Have you ever tried to bring a pie to Sagg Main? I hope you didn’t forget your pie server, plates and forks. And did you have a table? I don’t recommend serving pie from a beach towel spread out on the sand, unless you like your strawberry-rhubarb with a little bit of grit.
I’m more of a minimalist when it comes to toting dessert (and everything needed to serve it) to the beach. Cookies and brownies don’t require any utensils or plates. If only there were a way to bake up hand-held single servings of pie that could be served directly from a Tupperware container…
Oh, right. There is! Hand pies are small circles of pie dough, filled with fruit, folded over, and baked so the fruit is completely enclosed. With this shape, there’s no need for a server, plates and forks. A bonus: While the bottom crust of a juicy fruit pie gets damp and soggy, the top and bottom crust of a hand pie stays flaky and crisp due to the favorable crust-to-fruit ratio.
So last time I planned a beach picnic, I decided to give hand pies a try. To make my hand pies, I gathered the same ingredients I use for a pie. I started with my favorite dough, about ¾ pound, enough to make a single crust pie. When I rolled it out, and then re-rolled the scraps, I got six dough circles from the amount of dough I would have used for a single crust pie. I filled each one with a mixture of blueberries (the easiest fruit pie filling because there’s no peeling, pitting and dicing). Then I cut a few slits into the tops of the pies, so the steam from the filling would have somewhere to go during baking.
All of the rules of working with pie dough apply when making hand pies. Make sure your dough is well-chilled, so it won’t stick to your countertop. Try to roll it out efficiently. The fewer passes with the rolling pin, the more tender the crust. If the dough becomes soft and warm while you are rolling it out, put it back in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to firm up before continuing. And be sure to freeze your pies for 15 minutes before putting them in the oven, since chilled dough will bake up flakier than warm dough, which may spread.
I had two more hand pies than I needed for my family’s little beach picnic. I wondered if I could freeze them, unbaked, for another time. I placed them on a parchment-lined baking sheet in the freezer for 15 minutes until they were firm, then slid them into a zipper-lock bag and froze them completely. A week later I baked them straight from the freezer, for a few minutes longer than the first batch. They came out perfectly.
To make hand pies, use your favorite pie dough recipe, or buy some at the market. I won’t tell. And you can substitute other fruit for the blueberries. Raspberries would work. So would peeled and diced peaches or nectarines, although stone fruits are juicier than berries, so you might strain away some of the liquid they give off while macerating before spooning them onto the dough rounds.
Blueberry Hand Pies
6 hand pies
¾ pound (enough for a single crust) pie dough, chilled
3/4 cup blueberries, rinsed and picked over
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
Pinch ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Sanding sugar for sprinkling
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine blueberries, vanilla, sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl and let stand, stirring occasionally and mashing a small amount of berries with the back of a spoon, until sugar is dissolved.
2. On a lightly floured countertop, roll out dough to a 1/8-inch thickness. Use a 5-inch round bread and butter plate as a guide to cut as many circles as you can from the dough and transfer to prepared baking sheet and lightly sprinkle with flour.
3. Remove dough from refrigerator. Working with one circle at a time, place about 2 tablespoons of filling on one side of circle, leaving a ½-inch border. Fold dough over blueberries. Use tines of fork to seal edges. Repeat with remaining dough circles and filling.
4. Space the pies at least 1 inch apart on the baking sheet. Use a sharp paring knife to cut three ½-inch vents in the top of each one. Brush with cream and sprinkle with sugar. Freeze for 15 minutes. (At this point, you can slide the hand pies into a zipper-lock bag and freeze them for up to 2 weeks before proceeding.)
5. Bake the pies until golden, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes on baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.