Pitha – a Bengali style sweet dumpling. Narkeler pitha – dumpling filled with coconut and date sap. Usually the dough is made with rice flour and water(?), filled with the coconut mixture, then deep fried. I never learned how to make pitha, but I did teach myself how to make hand pies.
I’m baaaaaaaack! After recovering from hosting Thanksgiving dinner, I’m back in the kitchen making some of my favorite things: small bites, filled with butter, sugar, then topped with more fat and more sugar. Yeah! Just in time for the holiday season, I’m whippin’ out my trusty old “100 Best Cookies” catalogue from Better Homes and Gardens that I got way back when I used to live Poughkeepsie (2010). I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I love all the holiday baking that comes along with the season.
I’ve also been watching a whole lot of The Great British Baking Show so I’m super inspired by all the different creations I see on the screen. What shall I bake next? A Stollen (a German holiday bread studded with dried fruit with a marzipan center)? A chocolate twist bread? Chocolate revel bars? I’m enjoying the down time to explore cakes’ buttery brethren – though I’ll be back in the kitchen baking cakes as of tomorrow =).
I was fascinated by this recipe. Most pastry dough requires skillful combining of cold butter and flour in order to achieve flaky texture, but this fool proof dough creams together butter and cream cheese and mixes in flour. Somehow they puff up in the oven and look like glorious buttery pillows. The best kind of bedding I’d say! I did something sneaky and subbed mini chocolate chips for the jam in some of my later pillows. Hope you enjoy these as much as my friends and family have!
Recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens “100 Best Cookies” 2010.
- 1 cup butter, at room temp
- 8oz cream cheese, at room temp
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup apricot preserves (or any other fruit preserve you like)
- 1/4 cup almond paste (I used marzipan)
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon water
- Pearlized, coarse or granulated sugar for sprinkling
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, or in a medium bowl using an electric hand mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed for 30 seconds. While that mixes, whisk together flour and salt in a small bowl. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture to the butter/cream cheese mixture. Mix until just combined, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Divide the dough in half, place each half onto plastic wrap and flatten into disks. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm enough to handle.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a small bowl beat egg with water. Set aside.
- Lightly flour your work surface and roll out your dough to 1/8in thick. I like to transfer my dough to a parchment paper lined baking sheet at this point so I can cut out and remove scraps without messing up the shapes. Use a 2in square cookie cutter to cut out an even number of squares. Removed scraps, roll up and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate. Place a scant 1/4tsp preserves and a scant 1/4tsp almond paste on each square. Use a pastry brush to apply a small amount of egg wash around the borders. Set aside.
- On a separate work surface, roll out the second dough to 1/8in thickness. Cut out the same number of squares as the first dough. Carefully lift each square (I use a small offset spatula to help with this) and place on top of a square containing apricot/almond. Smooth out the tops so the edges line up with the bottom squares. Crimp the edges closed with a fork. Brush with egg wash (lightly) and dust the tops with pearlized or granulated sugar. Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes. Repeat with scraps.
Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies
I gave into peer pressure, guys. When the first ramps popped up in my instagram feed, I rushed to the Union Square Green Market to pick some up. Not too long after, I picked up some rhubarb without much idea about what I was going to do with it. I am all about eating seasonal foods, local, humane, natural, sustainable, etc. But sometimes the thing that’s in season isn’t exactly worth all the hype. Ramps are great and all. If you are less familiar with them, they are a green leafy vegetable available for a few short weeks in spring. They are sold leaves, stalk, bulb and all and have a lovely mild onion flavor. I loved them first time I used them, as a topping on my homemade pizza. More recently, I chopped them up and stewed them with some tomatoes. I even bought a ramp pesto that works wonders on a tomato mozzarella panino.
But I thought part of the point of seasonal foods was that they would be a bit more affordable? Because of their limited availability these items can be incredibly marked up. I vow for next year (and for later on this year), to wait until the end of a crop’s season to buy them. After the hype dies down, so does the price. And that, my friends, is how I internalize Supply and Demand (take that AP Microeconomics). I’m not posting an original recipe here today. I worked off a Smitten Kitchen recipe and am sharing my experience as a novice in hand pie assembly. This is after all a Web-Log. I am logging my forays into new foods and techniques. Observation 1: Mamma mia that’s a lot of butter. 3 sticks. That’s an amount usually reserved for Ina’s Pecan Bars or the frosting for a 2 layer cake.
