Spinach Lamb Hand pies- Comforting Food

Ready to eat lamb hand pie.

I have weathered Sandy here in NYC without a single scratch- except for the emotional impact that I have for my fellow citizens. There is a very familiar similarity in my state this week compared to post 9/11. The same sadness, weariness and struggle to wrap my brain around so much devastation. I expected plenty of wreckage- but I am just so overwhelmed by the total losses. I’ve stopped watching the news updates and have turned instead towards putting my energy towards sending good thoughts and positive energy for our wounded city.

As the recovery unfolds I will no doubt find some way to help. I have a bag of clothes to donate sitting by the door, and I can certainly cook. There will be plenty of opportunity and I will be ready for it.

Ready to be folded

The mayor is presently on the TV saying that they need money, not food- or at least not right now. We’ll see about that as time goes on. NYer’s are a gathering of some of the most resilient folks around- but the future is long and the recovery is great.

So my pretty little lamb hand pies- what jewels to behold in the midst of this. I had made a fairly large roast the other day and ate all I could for a day or two. I live in a Hispanic neighborhood and in the freezer section of the markets are several brands of pre-made empanada dough. The one I found here is low in saturated fat and quite delicious. I usually make my own dough- the recipe for which you can find HERE– but this was a great alternative, and I’m not ashamed to say that for something simple like this, it was well worth it.

I quickly made up about 20 of them in no time flat. Some I have stashed in the freezer, the others I handed out to neighbors and friends. I had one the other day as a quick snack while studying. I only had to warm it up and I was good to go. Years ago I used to eat Cornish Pasties when I was a photo intern at the Catskill Center for Photography in Woodstock, NY. They are a delight. Comforting and wholesome- real stick to your ribs sort of food.

My heart goes out to any of my readers that have been negatively touched by Sandy.  Know that I am thinking of you.

Spinach and Mushroom Lamb Hand Pie
makes 20
You can make them and freeze them unbaked, or as I did, bake them off first. I like the latter for quick snacking or a rushed meal- both work equally well.
8-10 oz pre-cooked lamb- leftovers are fantastic, cut into small cubes
8 handfuls of fresh spinach, or one frozen package squeezed dry
1# white mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
.5 yellow onion, diced
2T fresh minced Rosemary
2 packages of pre-made empanada dough, thawed or homemade
egg wash for sealing and finishing (1 egg + 3T water)
In a large frying pan, sautee the garlic and onion over medium heat until onions become slightly translucent. 
Add the mushrooms and sautee 2-3 minutes until they release their juice.
Add the spinach and sautee until fresh spinach is wilted or the frozen is well heated through
Add the rosemary and S&P to taste.
Allow the mixture to cool as you prepare the dough. Allow the frozen dough to thaw but not fully room temperature- keep cool.
Fill each wrapper on one half side of the circle. I like to be generous with mine. I know it may seem that you won’t get them closed shut, but they will, promise.
Fold over the dough and paint edge with egg wash (or plain water if you prefer). Then pinch and crimp the edge together to seal tightly. 
Paint finished hand pies with egg wash and place on a lined baking tray.
Preheat oven to 375˚ and back until golden brown. The insides are pre-cooked, so they are done as soon as they look tempting.
Be patient and allow them to cook a few minutes before eating. The filling can get mighty hot.

Mapled Apple Hand Pies In a Brown Butter and Smoked Almond Crust

My version of Abby Dodge’s Apple Hand Tart
I am a fool for hand pies. I love them. I can make them all day. And who doesn’t like to eat a gem of a hand pie? I know I just posted an apple tart recently, but I made these pies today in honor of my new friend Abby Dodge, who has just come out with another outstanding book, this one called, Mini Treats and Handmade Sweets ~100 Delicious Desserts to Pick Up and Eat! Please read all about it here.
Abby is an incredible baker and an even more incredible person. I met her earlier this year at the NYC Cookbook Conference. She has an amazing grace and calm about her that I found mesmerizing. I am also terrifically jealous of her gorgeous gray hair- but that’s another subject. Abby has produced a long list of fantastic baking books, and each one should be on your shelf.
So here I am making pretty baked things to support my friend’s new book. So now you can forgive two apple treats in one week, yes?
Her recipe is titled: Brown Butter Apple Hand Tarts. The dough is made by first melting and browning the butter, and recipe uses eggs too. I’ve never made this type of crust before so I was intrigued. You can read about my other handpie dough recipes here, and you can see that I love to experiment.
For my version of her recipe, I added in a generous heap of finely chopped smoked almonds. This gives the crust an even earthier tone and a fantastic crunchy texture. The apples I kept pretty close to the recipe, though I split her 4 Tablespoons of honey into 2T of honey and 2T of maple syrup.
So there you have it.  Gorgeous afternoon delightfulness.
You can get the recipe here, and to recreate my version you would make the following changes:
For the crust:
2.5 c all purpose flour + 1c finely chopped smoked almonds, salted
omit salt in recipe
For the filling:
2T honey + 2T maple syrup
Happy Baking All!


