nectarine hand-pies

Dear Howard,

It has become the year of pies and hand-pies. Sure, you might say they’re turnovers or strudels, but hand-pies are so much cuter. Who knew I would churn out more than 50 of these this year only to be gobbled up by the masses? I think the hand-pie obsession is real.

Thank goodness I had extra pie dough lying around that night and decided to make peach-apple hand-pies on a whim. I think that is still my favourite filling combo, but I’m sure we’ll find another soon. These remind me of the McDonald pies, except these are flakier and not as sweet.

Nectarine Hand-Pies
All-butter pie crust recipe adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
Makes about 25 hand-pies

1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 teaspoons granulated sugar
½ pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ apple cider vinegar
1 cup cold water

  1. As you know, I like to use my trusty food processor for its speed. Plus, it evenly distributes the butter into small specks among the flour, creating a nice marble effect.
  2. Add the sugar and salt into the food processor. Then cut up the cold butter and scatter them around the bowl. Pour in the flour and then pulse until the mixture is grainy and sandy looking.
  3. In a measuring cup, pour in the apple cider vinegar and cold water.
  4. Turn on the food processor again and through the opening, add 10 tablespoons of the apple cider vinegar and water mixture.
  5. The dough should come together nicely and feel a little (a tiny bit) tacky or sticky. I prefer the dough this way because additional flour gets added during the rolling process.
  6. Divide the dough into two flat discs and wrap with plastic. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 2 hours.

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Hand-Pie Filling
Makes enough for about 25 hand-pies

6 to 7 nectarines, diced into small chunks (1 pound or 3 cups)
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons potato starch
½ teaspoon salt

  1. Mix the nectarines, granulated sugar, and brown sugar together. Let it macerate for half an hour to an hour and pour out the excess juices.
  2. Then mix in the potato starch and salt to help thicken the filling.

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Making hand-pies is a lot like making dumplings. I rolled out the dough and used a 4-inch circle cutter to create all the round wrappers. Then scooped about a tablespoon of filling into the middle. Then with a dab of water around the edges, sealed the fruit filling in.

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Using the tines of a fork, I pressed down along the border to further seal the edges.

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Isn’t it cute? A pie that fits in the palm of my hands! Using a knife, I made three small cuts to let the steam vent when it bakes.

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Brush the top of the hand-pies with an egg wash.

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And sprinkle on the brown Demerara sugar. The more you add, the more crunchy it’ll be!

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Preheat the oven to 400°F and place the baking sheet in the middle of the oven. Bake for half an hour, the hand-pies should be golden brown.

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Let the pies cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes. Eat with your hands.

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This is seriously the best baked good we’ve discovered this year. I can’t wait for summer next year to eat all the peaches and nectarines again!

Sincerely,
Syl

strawberry balsamic pie

Dear Howard,

I finally joined the Food52 Baking Club on facebook. Why? Because they were using The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book for the month of July and it’s a cookbook that we actually own! It was so nice to see a forum where everyone was baking from the same recipes and sharing success stories and handing out tips where things didn’t work.

With all the strawberries in stores these days, I wanted to give the Strawberry Balsamic Pie a try. I was intrigued by the combination of sweet strawberries with tart balsamic vinegar, plus the book says it’s one of their most popular pies in the shop.

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Strawberry Balsamic Pie
All-butter pie crust recipe adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
Makes one 9-inch pie (double crust)

1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 teaspoons granulated sugar
½ pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ apple cider vinegar
1 cup cold water

  1. You can make the pie dough by hand, but I like to use my trusty food processor for its speed. Plus, it evenly distributes the butter into small specks among the flour.
  2. Add the sugar and salt into the food processor. Then cut up the cold butter and scatter them around the bowl. Pour in the flour and then pulse until the mixture is grainy and sandy looking.
  3. In a measuring cup, pour in the apple cider vinegar and cold water.
  4. Turn on the food processor again and through the opening, add 10 tablespoons of the apple cider vinegar and water mixture.
  5. The dough should come together nicely and feel a little (a tiny bit) tacky or sticky. I prefer the dough this way because additional flour gets added during the rolling process.
  6. Divide the dough into two flat discs and wrap with plastic. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 2 hours.
  7. Take one of the discs out to roll out to make the pie shell. Keep refrigerated as you prepare the pie filling.

