Cherry Hand Pies

We’re officially well into spring, which means we can (hopefully) finally tuck away the memories of frost and frigidity for a few seasons. And if you ask me, there’s no better way to forget a cold Midwestern winter than by planning a sunny summer picnic.

There are countless people more qualified than myself to preach about the pleasures of picnicking. In fact, I’ve been on exactly one picnic in my life, an ill-conceived notion of mine that involved dragging my husband out to our pasture for a sunset anniversary dinner. Between the bugs, cow pies and the overly-friendly heifer blissfully ignorant of the phrase “three’s a crowd,” this town kid now knows that pasture picnics may not be as romantic as they sound.

But that doesn’t mean picnicking on the farm must end for me. No, I remain convinced that scenic picnics on patchwork quilts are in my future this summer, which is why I decided to find an easy-to-make recipe like these homemade cherry hand pies. Delicious and versatile, these portable pies are sure to perk up any summer excursion you have planned.

Not a fan of cherry? No problem- any recipe you have for pie filling will work. In fact, if you really want to cut corners, canned pie filling could easily be substituted for the cherry filling in the recipe below. If you’ve got the 10 minutes it takes to create the homemade filling, however, I highly recommend it. I used frozen red tart cherries, since fresh cherries are not yet in season, and they worked beautifully.

Prefer savory over sweet? Fill your hand pie with meat and cheese, and you’ve got a lovely meal to go. Take your favorite flavors– I’m thinking brie, honey and toasted almonds might make a wonderful combination – and create your own filling based on your personal preferences.

The recipe recommends Dufour classic puff pastry dough for its all-butter taste, but if your grocery store doesn’t offer Dufour, the more easily-accessible Pepperidge Farm puff pastry works perfectly fine. Remember, puff pastry is not the same as phyllo dough, although they are often next to each other in the freezer case and look similar. For best results, work with puff pastry when the dough is cold. Store whatever you are not using at the moment in the refrigerator, not the counter, and if your dough becomes difficult to work with, return to the refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes until cold.

Try adding a bit of lemon or orange juice and zest to brighten the flavor of the cherry pie filling, and experiment with different seasonal fruits – think blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or blackberries. Don’t be afraid to make generous slits on top of the pies- mine were just under an inch wide and narrowed significantly once the puff pastry rose. A little juice spilling out of the pie makes for mouth-watering presentation.

To top it off, sprinkle liberally with raw sugar, also known as turbinado sugar, which is often used for extra crunch and visual appeal on baked goods. Dust lightly when cool with powdered sugar for extra sweet, and wrap in butcher paper and twine for a rustic, irresistible treat.

Cherry Hand Pies
Ingredients
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted, or about 12 ounces frozen pitted cherries, unthawed
2/3 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 14-ounce package all-butter puff pastry (preferably Dufour), thawed in refrigerator
Flour (for dusting)
1 large egg white
1 1/2 teaspoons raw sugar

Directions
Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Stir cornstarch and 1 1/2 tablespoons cold water in a small bowl to blend. Combine fresh or frozen cherries and next 4 ingredients in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cherry juices are released, about 5 minutes. Add cornstarch mixture; bring to a boil, stirring often.

Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut dough into four rectangles. Whisk egg white and 1 tablespoon water in another small bowl for egg wash.

Working with 1 pastry rectangle at a time, place on a work surface and brush edges with egg wash. Scoop 3 tablespoons cherry mixture onto one side; fold dough over filling so that short ends meet, forming a packet.

Crimp edges with a fork to seal. Using a sharp knife, cut a few slits in top of pie to vent. Place on prepared baking sheet; repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Brush tops with egg wash, then sprinkle with raw sugar. Chill for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375°. Bake pastries until tops and bottoms are golden brown, 30-40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes on baking sheet. Transfer to wire racks; let cool completely. Can be made 1 day ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

Source: Modified slightly from http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/cherry-hand-pies#recipe-ingredients

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