I confess, I have a sweet tooth, I always have. I think it stems back to when my grandmother used to make giant, cookie-sheet sized apple pies. Now I’m the baker in the family and I’ve become a bit creative with the sweet inspirations I can wrap between delicious layers of buttery pastry.
A French Apple Flan with Honeyed Apple Au Jus is my go-to cold weather pie… unless I’m in the mood for a Pumpkin Mascarpone Pie with a Candied Hazelnut Crumble. A Peanut Butter and Caramel Brownie Pie will do when it’s raining, and a slice of Bourbon Pecan Pie in front of a roaring fire with a steaming cup of coffee is the only way to go when friends gather.
But unlike my grandmothers’ sheet-sized apple pies, today we’re into smaller, individually sized, hand pies. Lisa Rollo, food stylist and producer for celebrity chef Anna Olsen, loves pie and as a food stylist, she can’t help but elevate the image of country pies into small, individual servings of mini-pies, or as she calls them, “hand pies”.
“Eat them with your hand they’re so small,” says Rollo. She takes a tray of mini muffin cups and lines each one with a small disc of pastry. Spoon in the filling and lay a smaller disc of pastry on top. Once they’re cooked, they’re small, personal-sized hand pies ready to be devoured.
She says no matter what the size, a good pie is “all about the crust”. There are basically three different kinds of piecrusts. Pâte Brisee is an unsweetened short crust ideal for savory pies. Pâte Sucree is identical to Brisee but with the addition of sugar for dessert pies. Lastly, Pâte Sable, the most delicate cookie-like crust is best suited to tarts.
“The secret behind a flaky pastry is the butter,” shares Rollo, “and that’s why I always mix my dough with my fingers.” Food processors have a tendency to over work piecrust dough. While a hand pastry cutter will work well, Rollo encourages everyone who wants to become a good pie baker to “get in and feel the dough between your fingers so you know when it’s just right.”
She talks of tiny pies with intricate lattice tops, cream pies with fresh fruit garnish, and crustless pies with a sexy dusting of powdered sugar or cocoa; all of them small enough to give the illusion of little luxurious bites.
Her second piece of advice is to let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes. If you’re not patient with your pastry dough at this point, she warns it will fight you as you try to roll it out, it will continue to shrink as you are working it, and shrink even more while baking.
At this time of year Rollo eagerly waits the arrival of blood oranges in produce departments. She makes a dreamy blood orange and vanilla curd, pours it into pre-baked pastry crusts and garnishes with candied blood orange peel. Throughout the year she bakes double crusted mini fruit pies with frozen farm fruit from one of her favourite Niagara farmers, Cherry Lane.
“Out of one muffin tray I can make four different flavoured hand pies,” states Rollo. “They’re a little bit less than a serving so you can have a couple of them.” No matter which pie you’re craving, the last ingredient for perfect pie is someone to enjoy them with.
By Lynn Ogryzlo
Lynn Ogryzlo is a food, wine and travel writer, international award winning author and regular contributor to Look Local Magazine. She can be reached for questions or comments at www.lynnogryzlo.com.
Not ready to bake your own hand pies? Find freshly-made hand pies at these local bakeries
Cakes Sweets & Treats, Burlington
Springridge Farm, Milton
Stonehaven Farm, Milton
Monastery Bakery, Oakville
Cupid’s Gourmet Bakery, Oakville
That Pie Place, Oakville