Easy pastry making gets personal with apple hand pies

Wolfgang Puck/Tribune Content Agency Published January 23, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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One of the most popular “new” treats of recent years has been a comforting little pastry called the hand pie. Boutique bakeries feature them. Home bakers swap favorite recipes featuring all kinds of sweet, and even savory, fillings.

Take a look at some of those beloved recipes, though, and you might be surprised to discover that they’re written on or copied from well-worn cards stored in recipe boxes handed down from Mom or Grandma. That’s because the hot “new” hand pie is actually centuries old, a treat that originated as a neat way to pack pastry dough with fillings in an easily portable form.

Behold a hand pie, and you might feel tempted to exclaim, “Why, it’s really a ….” You could fill the last part of that sentence with any of several words, such as turnover, empanada and pasty. They all describe a pie made from a relatively small circle, square or rectangle of dough, folded around a sweet or savory filling to seal it in before baking, forming a personal-portion pie that’s small enough to hold in your hand.

Hand pies are even easier to make and serve than regular pies. You don’t need a pie pan, just a baking sheet. Forming the pies is a simple process of rolling out and cutting the dough, spooning on the filling, then folding the dough and sealing each pie. Baking takes only about half the time of full-sized pies. Serving couldn’t be simpler: Just put the hand pies on plates or platters, and if they’ve cooled enough, encourage everyone to pick them up and eat them — or if you want to serve them hot or topped with ice cream or whipped cream, provide forks and spoons.

If you look through some of the older recipes for hand pies, you’ll see apple fillings turning up again and again. That makes sense, since apples are a popular and widespread crop that stores well, and they’re arguably the most popular filling for larger pies.

That’s what I feature in the hand-pie recipe shared here, but I embellish the filling. Along with the usual tart-sweet apples, I include some dried cherries, available in well-stocked markets and specialty food stores; fresh or frozen cranberries; and crunchy walnuts. They all add a wonderful surprise because everyone will smell the apple aroma and then, at first bite, enjoy a more complex flavor and texture than expected.

If you want to make the hand pies even more quickly, feel free to substitute store-bought, ready-to-bake pie dough from the supermarket. And, once you’ve mastered the easy preparation, start playing with other fillings. You’ll find this recipe — excuse the pun — a handy alternative to your usual pies.

APPLE HAND PIES WITH DRIED CHERRIES, CRANBERRIES AND WALNUTS

Makes 16

Ingredients:

Pastry Dough (recipe follows)

2 cups dried cherries, about 1/2 pound

1 cup walnut pieces, about 1/4 pound

3/4 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup whole fresh or frozen cranberries

1 cinnamon stick

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise with a sharp knife, seeds scraped and reserved from each half

Zest of 1 medium orange

Freshly grated nutmeg

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

3/4 pound firm, tart-sweet organic apples such as Granny Smith or Golden Delicious, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

1 large cage-free egg, lightly beaten

Coarse sugar crystals

Directions:

Prepare the pastry dough in advance.

For the filling, in a 2-quart saucepan combine the cherries, walnuts, water, sugar, cranberries, cinnamon, vanilla bean halves and scrapings, orange zest and a dash of nutmeg. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the cherries are plump and tender, 10 to 15 minutes. (Most of the water will evaporate, so watch carefully to prevent burning.)

In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the apples and saute, stirring as necessary to avoid sticking, until lightly caramelized and tender, about 10 minutes; stir in the cherry mixture during the last 2 minutes, removing the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean halves.

Transfer the mixture to a food processor fitted with the stainless-steel blade. Process until pureed. Transfer to a clean bowl. Set aside.

Cut the Pastry Dough in half. Keep one piece covered. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the other to a 12-inch square about 1/4 inch thick. With a 4- to 4-1/2-inch circular cutter, cut out 6 dough circles, occasionally dipping the cutter in flour to prevent sticking. Gather up and reroll the scraps to cut out 2 more circles. Repeat with the reserved pastry half.

Measure out just more than 1 ounce of fruit puree, about 2 tablespoons, and place in the center of a dough circle. Brush the edges lightly with egg, fold the dough over the filling, and pinch the edges securely together. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Arrange the pies on 1 or 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

With a serrated pastry cutter, trim the sealed edges of each pie. Brush the tops with egg. With a sharp knife, cut 3 slits across the top of each pie. Sprinkle with sugar crystals. Bake until golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

PASTRY DOUGH

Ingredients:

Makes 1 1/2 pounds

2 1/3 cups cake flour or pastry flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 pound unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

2 large cage-free egg yolks

1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream

Directions:

In a food processor fitted with the stainless-steel blade, combine the flour and sugar. Add the butter, and process briefly until the mixture resembles fine meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the yolks and 1 tablespoon cream. Scrape into the processor bowl. Process until a ball begins to form, adding extra cream if necessary to bring the dough together.

Remove the dough from the processor onto a lightly floured work surface. Press down to form an even disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

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