Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sundays with Sparky - Pie in the Sky for the Fourth of July

Remember when I said we had an obsession with all things hand-pie?  Well, this project, which honestly I'm posting from last year, was what ignited that passion into an obsession, and was the grandfather of our peaches-and-lavender-cream pie.  It's a terrific seasonal pie - both in theme and ingredients.

So, the Fourth was kind of a bust: it had been drizzly and rainy all day, Dad was on shift but not in the parade, and Sparky and I were stuck home like the two kids in the Cat in the Hat.  I figured the best way around "nothing to do, too wet to play" syndrome was to fire up the 'ol oven and show Sparky's baking chops to Grammy and Grandad who happened by almost as suddenly as a certain feline.  We planned on having a picnic at the beach during the fireworks, as we do every year, and I wanted a dessert that was somewhat patriotic, could hold up to travel, and be eaten with sandy fingers...and suddenly thought "hand pies!"

Fortunately for us, I'd hit the farmers' market that week, and we had a quart of sour cherries and a pint of blueberries, so I knew we were halfway there.  I set Sparky to pitting the cherries with a very specialized tool:  an unbent paper clip (that I now find is not a cool Alton Brown trick, but a Martha Stewart one)  An eight-year-old and his Mom can pit a quart of cherries with this very specialized piece of equipment (insert, twist, pull) in just under half an hour.  Some of the cherries are lovely and whole, and some of them got squished, but in pie, as in life, nothing is perfect, but instead is sweet and sour and sticky all at once.

We then made the pastry recipe that I would marry if I could.  Yes.  I love this pastry recipe and plan to use it until all the butter in the universe runs out, thank you Smitten Kitchen.  At the time, I didn't know that I loved it when I started, but I thought I'd challenge Sparky's math skills and doubled it - and doubling, perhaps tripling will be SOP for this recipe from now on.  So the recipe went something like this:

"What's two times 2 1/2 cups of flour?"  "Um, four?  Um, three?  Um..."  "Well, what's two times two?"  "Four!"  "And what's two halves?"  "One! Oh, Five!"  And then the child measured out five cups of flour into the bowl without being asked, carefully scraping the top of the measure with a knife three or four times so that not one iota more than five cups went in.

"Two times 1/2 teaspoon of salt?"  (eye roll) "One teaspoon, Mom."  in it went.

"Two times sixteen tablespoons of butter?"  (mumbled to the tune of "inchworm") "Two and two are four, four and four are eight, eight and eight are sixteen, sixteen and sixteen are THIRTY-TWO!"  "And if that's two sticks of butter, how many sticks do we need"

(Pause. BIG eye roll, since I just made him do twice the math for no reason) "Four, Mom!"

"And twice 1/2 cup of sour cream?"  "One cup!"

"Four teaspoons of lemon juice?"  "Eight!" "And if there's three teaspoons in a tablespoon?" (groan)  ", two, three - that's one; four, five, six, that's two, seven, eight...there's not enough for another one?"  "Right, so two tablespoons and two teaspoons, right?"


"Last is 1/2 cup of ice that's 1 cup, right?"

So I set Sparky to grating the four sticks of butter in the food processor, which he did with minimal help from me, and then he dumped them into the carefully measured dry ingredients and stirred them around with a spatula until the lumps of butter were evenly distributed.  I then mixed all the wet ingredients and Sparky folded them in slowly until we had a slightly sticky dough - we wound up using all the wet, but YMMV.  Then we stuck the dough in the fridge while we worked on the filling, based on this recipe.  Sparky's head was about to explode from all the thinking, so I mixed it up on my own:

1 (8 oz) pkg cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 egg
2 tablespoons sugar
1 pint fresh blueberries
1/2 quart pitted cherries in about 1/3 cup of sugar)
1 tbsp flour
1 egg for egg wash

So, the first 4 ingredients went into the mixer and got whipped into a liquid.  You may want to freeze this until scoopable to make it easier to manage (this isn't what is pictured - we've since learned to put the three things into the pies separately so you get a nice red-white-blue thing going, and it's also easier to use a solid filling if you don't have turnover molds: our first set of pies were turnovers that leaked everywhere.)  Note: chilling this dough is vital to the success of the recipe - put your scraps in the freezer before you roll them out again.

So we rolled out the dough 1/8" thick, cut it slightly larger than the mold, and put the resulting circle of dough on top of the mold.  The edges were painted with a mixture of flour and water, and then we added just enough filling to fill the well.  (This took quite a bit of practice, and we've learned a lot since I first wrote this -  if you go back to the peach pie post, you'll see that a firm, separate filling is much easier)

Make sure you close the mold firmly (you may want to re-crimp the edges even more firmly with a fork, or the filling will leak - this is inevitable to some degree, but you want to keep it inside as much as possible) and then, with your remaining egg beaten with a bit of water, egg wash the outside and sprinkle with sugar (I didn't have sanding sugar, regular worked just fine)  Poke a few vent holes in the top. Place on a parchment-covered baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

The resultant golden-brown pie will have puffed so much that your crimp will be almost invisible. If you're lucky, you will have a red, white and purpley-blue filling, depending on how stained your cream cheese mixture became.  Another lucky find: you can prep these hand-pies right up to the point they go in the oven, and then freeze them on a baking sheet and toss them in a ziploc, to be baked at your leisure at 450 for about 15 minutes.  Enjoy!


Did I mention I would marry this pastry dough if I could?

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