinnamon and nutmeg to the apples, pears, and peaches. I added some lemon juice to the apples and pears. I added almond extract to the cherries – just a dash – and vanilla extract to the strawberries. I was feeling very Martha Stewart at this point, throwing in a dash of this and a pinch of that. You can afford to play with different taste combinations when you’re making hand pies because you’re not making a large amount of any one filling. Just keep tasting. You’ll know if you’re on the right track or not. If you don’t like it, toss it out and start again. Since you’re working on a small scale, you can afford to goof up.
I am proud to report that our sweet pies were FREAKING AWESOME!!!!! They were sweet, juicy, buttery, hand-held yumminess! Even Oliver, our son and official guinea pig, was impressed. (He’s 20, so his approval is a kind of a big deal.) It was a nice reward for our work – a counter full of beautiful, golden, flaky, fruit pies. I don’t know how many Weight Watchers points our little pies are worth, but I’m pretty sure I blew last week and this week in one afternoon.
All in all, Hand Pie Weekend 2013 was a success! Ed and I enjoyed spending time and working together. We planned, shopped, and baked all weekend. There was no arguing or even the occasional eye roll. It was all about the pies. As much as I hate the term “bonding experience,” that’s what Hand Pie Weekend was. We set a goal, saw it through to the end and, BONUS, ended up with a mess of delectable pies to show for it.