This week’s recipe is a take on a childhood favorite, albeit a touch healthier than the version I knew back then. Hand pies are fairly ubiquitous throughout the South and in true Southern fashion are almost always fried.
As I’ve mentioned before, I was fortunate to grow up in a household with parents that placed great emphasis on healthy eating. From a very young age we were exposed to and even enjoyed the likes of asparagus, lentil soup, and brown rice. We ate plain Cheerios for breakfast, no sugary Honey Nut, and only on our birthdays tasted the contents of those colorful, cartoon character-fronted boxes that lined the cereal aisles.
Strict? Perhaps, but as a result I grew up healthy and with a taste for a wide array of flavors and foods that many of my schoolmates would scrunch up their noses at. Plus, we had a few characters in our life to sneak us a forbidden treat here and there. In addition to Mrs. Supler and her contraband KitKat Bars next door, there was our babysitter Tootie.
While Ash’s memories of her aren’t nearly as fond (she claims I was Tootie’s favorite) I will always remember the junk food secret we shared. A quirky lady to be sure, she had a gruffness about her and easily smoked two packs a day. She loved raw onions and would sit at our kitchen table with a knife, peel a layer, eat, repeat. She let us watch trashy daytime soap operas and eat Vienna sausages straight out of the can. And my favorite, she made stacks of Bisquick pancakes sandwiched around a stick of butter and doused in chocolate syrup.
Her husband James would occasionally drop by for lunch, the imprint of a chewing tobacco canister in the pocket of his workman’s trousers. He was the yin to Tootie’s yang with soft eyes and the kind of calloused hands that speak to a life of hardness. He always brought something for us. Sometimes a Moon Pie or two but more often than not, fried chocolate hand pies. I loved the feel of the waxy wrapper and even at a young age knew that this was the most sinful junk food of all.
So here I offer my version. Baked instead of fried and homemade as opposed to full of artificial sweeteners and trans fat, yet still no model for good health. But if growing up eating my vegetables taught me anything, it’s that we all earn a little sin now and again.
Chocolate Hand Pies
Yields 8-10 hand pies
1 recipe vinegar pie crust (or your favorite double crust recipe)
3 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tsps sugar
3 fine strips lemon zest
7 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbs vanilla extract
3 Tbs unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened or Dutch process
1 egg yolk
1 tsp water
1 tsp milk
1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds, lightly toasted
1. On a lightly floured surface, roll out pie dough to about 1/8-1/4 inch in thickness. You want it thin but thick enough that it doesn’t tear. Using a small bowl as a stencil, about 4 inches in diameter, cut out circles of dough and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. As you fill up each baking sheet, place the circles in the refrigerator to chill while you gather up the dough scraps, roll out, and cut more circles. If dough becomes too warm, return it to the refrigerator for 15 minutes to chill. Allow the dough circles to chill for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
2. While the dough chills, make the pastry cream. In a double boiler or heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, heat the milk, 2 tsps of the sugar and the lemon zest, just to a boil. Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 2 cups of sugar, egg yolks, whole egg, and salt in a small bowl until thick and pale yellow in color, 2-3 minutes. Sift in the flour gradually, whisking vigorously to mix.
3. Slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup of the boiling milk into the egg mixture to temper then pour the eggs back into the milk. Cook over medium high heat, whisking frequently, until thickened, 2-3 minutes. As the mixture begins to thicken and reach a boil it may look lumpy but whisk briskly to smooth. When it reaches the consistency of mayonnaise, reduce the heat and cook 1 minute more whisking constantly. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla and stir in the butter 1 Tb at a time. Cool as quickly as possible by placing the bowl in a larger bowl of ice water. Be careful not to let any water leak into the cream! Press plastic wrap over the top to prevent a skin from forming and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Pastry cream will keep in refrigerator for 4-5 days or in the freezer for 2 months.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove the pastry cream from the refrigerator and allow to come up to room temperature. Whisk in the 1/2 cup of cocoa until mixture is smooth. In a small bowl, mix together the egg yolk and water and in another small bowl mix together the milk and 2 tsps of the chocolate pastry cream.
5. Remove the dough circles from the fridge one baking sheet at time and place 3-4 Tbs of chocolate pastry cream on one side of each circle, leaving a 1-inch border. With a pastry brush, paint the egg and water mixture on the edges and fold the naked side of the dough over the side with the pastry cream to form a half moon shape. Crimp with the edges of a fork to seal. Paint the top with the milk and chocolate pastry cream glaze and sprinkle on the sliced almonds. Repeat with remaining dough circles.
6. Bake hand pies for 18-22 minutes until golden. Cool completely on a wire rack and dust with powdered sugar. Store hand pies in an airtight container in the refrigerator.