Testing Pie Crusts: Is ICE COLD necessary?

The fine art of making pastry doughs has always been a bit of a mystery to me. Sure, I’ve baked countless cakes (thousands), but pastry is a whole ‘nother thang. What also has always alluded me was how something so basic can turn out so differently so easily. Flour, butter, salt and water? a snap right?
I once watched an episode of Martha Stewart Living years ago. She spoke in religious tones about how her Polish Mother kept everything ice cold which was sure to be the path to righteous flaky crust. However, I did all that- chilled the flour, kept the water in ice cubed suspension and worked so fast it raised my adrenaline levels through the roof. It was a “good thing” and I was leaving no holds barred.
The result was ok, but not ethereal. So what’s up with that?
As is often the case in my life, I got a little buggy about figuring this all out. I decided to go on a quest and pulled out and up several different recipes and methods for making pie/tart dough.
What was fascinating to me was the depth and breadth of the different recipes. I am sure some degreed Pastry Master can explain the different qualities and uses for the different types. Sure, sweetened for one thing, more rustic for another, delicateness for one, durability for another, but in the end… for me… let’s just get one our two down and then work out specific uses. There was something in the method, I would sort out the madness later.
So after some perusal I came up with two different types/styles to try. One was classic cold cold cold from Tartine. The second used softened butter and milk- something I had never heard of before- out of Sarabeth’s new cookbook.
Both used the basic same ingredients- with the milk as an exception. But no cream cheese, or other fats, and no mixture of flours or eggs. Tartine actually gave weights as well as standard measurements. I opted to weigh everything to be scientific about it. Also, to better incorporate the butter I grated the cold butter onto a plate and then onto a scale. This just makes the first stage of cutting the butter into the flour faster and some say better.
Tartine: Flaky Tart Dough
1tsp salt
2/3 c water, very cold
3c +2T ap flour
1c + 5T sweet butter, very cold
Combine dry ingredients in a food processor. Add the butter and process until pea sized crumbs evolve. Dribble in the water until the mass comes together and forms a ball.
Remove from bowl and knead a few times. Then shape into 2 discs for a double crust, one one for a large tart. Wrap in plastic and chill 2 hrs or overnight
(please refer to the cookbook for more extensive and detailed directions)

Sarabeth’s Tender Pie Dough
She attributes this recipe to Wendy and Michael London of Mrs. London’s Bakery and Cafe in Saratoga Springs. She states: “not especially flaky”
1 3/4 sticks butter, (14 T), cool room temp, in pieces
1/3 c whole milk- she makes no specifications but cold milk just seizes up the butter, so I used cool milk- meaning slightly colder than room temp.
2.5 c AP flour
4t superfine sugar (I omitted)
1/4 salt
Beat the butter in a stand mixer with paddle attachment. Dribble in milk and beat to a butter cream consistency.
Add flour gradually and mix until it comes together. Turn out of the bowl and knead a few turns until smooth. Wrap in plastic and chill 30 mins to 1 hr.
(please refer to cookbook for more extensive and detailed directions)
And here are the results. First off, I made handpies just for fun and to facilitate tasting. I filled them with this and that which was in my fridge. OK, if you must know: the round pies had sauteed spinach and potatoes with thyme, ricotta and chicken. The half moon pies had ricotta, goat cheese and prosciutto.
I glazed them with an egg yolk/milk mixture and in the photo above I sprinkled some grated Parmesan on top.
The Tartine dough was indeed flakier, and made a delightful crispy crunchy sound when you bit into it. However, the Sarabeth’s version was not far off. I really though it would be a dense, tough crust, not really- not so much.
So why is that? Here is what I truly think: and before I say so I will put out the caveat that I am no expert on this- so please feel free to pipe up and add any insight if you can.
I think the real finesse is in the bringing together of the dough. Yes, you don’t want to overhandle the dough, BUT, you do need to assure thorough incorporation. I think the real devil is the gluten in the flour, which you need to work some up, but not too much. You can give it an inch, but not a mile.
For me this is similar to biscuit/scone making. I was always SO terrified to over work the dough that I under did it. I found when I kneaded just a stroke or two more, it resulted in a beautiful, flaky and tender treat.
And this is a feel thing. To explain: the dough at first is in disarray, trying to pull together is fragments and find consistency. Once managed, it then starts to pull back, it resists. You can feel a slight spring or tightness in the dough. That’s the point that works (for me).
I would love to hear others’ insights.