Friday, March 15, 2013


Hand pies, hand pies! I feel like every hand pie recipe I’ve tried (this is my third) has been slightly troublesome in some way, yet I still love them. Because how could one not like filling enveloped in a flaky, buttery crust? In this case, the real “trouble” was only that I had way too much filling to fit inside the amount of puff pastry called for, necessitating the purchase of another box of pastry dough and the assembly of another four pies a few days after the initial eight. Maybe I was supposed to have filled them fuller, although I really don’'t see how I could be expected to cram more in there or stretch the dough any thinner. Since the unbaked pies keep very well in the freezer, ready to be whipped out and baked up for easy future weeknight dinners, this was actually a boon—except for the legitimate obstacle of finding good puff pastry dough. Most ordinary grocery stores only carry the Pepperidge Farm stuff, which I’ve used in a pinch but it has a scarily long list of ingredients, including partially hydrogenated oil and high-fructose corn syrup. Trader Joe’s has a great, reasonably priced all-butter puff pastry dough, but it turns out it’s considered a “seasonal” item and isn’t available year-round. After trying my luck at no less than three separate Trader Joe’s locations and coming up empty, I desperately turned to a gourmet grocery store in my neighborhood and bought a box of good-quality all-butter puff pastry for an embarrassingly high price ($10!). Then when I discovered I’d need even more pastry, I tried Whole Foods, where I found…that same brand of good-quality all-butter puff pastry, for the same exorbitant price. Reader, I paid it. Even having spent an atrocious $15 on puff pastry, the rest of the ingredients came so cheaply and I made so many pies that I figure they still averaged out to only a few dollars per serving. I’m sure DIY is the way to go here, but I just don’t foresee myself learning how to make pastry in the near future, so next time I see puff pastry in stock at Trader Joe’s, I’m filling up my freezer. But really, with all that butter, puff pastry is only a “sometimes food” anyway (as Cookie Monster would say), so its scarcity won’t ruin my life.

Beyond all these travails, the filling itself was really easy to make (except I really loathe defrosting and squeezing out frozen spinach; it gets everywhere) and delicious, reminiscent of spanakopita. Spinach + feta + lemon is a match made in heaven. I was first inspired to make these by a post on Budget Bytes that showed a similar filling baked into a single pie, also a nice idea (and it uses just one sheet of puff pastry, which is both cheaper and healthier) but I do love a hand pie, so some Internet searching turned up this even better version (because it uses feta too) at Small Time Cooks. (The original recipe is from Everyday Food, but for some reason it doesn’t show up on a search of the Martha Stewart site.) I love that the recipe included freezing directions, since puff pastry is best freshly baked; I’ll employ that technique with all other hand pies from now on.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
40 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 cups crumbled feta
Juice from 1 large lemon (2–4 tablespoons)
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Coarse salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 large egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons water, for egg wash
All-purpose flour, for work surface
1 to 1½ boxes frozen puff pastry, thawed but still cold (where each box is about 16 to 17 ounces and contains two sheets of pastry; start with two sheets, or one box, and use the third if you still have leftover filling)
  1. In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium heat; add onions and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl; mix in spinach, feta, lemon juice, and cayenne. Season filling with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, with racks in the upper and lower thirds.
  3. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each of two sheets of dough into a 12-inch square; cut each square into quarters to make 8 smaller squares. Dividing evenly, spoon filling onto the center of each of the 8 squares. Lightly brush two adjoining edges of each square with some egg wash. Fold these edges over filling to form a triangle; press firmly to seal (dough should be tightly pressed around filling). With a floured fork, crimp edges.
  4. If you still have filling left over, repeat step 3 with the remaining sheet of dough to make 12 pies.
  5. Transfer pies to two baking sheets (lined with parchment if desired); brush tops with remaining egg wash. Bake until golden and puffed, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through.
Serves: Supposedly 8, with one pie apiece, but for me, this made 12 pies, and I sometimes ate 1.5 pies per serving, so 6-12
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Good; already-baked puff pastry isn’t as good the next day (it tends to get kind of greasy, although it still tastes just fine). But it’s easy to freeze the raw pies and bake them later. Just place the unbaked pies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and put them in the freezer for an hour or so; once they’re frozen, package them up (I just placed them in a Tupperware box with waxed paper between the layers, but you can also wrap them individually in plastic wrap and put them in a resealable plastic bag) and you can store them in the freezer for up to 2 months. To bake from frozen, just unwrap them and follow the directions in step 5, adding 5 to 10 minutes to the baking time if needed.

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