Sure, it's a little more work to make a batch of hand pies than to make one large one, but the little guys are easier to transport and easier to eat. They also are awfully versatile. Hand pies can be savory or sweet, and can take a variety of shapes; I'm partial to those shaped like half-moons. So as we head into the heart of peach season, I decided to share this recipe for half-moon-shaped hand pies filled with yummy peaches.
Peaches must be peeled before cooking, which can be tedious. Happily, serrated produce peelers (sold just about everywhere kitchen gadgets are found) make it easy to peel not only stone fruits like peaches, but tomatoes, too. If you own one of these handy gizmos (they're quite affordable), then just make sure your peach is ripe, but firm. A peach that's too ripe — and too soft — will be difficult to peel no matter what you use.
If you don't own one of these peelers or if your peaches are very ripe and soft, you'll have to peel it old school. Use a paring knife to score the bottom of each peach in a crisscross pattern, then blanch the peaches in boiling water until the skin starts to peel back (it'll take about 30 seconds). After that, just plunge them into ice water and the skin should slip off easily. This method also works well with tomatoes.
Once they are peeled, it's time to pre-season the peaches. Cut them into half-inch cubes, toss them with sugar and fresh lemon juice, then drain them. This step serves several purposes. The sugar not only sweetens the peaches, it also pulls out excess liquid, ensuring that the peaches won't sog up the pastry during the baking process. The lemon juice points up the peach flavour even as it keeps the fruit from oxidizing and turning brown.
By the way, the resulting juice is so richly peachy that I suggest serving it over a scoop of ice cream!
A word of caution: Given how many times this recipe calls for the chilling of the dough and the pies, you may be tempted to skip these steps. Don't do it. Chilling is key to making sure the butter in the pastry stays cold, which is key to the production of a light and flaky crust.
PEACH HAND PIES
Start to finish: 3 hours 15 minutes (1 hour 5 minutes active)
3 small or 2 medium peaches (6 ounces total)
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
12 ounces prepared or purchased pie dough (recipe below), cut into 8 equal pieces and refrigerated
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons apricot jam
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Vanilla ice cream, to serve (optional)
Using a serrated produce peeler (or for soft peaches, use the poaching method described above), peel the peaches. One at a time, set each peeled peach on the counter, stem side up, and aiming just to the right of centre, cut off one side of the peach in one piece. Repeat the procedure on the left side, then cut straight down on the other sides of the peach. Cut the peach flesh into 1/2-inch chunks.
In a medium bowl toss the peach chunks with 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar and the lemon juice. Let stand for 20 minutes, stirring every so often. Strain and save the peaches and the juices separately.
Working with 1 ball of dough at a time (leaving the rest in the refrigerator), roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a circle about 5 inches wide (1/8-inch thick). Spoon 1 teaspoon of the jam on one half of the round, then mound 2 tablespoons of the peach chunks over the jam.
Brush the edge of the pastry round with the beaten egg. Fold the other half of the dough round over the fillings to enclose them, pressing the edges together tightly. Fold over the edge to make a 1/4-inch rim, then crimp the edge with a fork. Use a knife to cut a small slit in the centre of the top of the pastry, then transfer the hand pie to the refrigerator. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Once all of the hand pies are formed, refrigerate them for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with kitchen parchment.
Arrange the pies on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops of the pies with additional egg, then sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake on the oven's middle shelf for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden. Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes before serving. Top each hand pie with a scoop of ice cream (if using) and a drizzle of the reserved peach juices.
Nutrition information per serving: 260 calories; 140 calories from fat (54 per cent of total calories); 15 g fat (9 g saturated; 0.5 g trans fats); 65 mg cholesterol; 75 mg sodium; 28 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 4 g protein.
Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes (15 minutes active)
Make 1 batch pie dough
1 1/2 cups (6.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 to 4 tablespoons ice water
In a large bowl, stir together the flour and the salt. Add the butter and, working quickly, use your fingertips or a pastry blender to mix the dough until most of mixture resembles coarse meal, with the rest in small (roughly pea-size) lumps. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of ice water evenly over the mixture and use a fork to gently stir until incorporated.
Gently squeeze a small handful of the dough. It should hold together without crumbling apart. If it doesn't, add more ice water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring 2 or 3 times after each addition until it comes together. Be careful: If you overwork the mixture or add too much water the pastry will be tough.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide into 4 portions. With the heel of your hand, smear each portion once in a forward motion on the work surface to help distribute the fat. Gather the smeared dough together and form it, rotating it on the work surface, into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic, then chill until firm, at least 1 hour.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."