Sweet or savory, individual hand pies sure to satisfy

A slice of pie is nice, but a hand pie, be still my heart! Double crust, warm filling, a single serving pastry you can eat out of hand; a grown-up pop tart, only better! Sweet or savory, hand pies satisfy for dessert of course, but can stand in as a make-ahead breakfast, lunch or dinner, or picnic basket treat.

When you bake a whole pie, there's commitment. A pie is eight big pieces, 10 thin slices, or 12 slivers. That feels like a relationship when all I want is a date. Maybe tonight I would like blueberry pie, tomorrow may feel like a peach kind of day; Thursday goes better with strawberry rhubarb. If I make a whole pie, I better have eight big, 10 thin or twelve slivers of friends to help me or by the end of the week, I'll have a half-eaten pie that I can't bear to finish or throw away.

Hand pies make use of leftovers, highlight seasonal stars, and please a crowd. Tupperware haters can easily tuck leftovers within a crust, and it feels like a fresh new dish. Berries & fruits bubble with delight tucked inside a crisp hand pie crust, and those that don't like to share or can't comprise can all have their way with a different variety. World peace by way of the hand pie!

Across the country and the all over the world, people have been enjoying hand pies for centuries.

Referred to primarily as meat pies, unless you travel to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where the “Yoopers call them “pasties,” meat, potato, rutabaga (think potpie with no gravy) was the traditional laborer or miners lunch. The warm filling was not only satisfying and hearty, but the crust kept the middle dirt free during lunch. Rumor is, the miners would eat the filling and discard the braided crust around the outside that they held onto. I hope that's just a rumor. The braided crust is the best part.

Homemade hand pie dough can easily be customized as sweet fruit pies or tweaked with cheeses and meats for a savory treat.

Crusts can differ across the globe, light and flaky, closer to a puff pastry, in England, Down Under margarine trumps butter, and in Jamaica-man, they add yeast to yield a more bread-like result. Fillings also reflect region and season. The outcome remains the same, hand pies rock.

Once you've got the pastry, the filling possibilities are endless, improvise with whatever seasonal goodies you can get your hands on (small pun intended!). Sautéed greens for a twist on a BLT, yesterday's roast chicken for the perfect picnic hand pie. And with berry and fruit season in full swing, improving your hand-pie skills will be a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth.

There are a few tricks of the trade that will help make a good hand pie a better hand pie but don't put too much pressure on yourself the first time. Get the feel of the dough, practice rolling rectangle instead of round, adjust for moisture levels in food; too much, and you'll be eating a soggy mess with a fork off a plate, not enough, and you'll feel like you're eating a cardboard box. What's the worst thing that can happen, you have to practice more? That's just more pie and what the heck can be wrong with that?

Sweet or Savory tips:

A 350 degree oven is purgatory for a hand pie. It's not hot enough or cold enough to reach the intended destination. A hot oven, 400 to 425 degrees will set the pastry before your filling steams up and tries to ooze out all four sides.

Filling ingredients should be small, so they cook quickly; big hunks and chunks won't cook fast to keep up with the crust.

Fillings should be room temperature, or else they will heat up the crust, and the result will be soggy.

Don't over fill hand pies, or they'll burst at the seams. Some oozing is good, bursting not so much.

Before folding the pastry around the filling, outline the edge with water. The water will help strengthen the seal. Use fork tines to close the seal completely.

The thought of making homemade crust getting you twitchy? Don't let the jitters get in the way of summer's best fruit cradled in a hand pie. Substitute good-quality commercial refrigerated pie dough or frozen puff pastry.

For best results, freeze the unbaked hand pies for 20 minutes before baking. This firms the fat in the crust back up and the result will be flakier.

If you have more willpower than most, freeze the unbaked pies for up to three months and then bake them straight out of the freezer (do not pass go, do not collect $200) but add an extra five or ten minutes to the cooking time.

And most importantly, those little beauties just came out of a steaming hot oven. Let hand pies cool for at least 10 minutes before eating. It's hot in there!

Kelly Sears is the executive chef and instructor at Marcel's Culinary Experience in Glen Ellyn. She caught the cooking bug early, first learning to bake with an Easy Bake Oven. Sears kept on learning and graduated from the College of DuPage Culinary program. She hasn't stopped learning or teaching since. Contact her by sending email addressed to

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