In the great ‘Pie vs Cake’ debate, where do you find yourself? Are you pro-pie all the way? Or would you rather toss that beautiful handmade, baked-with-love creation straight into the bin for some supermarket birthday cake? Or are you a madman who eschews all delicious baked goods? (If so, this probably isn’t the post for you…)
While I started this journey with two feet planted firmly in the cake camp, I can’t help but wonder if it was because of pie’s somewhat intimidating process that kept me from truly delighting in it? I love to order pies from diners, especially if it’s a flavor I’d never encountered before—in Minnesota we were introduced to ‘Funeral Pie’ or ‘Sour Cream Raisin Pie,’ and it was an absolute culinary delight! But I never make pies at home. It’s so much work and requires real baking tenacity.
I blame my enthusiasm on Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. Damn those Brits for giving me all the baking aspirations! One of the aspects I adore on ‘The Great British Baking Show’ is when contestants use unconventional flavors in their bakes! I’m positively swooning whenever anyone breaks out some rosewater, even more so when it is used well!
I recently decided I’d try my hand at some unconventionally flavored hand pies; because BP has a plethora of new-to-him coworkers, I now have a sort of built-in test group for recipes I’ve had my eye on but never tried due to yield. It’s a grand arrangement! I get to test recipes without worrying about the math and proportions due to division, and his coworkers get to try tasty treats in exchange for their feedback!
This batch of hand pies was the cobbling of two recipes. For the crust, assembly, and baking times/conditions, I used this recipe for Cranberry Hand Pies, and for my filling, I used this recipe for Blueberry Hand Pies as a guide… Emphasis on the guide part because I had a little idea about how to really amp up the filling…
Enter Basil! Oodles of it! So much basil that my hands were tinted green before they ended up very purple. The house smelled absolutely divine, though a bit puzzling at first—blueberry basil is admittedly a weird combination. But I would not be deterred! As the berries cooked down and the house filled with the herbaceous, almost licorice-like scent of basil mingling with the sweet tart of the berries and kiss of lemon, my heart almost exploded with joy! This was going to work! I was super excited for BP to return home so that he could try it. I cooled the filling mixture and popped it into the fridge.
When BP returned home that day, I had him try it, almost so satisfied as to be smug. I knew he’d love it. He dipped the back of a spoon into the filling, tasted it, and paused. “Okay, I mean this in the best way possible…” I felt my enthusiasm slipping away. “It kind of tastes like NyQuil.”
NyQuil! NYQUIL?! There was no way. Was there? I grabbed a spoon and tasted it for myself. And to my absolute horror, it totally did taste like NyQuil. DAMN! NYQUIL. WHO WOULD WANT TO EAT A PIE THAT TASTES LIKE NYQUIL? BP could tell I was horrified and definitely headed for devastated. “Okay, maybe not NyQuil. Herbaceous. Like Amaro.” NYQUIL. ALL I CAN HEAR AND THINK ABOUT IN THIS MOMENT IS THAT I’VE JUST MADE OVER A POUND OF FRUIT’S WORTH OF FILLING FOR THESE PIES THAT I HAVEN’T SHUT UP ABOUT FOR A FEW DAYS NOW, AND IT TASTES LIKE NYQUIL. “Maybe you could put cream cheese in it like we’d talked about? That could balance it out a bit?” NYQUIL AND CREAM CHEESE PIES.
I decided I wouldn’t throw the towel in on the filling just yet. I had, after all, made the dough while I was letting the filling cook down a bit, and I really hate food waste… I decided to just keep going.
It’s a good thing I did! Because the dough recipe is set to yield 16 pies, I only thawed one batch of dough to test the filling on—if it was wretched, I’d make a separate filling for the other half, so the whole effort wouldn’t be in vain. I made 10 or so pies using a tablespoon of the filling and a hefty knob of cream cheese and set them to bake. The results were fantastic! I had one just as they were starting the secondary cooling. I couldn’t wait! I had to know if they would taste like NyQuil.
And I’m so pleased to report that they didn’t taste like NyQuil at all! You know what they do taste like? Gourmet PopTarts! PopTarts for Grownups! They’re so good! The basil note is really present on the finish, the lemon is incredibly subtle (I actually wish I had used more lemon in the filling recipe), and the blueberries are perfectly plump. The crust is sweeter than your conventional pie crust, and the raw sugar on top really helps balance out the basil notes. AND AGAIN, IT DOESN’T TASTE LIKE NYQUIL!
I made up the second batch pretty soon after that and sent them on their way! The feedback was really positive! Several people mentioned that these hand pies are definitely an item they would expect to see at a Farmer’s Market and that they would totally buy one. The PopTart comparison was made! Some even said that they’d like more basil or a bit more lemon, and there was a comment about adding a bit more salt to the dough to really round out the whole flavor profile (which I agree, I would’ve put more in myself if I’d been a little more confident, but I wanted to follow the crust recipe to the letter).
I’m definitely keeping this recipe in my files, and I’ll definitely make pies again—not anytime soon, but I’m desperate to experiment with other slightly unconventional flavor combinations. (When peaches are in season, peach-sage pies are definitely on the table, and I will be making the cranberry filling this Autumn.) I’m including the cobbled recipe below if you’re dying to make some blueberry basil hand pies of your own! Cheers!
Blueberry Basil Hand Pies
Makes about 20 pies
3 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) plus 3 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, frozen
Filling and Assembly
18 ounces of blueberries
1 pound fresh (or frozen, thawed) cranberries (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 lemon, sliced
1 fist-sized bunch of basil
1/2 teaspoon instant tapioca (not starch)
1 large egg, beaten to blend
Pulse flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor to combine. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal (no big pieces of butter should remain). With motor running, slowly drizzle 1/2 cup ice water into processor. Pulse until dough just begins to come together. IF YOU HAVE A SMALL FOOD PROCESSOR, DO THIS IN TWO BATCHES. I learned the hard way.
Divide dough in half. Form each half into a ball; flatten into disks. Wrap each disk tightly in plastic. Chill for at least 2 hours. DO AHEAD. Dough can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes to soften slightly before rolling out.
Filling and Assembly
Combine blueberries, sugar, lemon zest, and tapioca in a medium saucepan. Vigorously bruise half the basil, and add it to the saucepan as well. Let stand for juices to accumulate, about 10 minutes, then cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer and begins to thicken, 5-6 minutes. (Some berries will have burst.) Let cool completely. While it cools, finely chop the rest of the basil, and then mix it into the berry mixture.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Working with 1 disk at a time, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until very thin, about 1/16-inch thick. Using cookie cutter, cut out 20 or so circles.
Brush edges of half the circles with beaten egg. Place 1 heaping tablespoon filling in center of each egg-washed circle. Top with remaining circles to form 8 pies. Using a fork, crimp 1/4-inch around edges to seal. If desired, use cookie cutter to clean edges. Repeat with remaining dough, egg, and filling.
Divide pies between prepared sheets; chill for 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425°. Working with 1 baking sheet of pies at a time, score dough, forming a small X in the center of each pie. Brush tops of pies with beaten egg and sprinkle with raw sugar.
Bake pies until crust is golden brown and filling bubbles out of Xs, 20 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack, and let cool completely. Repeat with remaining baking sheet of pies.
*Note: This recipe was basically adapted from the Cranberry Hand Pies recipe, written by Cynthia Wong over at Bon Appétit. They did all the leg-work. My small changes were added so that I have this exact recipe for my own files. (Just want to give credit where credit is due.)*
Are you going to make these hand pies? Or do you have a suggestion for interesting flavor combinations you’d like to see me try out? Leave me a comment below!