Observation 2: It was a pleasant salty, tangy, sweet and savory flavor experience. I thought the tartness of the rhubarb would be off-putting, but it worked well with the buttery-ness of the crust. I am so used to inundating my tart fruits with sugar (see Lemon Yogurt Cake) that my aging palette appreciated the change of pace. I actually misread the recipe and used 1/4 cup sugar for the filling as opposed to 1/3 cup. Oops. I did, however, intentionally add 1/4 tsp of salt. I ALWAYS need plenty of salt on my tangy fruits.
Observation 3: Make sure you have a good stainless steel saucepan to make this compote in. You have to leave it in the pot for 15 minutes, covered, so it is essential that it doesn’t stick to the sides or bottom. Do not try this on your Mother’s or Mother In Law’s 100 year old Imusa pot. Next time I might try it with black pepper or balsamic vinegar added to the fruit compote. Mmmm….I got to use my pastry blender for the first time. Or as my kids like to call it, The Monster. I had to resort to my salad bowl for mixing. You need a nice, big, wide bowl to work the dough in. Although I regretted not making this with store bought pie dough (because of the million other things I had to do that in preparation for our weekend beach getaway), I can comfort myself by saying that a store bought pie dough would not have been made special with buttermilk and grapefruit zest. Small comforts when you’ve got fried chicken grease splattered all over your kitchen, a cold dough to work until flat, and a suitcase that just won’t pack itself!Pardon my cutting board’s appearance. It’s close to retirement.I think I should have gotten them thinner than I did. The directions were to roll to 1/8 of an inch but this was the best I could do. Is it ghetto to roll out your dough on a cutting board rather than the counter? I don’t trust myself to clean the counter well enough to roll out dough onto it. Maybe it’s a desi thing. And given my limited counter space, I wouldn’t gain a whole lot by nixing the board. Directions also stated a cooking time of 15 to 20 minutes. I needed to go a bit beyond the the 20 to ensure a nice golden color on my hand pies. Enjoy the season, folks, and all that it has to offer (but maybe wait a week or two ;)).
Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen.
- 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp grated orange or grapefruit zest
- 1 1/2 tbsps granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) cold, unsalted butter
- 1 cup cold buttermilk
- 3 cups chopped rhubarb and strawberries (I used two cups rhubarb, one cup strawberries. Cut off the leaves and any tough parts of the rhubarb)
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar (depending on how sweet your strawberries are, but if you’re using all rhubarb, go with 1/3 cup)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- Make the dough: mix the flour, citrus zest, sugar and salt in a large bowl with a whisk. Add the butter and work with a pastry blender, fork or your fingers until you have pea sized bits of flour encrusted butter running throughout. Then, slowly add the buttermilk and mix with a spatula or wooden spoon to incorporate. When all the buttermilk has been added, knead a few times with your hand to get it in the shape of the ball. Divide the ball in four and flatten each into a disk. Wrap with plastic wrap and stick them in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
- Make the filling: combine the fruit, sugar, and salt in a medium to large stainless steel saucepan. Turn on the heat to medium low, cover and cook for 15 minutes. You don’t need to stir during this time. Enough liquid emerges from the fruit to self baste. After the 15 minutes are up, uncover and cook for an additional 15 minutes at medium low. Stir occasionally to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom, particularly towards the end. After these 15 minutes are up, pour onto a plate to let cool.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Generously flour your surface and rolling pin. Roll out one of the disks until 1/8 of an inch thick. Do this with a swift back and forth motion, rotate the dough 45 degrees, then repeat until it is sufficiently thin. Take your time with this, young Jedi. Trim off the edges with a pizza cutter or sharp knife and cut to make 4 squares or rectangles. In a small bowl, beat the egg with a dash of water. Brush two of the squares with the egg wash. These will be the bottoms (hehe). Spoon a teaspoon of the cooled fruit compote onto the two squares. Place the adjacent squares a top the squares with filling, pulling a bit to ensure the edges line up. Crimp the edges with a fork. Brush the top with egg wash and cut a slit to let the steam out while they are in the oven. Place the two completed hand pies on a baking sheet and sprinkle the tops generously with sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes. While those bake, work on rolling out the next quarter of dough and assemble the next two hand pies in the same fashion. I alternated by sticking the second batch in the oven as soon as it was ready and calculating the extra time required when the first timer went off, but it really browns best when there’s only one baking sheet in the oven at a time. Continue with the rest of the dough. Let cool a few minutes before moving onto a wire rack for complete cooling.