Hand pies (aka toaster pastry) are such a delight in the morning with a nice cup of tea or coffee. Now that I think about it, hand pies are amazing pretty much any time of day. They hold their own as a light desert, as a loving addition to a bag lunch or at any gathering such as a potluck or BBQ. Depending on your choice of sprinkles, icing and cutter shape, these delicious tarts can be dressed up for holidays, or left plain to kick off a relaxing weekend.
This recipe is adapted from a recipe originally found on the King Arthur Flour website as: Blueberry Hand Pies. As with all great recipes that become regulars in your rotation if yumminess, I'll make a few suggestions along the way to make them easier and more versatile.
- 2 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup (16 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup cold sour cream (I have also used Greek yogurt)
- 1/2 cup+ filling of choice (such as chocolate, strawberry jam or cherry topping)
- 1 egg white (optional, but makes for a beautiful crust)
This is a great time to discuss salted butter vs. unsalted butter. If you bake enough, you'll notice that most recipes call for unsalted, but who willingly stocks their fridge with unsalted butter? At one time, I tried to adhere to best practices and would keep a few sticks of unsalted butter around. After a few too many times of buttering my bread with the wrong version, I banished unsalted from my kitchen. Was I being too hasty, though?
Unlike in our discussion during the Old Fashioned Coffee Cake recipe regarding the proper creaming of sugar and butter, which does have a noticeable impact of the finished product, the salted vs. unsalted butter debate comes down solely to taste, not chemistry. Good Housekeeping produced a wonderful article on the topic, concluding that personal salt preference and the sodium content of specific brands was the only true decider. You can read more about that here.
So let's amend that recipe just a tad:
- 1 cup (16 tablespoons) cold
unsalted butterwhatever good quality butter you happen to have in your fridge. If you are afraid that your baked goods may be too salty, just reduce or omit the added salt in your recipe.
Ingredient mixing order and technique do matter a great deal in this recipe. Without the proper treatment of the butter and flour, your hand pies will be dense rather than flaky.
Whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder.
Cut your butter into small pats. I will generally cut each stick into 16 pieces (first along the 8 TBSP marks, then along the length of the stick). Drop into your flour mixture.
Shortcut time. You could use a pastry cutter to turn all of these cubes of butter into pea sized balls, but chances are, you don't own a pastry cutter. I have also seen demonstrated the use of two forks, which proved downright Sisyphean. Instead, let's take a two part approach, starting with the whisk attachment of your mixer.
Stop right about here, where some of the butter has been broken down and attached to the flour in a sort of cornmeal texture, with many large pieces still remaining. Though the whisk might be able to break it down some more, it will never do the job 100%, so might as well move along to the next step at this point.
Borrowing and short-cutting a bit from the spirit of laminated dough, here is how I get my flaky crust without a ton of fuss. (True laminated dough is a laborious process, but well worth trying at least once. You can find a wonderful article about making your own here.)
Get your clean hands right in there and start rubbing the dough into flat pieces. For whatever reason, I imagine the golden butter turning into gold flakes panned from the cool depths of some hidden river.
Grab a good handful of the flour, press and then drag between your fingers. If you feel the cold butter warming up too quickly, place your bowl in the freezer for a minute or two. Unless you're making these during a heatwave though, you should be able to make your butter flakes before the mixture warms up too much.
When it seems like your butter wants to stick together in a more dough-like consistency, give it a few quick fluffs with your fingers to break up any large clumps and then add your sour cream.
At this point, you already have messy hands, why make a spoon dirty? Get back in there and mix until you have a sticky mass of dough.
Flour your cutting board or work surface and scrape out your dough.
Flouring as necessary to reduce sticking, press the dough out in a rectangle. Now envision the rectangle as a tri-folded piece of paper, folding the left third over top of the center third. Next, fold the remaining right third over the center. Rotate your dough log 90 degrees and press out into a rectangle again. Repeat the tri-fold for each rotation until you have done four turns (and four tri-folds).
Since this isn't the easiest process to describe, here is a short video:
By doing this, you are smoothing your buttery flakes into thin sheets, and then stacking them into layers. When heated, the steam will expand these layers, allowing the flour to bake into crispy little sheets thanks to the butter.
If during the process you notice melting butter, stop and place your dough into the refrigerator for a few minutes. If your butter melts before it goes into the oven, you will have dense pastries that lack internal flakiness.
If all went well, you should have a stiff, non-sticky dough that is ready to go into the refrigerator to rest and cool for the next 30 minutes, or overnight if baking the next day. Gather your dough into a rough rectangle shape and cover in plastic cling wrap. Instructions for rolling and shaping follow below, but this video will walk you through the process.
When ready to fill and bake, remove your dough from the fridge, place on a floured work surface and allow the dough to lose some of its chill before working. Using a rolling pin, do your best to make a large rectangle of even thickness. Thicker dough will give a higher pastry, but I find that if it is too high that the filling ratio tends to off. You'll recall that there is no sugar in the pastry dough, so any sweetness must come from either the filling or icing. Plan accordingly.
Thinner dough is preferred, but realize that it will be more difficult to work with as it warms on your work surface. Ideally, you will be able to handle the pieces of your pastry without stretching them.
With a pizza cutter, divide your rectangle into 16 evenly sized pieces. The best way that I have discovered is to cut the rectangle in half vertically, then horizontally. Next, cut each of your smaller rectangles the same manner. In this way, you will get sizes that partner up. In the demo below, I intentionally make some unevenly cut pieces to show how to salvage any less than stellar pieces.
Once you have your rectangles cut and paired, make a venting shape in each of your top sections. For my hand pies, I used miniature cookie cutters to highlight the deep red color of my cherry filling. The vent hole is very important and should not be skipped. If you do not have a cute little cutters, just cut away an easy shape like a square or triangle.
On the bottom rectangles, place a spoonful of filling and smooth over the pastry, leaving a little space along the outside edge for the pressing of the top and bottom crust. Do not overload the hand pie with filling or it will squish out when sealing. Imagine putting jam or jelly on toast and you will be in the right range for your filling.
Carefully assemble your hand pies. If the dough is sticking or stretching, place your cutting board into the freezer for a couple of minutes to harden the butter again (just don't forget about them, as the dough will freeze to your board and you'll have to wait for it the thaw).
If any of your hand pies have uneven edges, use your pizza cutter to trim them.
Using the tines of a fork, crimp your boarders and preheat your oven.
*A note on crimping - When pressing with your fork, the impressions should reach about 2/3 of the depth of your dough. This means that the pressure has forced the top slice of dough to be embed into the lower slice, but not straight through to the bottom. The reason for this is to promote a seal that will not offer a channel for hot filling to escape. Over-pressing often stretches the dough and causes leakage.
If you desire a shiny crust, brush the surface of the pies with a thin layer of egg white. If using sprinkles, apply them now.
Transfer your hand pies to a parchment lined baking sheet. Cook at between 400 and 425 degrees for 18-20 minutes. Why the range of temperature? In the case of this recipe, I have used three different ovens and found this to be a good general rule:425 for electric ovens, 400 for gas ovens. While you want a high heat to ensure enough steam for the flaky crust before the dough sets, you must also consider that this pastry has some thickness and must cook all the way through before it browns too much.
Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack. If applying icing, wait until the pastry is completely cool to avoid melting.
Be careful of whom you share these with! Hand pies are addictive and you might find yourself being asked constantly to make them.