Part three of my August baking project (desserts with summer fruits) takes advantage of the abundance of sweet cherries that are flooding into markets this summer. I found out on NPR that there’s an oversupply of sweet cherries this season, due to a favorable growing season, so producers and grocery stores are trying to get rid of them as quickly as possible.
It may be bad news for cherry farmers, but it sounds like good news to me. Usually I think of cherries as a luxury, but Rainier Cherries been showing up at the Columbia Heights Giant for as little at $2 a pound.
My first impulse was to make a cherry pie but, as I wrote last week, the single studio life doesn’t exactly lend itself to pie baking. Pie, which doesn’t freeze well or keep well after a few days, requires a crowd. However, I saw that The Bitten Word had tried out a Martha Stewart recipe for tomato hand pies, and I wondered if I couldn’t adapt it for cherries.
The Bitten Word had a mixed experience with their hand pies. One of the problems was the crust to filling the ratio – the recipe calls for patting squares of the pastry dough into muffin tins and folding the corners over the top of the filling. It’s a nice decorative touch, but the pies ended up being all crust and no filling. The recipe also didn’t specify to butter the muffin tins, and the pies were almost impossible to dislodge.
Armed with this test case, I wondered if I couldn’t do better. First off, I buttered my muffing tins, and the pies slipped right out. I changed the execution slightly – instead of folding crust over the filling, I went for a small fluted edge and a couple decorative pastry strips. I also tried to roll the crust fairly thinly, to help the crust to filling ratio. And I added a little bit of shortening to the dough to help it crisp – a trick I learned from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Finally, I halved the recipe – although if you want a full dozen feel free to double it. After all, not everyone already has a freezer full of peach tartlets.
The finished product was still a little crust-heavy compared to a regular pie, but it wasn’t overwhelming. In fact, I think I might even like these hand pies more than regular pie. I love a good, crisp, flaky pie crust – especially when it’s just out of the oven and you can hear the butter in the crust sizzling. Because I baked the pies in muffin tins, the crust were really crisp and perfectly browned, and the cherry filling was sweet, tart, and fresh. The crust to filling ratio wasn’t exactly like a regular pie, but it was akin to eating a Pop Tart. But a really good, sweet, crispy, fresh, Platonic Pop Tart.
Best of all, the pies reheated extremely well – ten minutes in a toaster oven and they were almost as good as fresh-baked. Now find me a regular pie recipe that can do that!
Cherry Hand Pies
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living (found at The Bitten Word)
Makes six hand pies
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 tbs shortening, cut into 1/4 inch cubes and chilled
6 tbs butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes and chilled
3-5 tbs ice water
2 cups pitted, halved fresh sweet cherries
1 tbs cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tbs water
Extra sugar, for sprinkling
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and sugar. With a pastry cutter or your fingers, cut the butter and shortening into the dough until the butter/shortening are the size of small peas. Slowly add 3 tbs of the ice water and mix with a wooden spoon or spatula until the mixture forms a rough dough. If the dough isn’t coming together, add the additional ice water one teaspoon at a time. Try to not overwork the dough, otherwise the pastry will be tough. Place the dough on a sheet of plastic wrap, flatten into a disk, and wrap in the plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
While the dough is chilling, get the filling together – this is prime time to pit and slice your cherries. When they are ready, place the cherries in a small bowl and mix with cornstarch, sugar, lemon juice, and salt.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly butter six cups of a muffin tin.
On a lightly floured, clean work surface, roll out your pie dough until 1/8 inch thick. Cut into six 5-inch circles, or so (I used a tartlet tin as a guide) and press into the muffin tins, folding over the edges and crimping with the tines of a fork. You will probably need to gather the scraps of your dough and re-roll to get enough pie crust for all six tins. With the remaining dough, cut a couple of strips of pastry around 1/4 inch wide.
Spoon the filling into the crusts and cover with the strips of pastry in whatever design you desire. Right before baking, lightly brush the dough with the egg and water mixture and sprinkle with a little sugar.
Place the muffin tin in the oven, and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the crusts are brown and the centers are bubbling. Remove from the oven and cool for ten minutes in the muffin tins, before removing the individual pies to a cooling rack. Serve slightly warm.