I love pie crust. I consider the filling in any kind of pie to be an accent to the crust itself, rather than thinking of the crust as a vehicle to deliver the filling. Pumpkin pie notwithstanding, I usually gravitate towards pies with a high crust-to-filling ratio – my interest increases as the filling decreases. I hanker after “toaster pastries”, gas station-deli pizza pockets, and pasties (Irish/British-style miniature meat pies).
Last year our neighbor Ed’s already robust Himalayan blackberry vines went berserk. The line between our properties (as we didn’t have a fence up yet), already blurred, became quite indistinct. We have an agreement that if the fruit looks like its not getting picked off any bush on this line that we can take it – better that someone gets it than it rots on the vine. Ed was working a lot of overtime and his kids were occupied as well, so I picked every big black berry I could find. Unfortunately, since I had been occupied with all the party preparations, I started picking a little too late and didn’t get enough underripe berries. This is unfortunate because I don’t use pectin in my blackberry jam counting on the natural pectin content in the rosier berries to firm up the stuff. The result was plenty tasty, but the consistency was quite runny. I relabeled the jars “Blackberry Sludge 2009”. Not too big a loss, though – I don’t use jam on my toast (I prefer to taste the bread, so I just use a touch of butter.) but I do use it in my yogurt from time to time.
However, it is now almost a year later, I have half a dozen half-pint jars of sludge left unused, and it’s been raining all day. Pie time!
These pies are very versatile. You can use any kind of pie filling – rehydrated dried fruits, raisins and apple chunks, fresh or thawed frozen berries, and any sort of jam. If using fresh or thawed frozen fruit that is unsweetened, toss them with a little sugar and cornstarch before putting them in the crusts. When I use fresh blackberries or raspberries I use a ratio of 1-1/2 cups berries to 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon cornstarch – but be warned that I use very little sweetener compared to most everyone else I’ve ever eaten with. These pies can be frozen in individual plastic baggies and thrown into lunchboxes and picnic baskets; they taste almost as good at room temperature as they do still hot from the oven.
I should mention that my pie crust of choice is Martha Stewart’s pâté brisée. I have tried a lot of pie crust doughs and this one is my favorite.
Last-Year’s-Jam Hand Pies
Makes 8 snack-sized pies
For pâté brisée:
- 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled butter
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 cup ice water
- 1 to 1-1/2 cups filling
- sugar and cornstarch for non-jam fillings (see suggestions above)
- 1 egg
- Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl or the bowl of a food processor if you are lucky enough to own one of these fantastic butter-incorporators. Cut butter into eight pieces. If incorporating by hand, toss the butter into the dry ingredients and chop the butter into the flour using a pastry blender. If using a food processor toss the butter chunks in 4 at a time and pulse until the racket the engine makes is even (at least, that’s how it works with my little antique). Using either method, your goal is a mixture that looks like coarse meal, with butter pieces no larger than small peas. Drizzle in the water a few tablespoons at a time and mix with a fork until you can make a squeezed handful of the stuff stick together. You may need more or less water than is called for. Chill the dough 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 425ºF. Cut pâté brisée into eight pieces and roll them into circles about 3.5” in diameter. Place the dough circles on a parchment-lined jelly-roll pan. Fill and seal each circle one at a time using the following method: Place a rounded teaspoon (not a measuring spoon – the kind your stir your coffee with) of jam in the center of the circle. Brush the pastry edge closest to you with whisked egg mixture. Fold dough over and seal well – smoosh with your fingers and pinch with fork tines – that filling is going to want out! Poke pie top with fork once or twice, brush with egg, and sprinkle with coarse sugar.
- Bake for ten minutes or until edges are golden and sugar topping is caramel-colored. Cool on wire racks over waxed paper to catch drips.