I like cake, but that is no revelation. Everyone likes cake. It’s like puppies. Everyone likes puppies. If you don’t, there is probably something wrong with you and you should stop reading this blog and seek help.
Alright, that might sound a bit extreme. If you really want to know the truth, I’ll take a slice of pie over a slice of the most decadent chocolate cake any day of the week. I mean that. Pie is divine. What other dessert, apart from a beloved crisp, always delights in showcasing something seasonal and fresh? I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find one. While folks do some wild and fun stuff with ice cream these days, that just won’t cut it. If you have to use a spoon, what’s the point?
Pie is on my mind a lot these days. I suppose it’s because it’s spring now and I know the growing season is just beginning. There is always something new to put in a pie. Really, it’s so forgiving. With the right dough, you can’t go wrong. This week, I came home to my meager garden only to discover a vibrant rhubarb plant growing there amongst a pile of soppy leaves and countless ignored projects and plants. Oh, rhubarb, you are always the earliest to arrive and the last one to leave. I have to thank you for that.
I took it as a sign. I had to make pie. After all, Maeve needs to understand what is so wonderful about the spring. Although she loves mud and puddles, there is more to it than that. So I cast aside her sugar restrictions for an afternoon so she could experience the first fruits of spring. And, as you can see, the apple does not fall far from the tree. I’m not sure she ever ate with such vigor. It was fun to watch, but I only gave her half a pie. She is a tiny little thing, after all. Or maybe I needed more pie for myself? I can’t recall. Either way, the hand pies were a hit. They’re a far cry from those awful hand pies they sold during middle school lunches. You know the ones, right? They were in waxy white packages with colorful writing? They always seemed tempting until you bit into one and discovered it tasted like soap. I would know too. My mother washed my mouth out with soap on more than one occasion. It was disgusting and not unlike those middle school pies.
This pie is lovely. It’s a bit tart because of the rhubarb and the lemon juice, but that’s what I like about it. The pear and sugar really mellow out the punch and give it a nice and not-so-sweet flavor. The dough is a perfect consistency too. With a bit of buttermilk to add a slight tang and keep it together, it’s not too crumbly, but not soggy either. Plus, the pie is easy to eat too and fits so perfectly into the palm of your hand. I’m not sure why it took me so long to make a hand pie, but I’m looking forward to many many more. We enjoyed ours on Sunday afternoon with hot coffee. There’s not much better than that, I think. Cake simply cannot compete.
Rhubarb and Pear Hand Pies
For the pastry:
3 cups all purpose flour + more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar +more for dusting
1 large egg
3 ounces cream cheese (at room temperature)
2 tablespoons low-fat buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg white, lightly beaten
For the filling:
4 cups washed and thinly sliced rhubarb
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 medium pears, washed, peeled, and roughly chopped
2 teaspoons corn starch
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. With an electric mixture on high speed, beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add egg, and beat until just combined. Add cream cheese, buttermilk, and vanilla. Beat until well combined. Add reserved flour mixture, and beat until smooth. Form dough into a ball, and cover with plastic wrap. Flatten dough into a disk, and refrigerate 1 hour or overnight. Or, freeze it for up to 1 month (thaw in refrigerator before using).
Add the rhubarb, sugar, lemon juice, and pears to a non-reactive heavy pot and heat over medium heat until soft, about 15 minutes. You can use a potato masher to mash up the bits of fruit into smaller pieces as it cooks. Add the cornstarch and boil for about 1 minute until it dissolves into the mixture and thickens. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Let it stand at room temperature until pliable, 2-3 minutes. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into 4 and1/2 inch or 5 inch rounds using a cookie cutter or round bowl (overturned). Transfer the rounds to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Spoon 1 tablespoon filling tinto the center of each round and brush the edges with water. Fold round in half. Using a fork, press down on the edges to seal. Repeat with remaining rounds. (Note: if you are using a slightly bigger round, you can spoon up to 2 spoonfuls of the mixture into each round)
Lightly brush the egg white over the pie tops and sprinkle them with the remaining sugar. Bake until golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Transfer pies to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
NOTE: You can use whatever you like to fill these gorgeous little hand pies. Jam is wonderful as are preserves and lemon curd.
Source: The pie crust recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart.