About five years ago, I decided to tackle a homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. I was clueless about even the most basic considerations for avoiding crust-disaster.
It’s basically three ingredients. How hard can it be?
I’m hardly the first to conjure such a foolhardy question. I imagine a long line of inexperienced cooks have ended up with similar pie dough abominations; I only wish I’d taken a picture of the resulting nightmare to add to the blooper reel. The sad, colorless, stretchy mess didn’t even cover the entire pie pan, was full of holes, and made the texture of cardboard appetizing in comparison.
But like a rookie middle-inning reliever who got shelled for 8 earned runs, I had no choice but to take the hill again the next day. Here and there, over the course of the past few years, I’ve attempted pie and pastry dough with varying but increasing degrees of success. But even with those tentative successes, I couldn’t escape a sense of trepidation when embarking on each subsequent attempt. I simply felt like I lacked the necessary finesse to truly control the outcome, so the whole thing had the potential to go off the rails at any moment.
However, with a little skill and knowledge gained through each attempt, I’m pleased to say my coming of age has occurred. It’s a proud moment in a cook’s life when he can proclaim with confidence that a pie dough is solidly within his repertoire. Were I more ostentatious, I’d order some sort of gilded pie shaped medal that I’d proudly wear over my heart. Instead, I’ll settle for understated gloating on the internet.
Hey, everyone! Look what I can do! I’ve graduated! I’m a real cook!
Hand pies with fruit preserve filling
Much as I wish I could take credit for this idea, I’m going to have to cop to the fact that I stole it from Sean Brock and/or his pastry chef featured in Season 2 of the PBS show Mind of a Chef. The simplicity of the idea struck me as brilliant; instead of committing to making both pie crust and filling, you use can use whatever amazing preserves you might have on hand. When I was serendipitously bestowed the generous gift of some preserves made with Chino farm boysenberries and peaches, it was clear the cosmos was sending a not-so-subtle message that hand pies would be made.
- Put butter cubes and flour into separate bowls, and refrigerate for approximately 30 minutes.
- Cut butter into flour using your hands; the goal is to smash the butter into flat shards that will produce flaky layers, but be careful not to overwork the butter.
- When flour and butter mixture has clumps no smaller than the size of peas, drizzle ice water into mixture, no more than a few tablespoons at a time, and use your hands or a rubber spatula to bring the dough together. When large clumps have formed, use your hands to form ball into disk, being careful once again to not over-work. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for another 30 minutes.
- When dough is chilled, cut into quarters. Form each quarter into a rough disc, and roll out into a large sheet, approximately 1/8” – 1/4” thick. Using a bowl approximately 6 or 8 inches in diameter as a template, cut dough into discs.
- Scoop 3 tablespoons of fruit preserve onto each disc. Brush edges of each disc with egg wash and fold disc in half, smoothing edges gently with your fingers to seal. Gently depress the edges with the prongs of a fork to further seal each pie.
- Chill in freezer for 30 minutes. After approximately 20 minutes, preheat oven to 400°.
- Remove from freezer and brush the top of each pie with egg wash. Cut 3 small holes in each pie for steam to escape.
- Bake pies on a sheet of parchment for 15 to 20 minutes until crust is puffed and golden brown at the edges.
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 2 sticks butter, cut into small cubes
- Ice water
- 12 or 16 oz. of your favorite fruit preserve, jam, chutney, jelly, etc.
- 1 egg yolk, beaten with several tablespoons water (for egg wash)