Next weekend my family is coming over, so I've spent the day in the kitchen making as many food items as I can in advance, including a butternut squash lasagna, chocolate chip pancakes, and HANDPIES. I found a recipe for them in Martha Stewart Halloween, a special magazine featuring a freakish, white-irised Martha on the cover as "The Ghostly Equestrienne."
It is filled with over-the-top Halloween ideas and recipes, many of which seem completely impossible. You'd have to have spent hundreds of dollars and the entire summer creating her various crafts and decorations to pull of a Martha-magnitude Halloween celebration.
But. The little handpies seemed right down my alley. Filled with sausage, apples, and onions, encased in a snooty French butter pastry that one would have to slave over, and delightfully *freezable*, the pies were irresistible to me already. But the idea that a person could frolic around in the crisp autumn air, jumping in mountains of leaves and collecting acorns, PIE IN HAND...I found myself imagining this image again and again. "I can't stop thinking about handpies!" I exclaimed last night apropos of nothing as Jeff and I drove home from the Virginia Theater.
(Sidebar: We were there for "An Evening with David Sedaris." He read new material for about 90 minutes and was charming and hilarious. "How much were those tickets?" I asked Jeff, figuring, oh, twenty dollars tops. They were in fact $55 each, i.e. about as much as we paid to see U2 last month! Sedaris' extravagant stage setup included a lectern, a stool, a bottle of water, a microphone, and one spotlight. No gigantic claws, cylindrical mega-screens, or rotating bridges to be found...the guy just stood there and read stuff...and yet we were tremendously entertained!)
So back to the handpies. They took hours. The filling was easy, but the pastry was a struggle--lots of trips to and from the refrigerator to keep that dough cold. It ate up all of my parchment paper. AND it didn't make anywhere near the number of handpies Martha promised (she said 24; I got 14, and I was rolling that dough as thinly as I possibly could!). I baked two test pies, or as Jeff called them, Beta Pies ("It also sounds like a sorority, Beta Pi!"). Once I tasted mine, which I was in fact successfully holding in my hand, all was forgiven. These hand pies are incredible. You've got to make them! Or even better, have some drone in your Omnimedia Halloween Sector 7G make them for you!
(My notes are in italics.)
For the "pate brisee", which is what M. calls the pastry:
- 5 C flour
- 2 t salt
- 2 t sugar
- 1 lb (!!! 4 sticks !!!) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
- 3/4 to 1 C ice water
Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor. Add butter and pulse just until pea-size chunks remain. With machine running, add the water through the feed tube and process just until dough starts to come together. Transfer mixture to a work surface and bring together to form a dough. Divide dough into thirds. Flatten each piece into a disk, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour (or up to overnight).
OK, I did all of this by hand and it took forever to hack all of that butter into peas. You should use the processor unless you have way too much time on your hands for this kind of stuff.
For the filling:
- 1 lb bulk sweet Italian sausage
- 1 large onion, diced (1 1/2 cups)
- 1 t minced fresh thyme leaves
- 1/4 t pepper
- 1 T vegetable oil, if needed
- 1 T plus 1 t flour <-- I know, I KNOW...
- 3/4 C chicken stock
- 1 medium Granny Smith apple, peeled and cut into 1/2" dice
- also: 1 large egg, lightly beaten
In a large pan over medium heat, cook sausage, breaking it up with a spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a plate. Reduce heat to medium, add onion, thyme, and pepper (if pan is dry, add the oil). If you are truly using sausage, how could that pan possibly be dry, Martha?
Add flour to pan and cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Stir in stock and cook, stirring, until thick, about 1 minute. Stir in apples and reserved sausage. Remove from heat; let mixture cool. (Filling can be refrigerated up to overnight in an airtight container.)
On a lightly floured surface, roll out one disk of dough into a 14 by 16" rectangle slightly less than 1/8" thick.
OK, hello? Less than 1/8" thick, you say? Why don't you just tell us to roll it slightly less than MOLECULE THICK? Geez. This was the most challenging dough I've ever worked with, and you have to work very quickly and keep it moving or else it'll stick to the counter. I typically roll dough like this between layers of plastic wrap or waxed paper, but it was more than happy to give me a hard time there too. I don't know what to tell you other than try your best. I was worried that the dough was seeming too gluten-y and thought it might turn out tough. But the pies we ended up eating were made with dough scraps that I had wadded up and re-rolled a few times, and even they were fantastic. Do what you can. Try to make them thin, but don't beat yourself up over it if you can't get 24 pies out of this. You're not a robot. It's going to be all right.
Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper; top with a second piece of parchment. Repeat with remaining dough disks, covering with parchment and stacking rolled dough. Refrigerate 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375. Using a 3.75-inch round cookie cutter (because we all have round cookie cutters of various calibrations lying around, don't we, Martha?), cut rounds from sheets of dough. Place 2 tablespoons of filling in center of half of the rounds. Brush the edges lightly with beaten egg. Top with remaining rounds, pressing edges with a fork to seal.
With a small leaf-shaped cutter (Are acorns and pumpkins acceptable here? They're all I have!), cut shapes from scraps and adhere to pies with some of the beaten egg. Alternatively, cut leaf shapes out of tops and add cutouts slightly off center to cover the open portion. Let's all sigh in exasperation together, shall we? Combine scraps and roll again. Cut rounds and repeat to fill and form more handpies. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Brush with egg. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Once assembled, the pies can be frozen up to 3 days until ready to bake. Do not thaw; baking time will remain the same. I plan to throw caution to the wind and push this to 7 days.
Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until golden brown, about 40 minutes (my beta pies took 30). Serve pies warm or at room temperature.
The tree of disapproval and also the CARDINAL of disapproval hereby disapprove of Martha's bossiness in the above instructions.