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Sour Cherry Hand Pies, and the Perfect Pie Crust

I hope by now you’ve become as hooked on sour cherries as I am. I’ve been preaching some gospel about the fleeting summer fruit, pushing you all to make this sour cherry compote (and some of you have made it! and liked it! phew.). But this here, this is a recipe you absolutely need right this very moment, before sour cherries exit stage left for another year.

Reader, make some sour cherry hand pies. Not just any hand pies, but these – for these may be the most perfect hand pies I’ve ever made or eaten. And while I know in light of my raving about the whole sour cherry-ness of these pies what I’m about to say will seem strange, it all starts with the crust. That’s right: after years of making pie, using my old-faithful all-butter pie recipe (which I think I originally got from the lovely Deb), I’m changing my tune on the perfect crust.

Don’t worry, we’re not talking about radical departures here. Just small tweaks that make a big difference.

1. A food processor and a pastry blender produce equally good crust, but the method matters. I tend to choose between processor and pastry blender based on my mood. Lazy me chooses the processor. If I’ve had a sh***y day and need to get out some aggression, the pastry blender is great. Here’s the catch: when cutting the butter into the flour, if you’re using a pastry blender, go for pea-sized pieces of butter, since you’ll be folding the liquid into the dough rather than blending it. If you’re using a food processor, follow Melissa Clark’s great advice and go for lima bean-sized pieces. That way, you’ve got some wiggle room so that when you add the liquid and pulse again, you can pulse until the liquid is incorporated without worrying that the butter pieces will become too small.

2. Pie crusts should taste good on their own. Never is this more important than when making hand pies, where the ratio of filling to crust is much smaller than in regular pie. When you get a bite that’s mostly crust, it should taste delicious. I’ve find most pie crust recipes woefully under-seasoned. I’ve settled on 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of sugar in the dough for a single-crust pie, but feel free to experiment yourself.

3. For the best results, chill everything. We’re talking the bowl, the pastry blender, the flour, the butter (after cutting it into chunks), the ice water…everything. Freezing your whole workstation will inhibit the formation of gluten, which will prevent your dough from turning chewy.

That’s the newest from the pie dough frontier. I tell you, these hand pies I made last week, their crust was flaky and crunchy, with big shards breaking off at each bite. It doesn’t get better than this.

Today’s Saturday. If you’ve got the time, head to the market, grab one last batch of sour cherries, and make yourself some hand pies. You can freeze them between layers of wax paper, and they’ll last for weeks. As you dole them out to family and friends, you’ll slow down and enjoy a summer that seems to be flying by.

Sour Cherry Hand Pies
adapted from Karen DeMasco and Martha Stewart’s crust and cherry pie recipes

Crust recipe makes 1 single-crust pie, or 25 hand pies

For the crust:

1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and rechilled
1/4 cup ice water

For the filling:
1 1/2 pounds fresh sour cherries, pitted
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 egg (for eggwash)
sanding sugar

If using a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar in the processor bowl and pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse several times until butter is in pieces the size of lima beans.

Add half the water and pulse several times. Add the remaining water and pulse again, stopping when mixture forms clumps that bind together. If mixture is still too dry, add more ice water a tablespoon at a time, until dough holds together.

Turn dough onto a floured work surface and bring it together by hand. Divide dough in half, wrap each half in plastic, and refrigerate at least 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling: heat the 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat until foam subsides, then add cherries with any juices and the sugar and lemon juice and simmer, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. (Cherries will exude juices.) Transfer a few spoonfuls of the cherry liquid into a small bowl, and add cornstarch, whisking to form a paste. Continue to simmer the cherry mixture until cherries are tender but not falling apart, about 8 minutes. Then stir cornstarch mixture into simmering filling and boil, stirring frequently, 2 minutes. Transfer filling to a bowl and put in fridge.

Preheat oven to 375°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat.

While cherries are cooling, remove one piece of dough from fridge and roll out on floured work surface to  1/8-inch thickness. Use a 4-inch biscuit cutter to cut disks of dough, and transfer disks to one of the baking sheets. When the dough has been cut into disks and one baking sheet is full, gather the dough scraps into a ball, re-wrap in plastic, and return to the fridge. Spoon about 2 teaspoons (depending on size of biscuit cutter) of filling into the center of each disk. Fold each disk over itself to make a half-moon that fully encapsulates the filling, then use the edge of a fork to crimp around the edges of each pie. Transfer baking sheet to the freezer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, repeat with second half of the dough. Gather the scraps from the second piece, combine with the first scraps, and roll out one last time, repeating steps above. Transfer second filled baking sheet to freezer.

Remove baking sheets from the freezer, and brush pies with egg, then sprinkle with sanding sugar. (Regular or demerara sugar will work just fine.) Use a paring knife to make three diagonal vents in the top of each pie. Transfer to the oven and bake 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool 10 minutes; serve warm or at room temperature. Hand pies can be frozen in an airtight container between layers of wax paper for upto 1 month.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • heather jane July 9, 2011,

    Well…that was timely. I just pitted myself some 8 cups of sour cherries from my very own cherry tree and thought I’d make some sour cherry hand pies. Normally I’d make a whole pie, but my family never manages to get through a whole one in a timely manner. Lord knows I don’t need to eat extra just to make it happen.
    I think hand pies are the answer.
    Now to decide whether to freeze some to bake later or bake them all off now and give the extras away.
    Decisions, decisions.

  • Maureen July 10, 2011,

    Wow, these hand pies look so good! What lovely crust. I read the science of pie this week and I’m dying to make pies. Just to find the time.

    I’ve never made hand pies before but I just have to try these.

  • Christine Rudalevige July 10, 2011,

    Some of the 16 quarts of cherries we are pitting now will be destined for these!!!

  • Katie July 10, 2011,

    That chill everything advice is so smart. I just need to learn to plan ahead a little better so I can chill everything in advance. These hand pies look so tasty.

  • T July 11, 2011,

    Here in Budapest, the sour cherries are flooding the city- overflowing at every veggie stand, falling off the trees, and floating in soups and cocktails… I’m in love! Next up is surely a pie. These look gorgeous!

    • rivka July 11, 2011,

      T – what a great problem to have! Make some hand pies for the rest of us. 🙂

  • Meagan July 11, 2011,

    Wow, these look so amazing! I cannot wait to try out this recipe! I’ve been wanting to make some hand pies and have been debating which recipe to try over the last two weeks….this one wins! Thanks for sharing.

    • rivka July 11, 2011,

      Hope you like them as much as we do!

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