August 1, 2011
I’m going to cut straight to the chase here and admit—I am a recent convert to pie.
If you’ve been reading for a while, you may have noticed that I’m a little bit obsessed with bread products of all kinds. If it’s a carbohydrate, chances are that I LOVE IT. Hence the problem I had with so many pies in the past—too much filling, not enough crust.
Behold, though, two forms of pie that have helped change my mind: the mini-pie and the hand pie. Perfect for someone like me, because they completely change the crust to filling ratio! Brilliant. And delicious.
Also responsible for my move into pie-making is the fact that I’m now one of those people who not only uses lard, but renders her own. I know, it’s like Little House on the Prairie up in here! In all seriousness, I am a convert to the joys of lard, thanks to the wonderful folks at Jolie Vue Farms who send us a cooler full of beautiful meat every month, often including a package or two of pork fat. Since I would never dream of wasting what we receive, I learned what you do with pork fat—you render lard (so much easier than it sounds). And once you have rendered said lard, you can fry chicken in it, make tortillas with it, and…add it to pie dough!
If lard scares you, or if you don’t consume pork/animal products, don’t let that stop you from making your own crust. You can easily substitute shortening, and I’m telling you what, there is NO way store-bought crust can compare to homemade. And—as I think I have made clear—it’s all about the crust.
There are many, many pie crust/pastry crust recipes out there, and a shamefully large number are so intimidating-sounding that I think they preclude people from ever making their own pie crust. THAT IS A SHAME. Because pie crust is a wonderful thing, and once you try it a few times, you’ll realize it doesn’t have to be a deadly-serious-and-complex-mystery-of-the-universe as some people make it out to be.
I recommend starting with this recipe from The Harrow Fair Cookbook; you can make it in the food processor, and it yields enough for two single-crust pies.* Yes, it calls for lard, which will produce the flakiest pastry, but you can also substitute shortening. Some snobs may balk at the addition of the egg, but I think it makes the dough more resilient without compromising taste or texture. Just make it already! You won’t be sorry.
*That means it will yield enough to make one small batch of each recipe below, i.e. you’ll end up with 6-8 mini blueberry pies, and 6-8 cherry hand pies. Or you could double the filling of either recipe to just make one kind. Or keep the measurements as-is and throw half the pie dough into the freezer for another day. The choices, they are so many.)
MINI BLUEBERRY PIES
from the wonderful Dinner with Julie
These little guys are perfect for entertaining, or taking to a potluck. I’ve made them several times this summer, and they are always a hit. And I don’t think I have to tell you that they go especially well with homemade whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
pastry for a single crust pie
for the filling:
1 cup fresh blueberries
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
juice & zest from half a lemon
oven: 400° F
pan: well-greased, regular sized muffin tin(s)
In a medium bowl, stir the lemon juice with the cornstarch to get rid of any lumps. Add the blueberries, lemon zest, & sugar and toss to coat.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out about ¼ inch thick and cut into 3 inch rounds, using the rim of a wide-mouthed glass or mug. Fold each into the bottom of one muffin cup.
Divide the blueberry filling evenly between the dough-lined muffin cups. Bake until the crusts have browned and the filling is cooked and bubbly, about 20-25 minutes.
Cool the muffin tin(s) on a rack for 5-10 minutes before popping the little pies out with a thin knife and either eating them right away or letting them cool completely before storing. I don’t know for sure how long they last, because they always disappear, but I’d say overnight in an airtight container, longer than that, in the fridge or well-wrapped in the freezer.
CHERRY HAND PIES
adapted from Bon Appetit
You can make these rectangular, of course, or even square (although that seems way too precise for someone like me)…but I just think they’re cuter in a half-moon shape. Because I am superficial that way.
pastry for a single crust pie
for the filling:
1 cup fresh cherries, stemmed & pitted
½ cup sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch
¼ tsp. almond extract
1 egg, lightly beaten with 2 tsp. water
sliced almonds and/or raw sugar, optional
pan: parchment-lined baking sheet(s)
On a lightly floured surface, roll the pie dough out, erring on the thick side, which will make it easier to work with.
Cut out the shape(s) you desire—to make my half-moon pies, I turned a cereal bowl upside down and pressed into the dough to make the circle for me, then cut the circle out with a knife.
Spoon a small amount of filling in the center of the circle (no more than 3 T). Brush the edges of the circle with the egg wash, then fold the dough over to make a semi-circle. Use a fork or the back of a knife to crimp/pleat the edge of the hand pie, then place carefully on the baking sheet. Cut a few ventilation slits into the top of each pie.
Repeat until all the dough/filling is used. Before baking, brush the exposed surface of the hand pies with the egg wash, sprinkling sliced almonds and/or raw sugar on top.
Bake until the pies are golden brown, 25-35 minutes. Cool on a rack before enjoying! Again, these did not last long in my house, but you could easily freeze well-wrapped extras, or keep them in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days.