Upper Crust: Delicious meals in the pie of the beholder

 

story and photo by Marisa McClellan WE'VE ARRIVED AT THE TIME OF YEAR I fondly refer to as pie season. There’s truly no better winter dessert than a flaky pastry filled with something sweetened and spiced. When I bake a pie—especially one that isn’t going to hang around my kitchen—I’ll always make a bit more crust; the scraps make for great little filled pastries. Sometimes I’ll stuff them with leftovers from the previous night’s dinner to make a meaty turnover, other times I’ll quick cook some fruit in a little sugar and butter.

Just about every culture has a tradition of making pastries baked with a savory or sweet filling. From empanadas to Cornish pasties to turnovers, these items are sturdy, portable and so delicious. What’s more, between food trucks and specialty pie shops, handheld pies are making something of a comeback these days.

These hand pies are a fun, simple alternative to a lunchtime sandwich, and are easy to keep local. Lancaster County’s Daisy Organic Flour is a good option for your pastry, and the farmers market still has plenty of hardy greens and root vegetables. For a meaty filling, try simmering ground lamb with aromatics. Vegetarians in the crowd will appreciate this homemade take on a samosa, stuffed with curried potatoes and peas. And when dessert rolls around, nothing beats a warm apple pie tartlet.

Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher living in Center City. Find more of her food (all cooked in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at foodinjars.com.

Basic Hand Pie Dough

  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • ½ cup ice water

Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the cold butter cubes to the bowl, and pulse until the butter is incorporated into the flours and the largest bits are the size of peas.

Then, with the motor running, slowly stream water into the bowl. Stop once you’ve added 1/4 cup of water. Test the dough by squeezing it. If it sticks together, it’s done. You want it to just barely hold together.

Divide the dough in two and wrap in plastic wrap or waxed paper. Store in the refrigerator for at least an hour before using. Overnight is fine too. The dough can also be frozen for up to a month.

If you don’t have a food processor, combine the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl and whisk together. Grate very cold butter using a box grater. When it’s all grated, combine with the dry ingredients and work together using a pastry blender or your hands. Add water drop by drop until the dough comes together. Divide and store as recommended above.   

Ground Lamb Filling

Makes 12 pies

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • Medium yellow onion, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed or grated
  • 2 large carrots, minced
  • 3 ribs of celery, minced (include leafy portion)
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 batch Basic Hand Pie Dough
  • 1 egg, beaten

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Sauté onions, garlic, carrots and celery until browned. Add ground lamb, using the edge of a spatula to break the meat apart into even crumbles. Stir in tomato paste. Sprinkle flour evenly over the mixture and stir to combine. Add a splash of water to help create a bit of gravy. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble pies, roll dough out flat. Cut into 24 squares. Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of half the squares. Brush edges with the beaten egg and top with a second square of dough. Press edges to seal. Prick the tops with a fork to allow steam to escape, and brush with beaten egg. Space out on a parchment- or silicone-lined cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes until golden.

Spiced Apple Pie Filling

Makes 10 pies 

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 4 medium apples (choose crisp and tart varieties)
  •  cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • 1 batch Basic Hand Pie Dough
  • 1 egg, beaten

Peel and core apples. Cut them into quarters and each quarter into 4 to 5 pieces. Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add butter to the pan. Once butter melts, add apple slices and brown sugar, and stir to combine. Add flour, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Stir and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, until the apples are soft, but still hold their shape.

To assemble pies, roll dough out flat. Cut into 20 circles. Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of half the circles. Brush edges with the beaten egg and top with a second round of dough. Crimp edges firmly to seal. Prick the tops with a fork to allow steam to escape. Brush tops with beaten egg. Space out on a parchment or silicone-lined cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes until golden.

Curried Potato and Pie Filling

Makes 12 pies 

  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, minced
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed or grated
  • 2 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed (½-inch pieces)
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 sheets puff pastry
  • 1 beaten egg

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until browned. Sprinkle curry powder, cumin and paprika, and cook until the spices are fragrant. Add garlic, ginger and tomato paste, and stir to combine. Add chopped potatoes and top with 1 1/2 cups of water. Place a lid on the skillet and turn heat down to medium. Cook until potatoes are tender, stirring regularly to prevent burning. When potatoes are soft, add frozen peas and cook until they’re heated through.

To assemble pies, cut each sheet of puff pastry into four squares. Place a tablespoon full of filling near one corner of each square. Brush two sides with the beaten egg and fold pastry over to form a triangle. Press edges to seal. Brush top with beaten egg. Space out on a parchment or silicone-lined cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, until puffed and golden.