I'm in Chicago this week apartment hunting. We've got five days to find a live-able apartment in a safe neighborhood with the best kitchen a student's budget can buy. I'm praying for a gas range and natural light. No big deal.
On a more exciting note, I made hand pies! I love hand pies. They are cute, portable, and infinitely less fussy than regular pies. And these hand pies are no exception. They beg to be taken on a picnic somewhere sunny and cool and savored down to the last buttery bite. The flavors epitomize Spring meeting Summer with fresh juicy strawberries, bright green basil, and creamy mascarpone cheese. If you're unfamiliar with mascarpone it's like cream cheese's savory, more sophisticated Italian cousin. The three blend together beautifully in a flakey all-butter crust (my favorite part), providing a bite-sized, adult-version of the strawberry cream cheese pies you probably ate as a kid.
Did I mention they are also super fun to make? They have that charming hand-made, perfectly imperfect look with oozy strawberry juices coming out the sides and fork-crimped natural edges. It's been scientifically proven that it's impossible to be in a bad mood while making and eating hand pies. Don't believe me? Try it.
Strawberry, Basil + Mascarpone Hand Pies
adapted from Joy the Baker
Makes about 13 3.5-inch pies
For the crust:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk (see notes)
For the mascarpone filling:
8 oz mascarpone, softened slightly
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons agave (or sweetener of your choice)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the strawberries:
1 pound strawberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon agave (or sweetener of your choice)
6-8 medium basil leaves, thinly sliced (optional)
a pinch of salt
1 egg, for egg wash
turbinado sugar, for topping
Make the dough. Cube the butter into 1/2 inch chunks then pop it in the freezer for 5 minutes. Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the cold butter chunks, and using your hands integrate the butter into the flour until the butter chunks are roughly the size of peas - some larger some smaller. Form a "well" in the middle of the flour/butter mixture and pour in the buttermilk. Using a fork, mix the edges of the flour mixture into the buttermilk. Keep going until everything is wet and just combine. Keep those butter chunks intact. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough into two disks, wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to 2 days.
Prep the mascarpone mixture. With a rubber spatula combine all the ingredients until smooth.
Prep the strawberries. Dice the strawberries, discarding the stem and white insides. In a medium bowl toss the strawberries with lemon juice, zest, agave, basil leaves and salt.
Assemble the pies. In a small prep bowl whisk the egg. Working with 1 disc of dough at a time, on a floured work surface, roll out the pie crust until it's about 1/8 inch thick. Using a biscuit or pastry cutter, cut out circular disks (I used a 3.5 inch biscuit cutter).
Using a pastry brush, paint a 1-inch border around the edges of the disk with the egg wash. Scoop roughly 1 heaping tablespoon of the mascarpone mixture into the center of the disc followed by roughly the same amount of strawberry mixture. Lightly stretch a second disk then drape it over the strawberries and mascarpone. Using a fork, crimp the edges by pressing the top dough layer into the bottom. It's okay if the strawberry juices and mascarpone seep out the sides a little. Repeat with remaining pies.
Using a knife, cut small holes into the top of each pie for steam to release. Transfer prepared pies to a baking sheet lined with parchment. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and pop the pies in the fridge to cool as the oven heats. Just before putting the pies in the oven, brush the tops with the egg wash and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Cook for 20-22 minutes until golden brown.
Repeat with the second batch of dough. You can re-use the scraps, just pop them in the refrigerator for a couple minutes to harden up. You can also brush scraps with egg wash, top with sugar, and bake as pie crust "cookies".
- About the buttermilk. If you're like me and don't keep buttermilk around you can make your own by mixing 1/2 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon milk (of any kind, I actually used almond) then adding 1/2 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. Let sit for 5 minutes. It will curdle slightly. Then you're good to go.
- The basil is totally optional and you might want to omit it if you have, say, picky kids. But in my humble opinion the basil is what makes these pies. It gives them a bright almost peppery surprise that pairs so well with the fresh strawberries.
- About re-using dough scrapes - know that the more you work the dough the tougher it will become.