Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Just a few simple ingredients...

I know I used to be someone who was afraid to even think about making homemade pie dough a few years ago... I mean, why go through all the work and have it not turn out when there are a few tasty ones you can buy already prepared? However, it doesn't need to be scary at all if you follow a couple tips!

I needed to make a batch of Pâte Brisée (fancy name for a basic butter pie or tart dough) so I could assemble these Sausage and Feta Hand Pies for our dinner tonight! The dough for these hand pies can be used for savory or even sweet recipes -I needed all of it for our recipe tonight, but it also makes enough for a double-crusted pie or two 9" pies. If you do decide to try it out for a sweet dish, I suggest adding a teaspoon of sugar to the dough.

The key to this pie dough is to make it cold and bake it hot - use well-chilled butter and icy water. I like to use our food processor just because the dough can be made in about a minute, but you can cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or your fingers and stir it together by hand. As you work the butter to the flour, you want the pieces to be the size of coarse crumbs with a few larger nuggets to make sure the dough is tender and flaky. Add just enough water (keep the ice bits out though!) so the dough is moistened, but not wet - it may look a little sandy, however if you squeeze a piece in your hand, it should form a clump. If doing this in the food processor, it should take less than 30 seconds - you don't want the flour mixture to form into a ball; just mixed enough to distribute the liquid.

By now the butter will have softened a bit, so you'll want to divide the dough and form each into flattened rectangles to be placed into the refrigerator to firm the butter up. Why this specific shape? Well, you'll eventually be rolling the dough out into a large rectangle, so you might as well start that way! If you would be using the dough for a pie, shape it into a disc instead. Flattening the dough allows it to chill down faster. This dough also keeps well - make a full batch, even if you only need half of the recipe, and keep the extra well-wrapped in the freezer to use at a later time!

While we waited on the dough to chill, I started on the savory filling to be stuffed inside the dough. After I browned and crumbled a few links of Italian turkey sausage, I started softening an onion - after a couple minutes, we added thinly sliced bulb of fresh licorice-y fennel and a sprinkling of crushed red pepper. To add some moisture and flavor, chopped ruby-red plum tomatoes were tossed into the tender vegetables and allowed to cook until their acidic juices released. Now, you've done all that work to keep the dough cold, you don't want to add a steaming hot filling to it! So, this mixture needs to cool down completely before you begin the assembly process. Only one problem with this, at least for me, I couldn't keep my spoon out, taking "test" bites, to see if it was still too warm! Grr!

To brighten up the filling and add a salty bite, fresh parsley and a generous amount of feta cheese is stirred in. When the filling is ready, we started rolling out the dough - just work with one piece of dough at a time so it doesn't get too soft. It is not so much a problem here, but in other houses, we had an exceptionally warm working space in the kitchen and the dough would start giving me a headache by getting sticky. I solved this by filling up a bag with ice cubes and letting it sit on the counter to chill down the work surface before I began rolling... this also works well when rolling cookie dough! Once the hand pies are all assembled, we gave them a quick brush with a beaten egg - besides adding a golden shine, this also allows the crunchy fennel seeds we scattered on top to stick and tie in with the flavor from the filling.

After being baked hot (425 degrees is sizzling!), the crust browned well and the filling remained juicy, thanks to those fresh tomatoes! The crust was excellent - light, tender and buttery, without being greasy, and the savory filling with those chunky pieces of sausage was excellent. Before even finishing his hand pie, Jeff asked to have this pastry for his breakfast tomorrow morning since they are not too large in portion size... good idea and I think I'll be doing the same!


  1. In one of my baking books, there's a pic of pies just like these that I've been wanting to try for the longest time. Now, you've given me some inspiration! Thanks.

  2. Wow Joe - those are just beautiful! I'll bet your house smelled amazing while they baked!

  3. Joe, again I'm in and out, between vacations and there is so much going on on your site. I love to make dough. There is something special abouth being able to handle it and make beautiful pies or anything else with homemade dough.

  4. Susan - Give your recipe a try! It may be a little work, but you will be rewarded!

    Gigi - The house smelled wonderful!

    Helene - Stay safe on your vacations!