Savoury hand pies have long been one of my standbys for summer meals, as equally suited for the back deck as they are for the kitchen table, or a picnic blanket.
Growing up, my mother had a sandwich maker – a jaffle iron to be held over a burner, rather than an electric press. She'd use buttered white bread for the crust, and I adored how it would crisp up to golden perfection on the outside, but there would still be a layer of soft crumb against the filling. That was also an era of pizza rolls and all manner of microwaveable-meals-in-pockets, so it is hardly surprising that my affection for such portable foods carried on to adulthood. But, without my mother's magic jaffle iron, I turned to pastry for my crusts. When my kids were small, I liked that pastry-wrapped versions could be made in advance – even frozen and baked as needed – and they were infinitely adaptable. I'd fill mine with chunky ratatouille, keema with peas, roasted squash and feta, crumbled sausage and pepperonata or quite honestly whatever was leftover from dinner the night before.
The texture of the pastry is paramount: It shouldn't be too thick or the insides will squish out with the force of each bite; too delicate, and the crust will crumble. I use enough fat for some flake, and then I turn to baking powder for extra lift.
My recipe started with Latin-American empanada dough, yet isn't wholly faithful to any tradition. It is damp, verging on sticky to start, but after a rest in the fridge it is a dream to work with, rolling out beautifully smooth. Upon baking, it is tender, and still has the necessary structure to support a hefty filling. Note: While the recipe is in volume measures, it follows a ratio of half butter to flour by weight. In this case, 6 and 12 ounces, respectively.
Servings: 10 pies
Ready time: 1.5 hours
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon medium grain kosher salt
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, diced
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup ice water, plus more as needed
2 ears fresh corn
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 sweet onion, finely diced
1/2 cup diced summer squash
Medium grain kosher salt
1 cups lima beans, blanched (see note)
1 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon white miso
1/4 cup mixed soft herbs, such as parsley, basil, chives and mint, minced
Dried red pepper flakes, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten
All-purpose flour, for dusting
Start with the pastry. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Pulse to combine. Scatter the butter around the bowl, and pulse again, until the butter is the size of peas. Add the egg, and pulse 2 or 3 times. Then, with the motor running, drizzle in the water through the feed tube in a steady stream. When the dough starts coming together as a lump, stop. You may not use all the water, or you may need more. The dough should feel only slightly sticky. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface, then pat into a disc. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to 2 days.
While the dough is resting, make the filling. Cut the kernels from the corn into a large bowl. Scrape the bare cobs with the blunt side of a knife to release the milk as well. Set aside.
Warm oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Tumble in the onions and squash, along with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until translucent and tender, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add the lima beans, corn and vinegar and continue to cook, still stirring, until some of the liquid has reduced, maybe 2 minutes more. Stir in the white miso, then the herbs and red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then set aside to cool.
Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into 10 balls, then roll to 1/8-inch-thick rounds. Divide the filling between each, making small mounds just off centre. Brush a strip of beaten egg around the edge of one dough round, then fold over to seal, using cupped hands to form the top dough around the filling, and pressing out any air pockets. Crimp and trim the crust as desired, then transfer to a prepared baking sheet. Form the rest of the pies, adding them to the same sheet pan. Brush tops with remaining egg, sprinkle with pepper, then chill the pies for 15 minutes. Preheat an oven to 400 F (205 C).
Cut a few steam vents into the top crust of each pie. Divide pies between the two pans. Bake until golden brown and hot all the way through, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature, as shown with white barbecue sauce – I make mine with mayonnaise, horseradish, chives, apple cider vinegar and cayenne – and/or the hot sauce of your choice.
Note: White beans, or podded edamame or fava beans, all blanched until tender, can be used instead of the limas.