I have a set of dough presses that had been languishing at the back of a kitchen drawer for years. I had all but forgotten about them.
But then my vegetarian friends Nick and Katrina Sibicky invited me over for hand pies.
A recipe from America’s Test Kitchen’s “The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook,” these poblano and corn hand pies — or empanadas — are the TV cooking show’s take on the Latin American staple. These veggie pies are hearty and savory with a mildly spicy filling of poblano peppers, pinto beans and pepper jack cheese.
With one bite, I was inspired to go hunting for that dough-press set. I’d be making these cumin-spiced pies.
I mention my dough-press set because they are great for making hand pies, tarts, empanadas, calzones, turnovers — or whatever you like to call your hand-held pies. My set of four measure 3, 4, 5 and 6 inches in diameter. Each one has a dough cutter on the back so that your pastry perfectly fits the press. They also have a decorative edge design that crimps the dough as it seals in the filling.
My empanadas are half-moon shaped, but you can also make hand pies into rounds, squares or triangles. Roll out your dough and cut or fold it into the shape you want. (Easily cut shapes with a pizza or cookie cutter.) If making squares or rounds, spoon filling onto one pastry, leaving a clear edge, and cover it with another. If making triangle- or moon-shaped pies, gently fold the pastry over itself.
If you don’t have a dough press, seal the pies by crimping the edges with your fingers or a fork. Dip the press and the fork in flour from time to time to prevent sticking. See the recipe for detailed instructions.
While America’s Test Kitchen provides a dough recipe, I took a page from Katrina Sibicky’s book and made my hand pies with store-bought dough. (We prefer Pilsbury refrigerated pie crusts, which are packed two to a box.) For even flakier and crispier hand pies, swap in frozen puff pastry. Hey, we should all be allowed some kitchen shortcuts. I promise it’s not a sign of laziness: These empanadas take more time because you’re making 16 tiny pies instead of just one big one.
Note: Let your filling cool before adding it to your dough. Warm dough is harder to work with. If your dough becomes too soft, put it back in the refrigerator for a few minutes.
Brush your hand pies with vegetable oil or an egg wash to help them get that golden brown color. Make an egg wash by whisking together 1 egg and 1 teaspoon water in a small bowl. Brush the dough rounds’ edges with egg wash or oil before you fold the pastry over to form the pies. Then brush the leftover egg wash or oil over the tops of the pies. Sadly, I neglected this step, and paid the price with slightly less than picture-perfect pies.
I found more than a few hand-pie fans at The Daily Herald when I brought in a plate of poblano and corn hand pies to the lunchroom. One such fan is Mark Carlson, who manages The Herald’s page designers.
“I’ve been a sucker for hand pies since I was a kid,” Mark said. “Whenever I had a quarter rattling around in my pocket, I’d run to the neighborhood store for a Hostess lemon pie. These days, I’m much more partial to savory pies like these. There’s something about that neat pastry parcel filled with well-seasoned minced meat or vegetables.”
Now that I have a go-to vegetable hand-pie recipe, I’m on the lookout for a good one made with ground beef or pork.
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @sarabruestle.
Poblano and corn hand pies
Here’s the (mostly) original America’s Test Kitchen recipe, which includes instructions for homemade pastry. For my hand pies, I used store-bought pie crusts. You also can use store-bought puff pastry for a flakier hand pie. I upped the cumin from 1½ to 2 teaspoons — some Herald taste-testers wanted even more, and I agree.
For the filling:
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, 3 tablespoons liquid reserved, beans rinsed
1½ cups frozen corn, thawed
6 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded (1½ cups)
3 scallions, white parts minced, green parts sliced thin
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 poblano chiles, stemmed, seeded and cut into ¼-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano or ½ teaspoon dried
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1½ teaspoons ground coriander
Salt and pepper
For the dough:
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
8 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into ½ pieces
1 cup vegetable broth
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
Make the filling: Place ¼ of the beans in large bowl, add the bean liquid, and, using the back of a spoon, mash the beans until coarsely mashed. Stir in the remaining beans, followed by the corn, cheese and scallion greens.
Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the poblanos and scallion whites, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, oregano, cumin, coriander, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Transfer poblano mixture to the bowl with beans and stir well to combine. Refrigerate until completely cool, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (The filling can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
Make the dough: Meanwhile, mix the flour, salt and baking powder in food processor until combined, about 3 seconds. Add shortening and pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal, 6 to 8 pulses. Add the broth and eggs and pulse until the dough just comes together, about 5 pulses. (If you don’t have a food processor, a mixer will do.)
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured counter and knead until the dough forms a smooth ball, about 20 seconds. Divide dough into 16 equal pieces. With cupped hands, form each piece into a smooth, tight ball. (The dough can be covered in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)
Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions, place 1 baking sheet on each rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees. Working with one dough ball at a time, roll into a 6-inch circle on a lightly floured counter. (Lightly flour your rolling pin, too, so that it doesn’t stick to the pastry.) Place a heaping ¼ cup of cooled filling in the center of the dough round. Brush edges of dough with water or egg wash and fold dough over filling. Press to seal, trim any ragged edges, and crimp edges with a fork. Prick the top of each hand pie with the fork.
Drizzle 2 tablespoons oil onto each hot sheet, then return to the oven for 2 minutes. Gently brush tops of filled pies with remaining 1 tablespoon oil or egg wash. Carefully place 8 pies on each prepared sheet and cook until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Transfer hand pies to wire rack and let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
Makes 16 pies or 6 to 8 servings. Serve these hand pies with Mexican crema for dipping. See the recipe below.
Make ahead: Hand pies can be frozen for up to 1 month. Transfer baked and cooled pies to zip-close freezer bags, press out air and seal. To serve, do not thaw before reheating. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Place pies on baking sheet and bake until heated through, 20 to 30 minutes.
Makes about ½ cup. You can substitute plain yogurt for the sour cream in this recipe.
¼ cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons sour cream
¼ teaspoon finely grated lime zest plus 1 teaspoon juice
1 teaspoon minced fresh cilantro
½ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Serve chilled.