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Pie Filling
Filling recipe adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
Makes enough for one 9-inch pie

¼ cup + 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 pounds fresh strawberries, diced (5 to 6 cups)
1 small ambrosia apple
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
¾ packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 grinds fresh black pepper
½ teaspoon salt

  1. First thing to note, I omitted the Angostura bitters and ground arrowroot (used cornstarch instead) from the original recipe.
  2. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of sugar over the diced strawberries and let it macerate at room temperature. I left it out for 2 hours.
  3. Peel the apple and then grate it it. Drain the strawberries from their excess juices and combine with the shredded apples. Mix in the balsamic vinegar.
  4. In another bowl, mix the ¼ cup of sugar, brown sugar, cornstarch, black pepper, and salt together. Add this sugar mixture to the strawberry and apples. Pour it into the pie shell. Refrigerate as you work on the lattice top.

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Pie Assembly Time

Unsalted butter
1 large egg, whisked
Brown Demerara sugar (I didn’t have, so my photos are missing this)

  1. This is also a good time to start preheating your oven to 425°F, make sure to position the oven racks to the bottom and center positions. Butter the pie pan and chill in the fridge.
  2. Again, dust a flat surface and rolling pin with flour. Roll the dough out and cut them into strips or whatever shaped design you’d like.
  3. To make the border, roll in all the excess dough hanging off the edge. You’ll soon have a nice thick circumference that can be crimped into a wave. Again, if the dough starts to feel warm, pop it back in the fridge, especially if your oven hasn’t finished preheating yet!
  4. Once your oven indicates that it’s ready, take the pie out of the fridge. Scramble the egg in a small bowl and brush it over the dough. Careful not to draw out any of the strawberry filling if your lattice top has huge gaps.
  5. Then sprinkle the Demerara sugar on top, it should stick to the egg wash.
  6. Place the pie on a baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
  7. Lower the oven temperature to 375°F and move the pie on the baking sheet to the center oven rack. Continue to bake for 30 to 35 minutes. The pie is ready when the crust is golden brown and the juices are bubbling.
  8. Take the pie out and let it cool on a wire rack for 2 to 3 hours. Serve at room temperature. The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or at room temperature for 2 days.

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Despite letting the strawberries sit for two hours, a bunch of juice bubbled out of this pie. Luckily the border was high enough that nothing spilled onto the baking sheet or oven. This smelled so good, it was really hard waiting the couple of hours for the pie to cool and set.

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It was of course worth the wait. I served it without mentioning the balsamic to see if anyone would pick up on it. It’s pretty subtle, but I think I like this sweet and savoury combination because it doesn’t scream balsamic vinegar. Looking forward to the next strawberry season when I can buy bushel of strawberries for this pie!

Sincerely,
Syl

thanksgiving apple flan

Dear Dad,

Welcome home! It’s good to have you back, I hope you’re not going through a tough bout of jet lag. But I’m glad you’re back safe and sound and in time for Thanksgiving. We kept hearing about typhoons in Taiwan and was glad to know you could still reach us online. But in true dad fashion, you went out in the rain anyways.

The good thing is your brother started to get better and things weren’t as worrisome as they were last month. I feel that I’m grateful every week, but it’s nice to have a day dedicated to really looking back and evaluating how blessed and lucky we are. So many things have to happen for us to get to where we are today. I’m so grateful you and mom came to Canada, gave my brother and I numerous opportunities and paths to choose from, and continue to take care of us even though it should be the other way around by now.

I used to think that our family wasn’t of the norm, we went to school and classmates would point out that they get grounded, that their parents were never around, and that they don’t always eat dinner together at the dining table. Well first, thanks for never grounding me – I also understand that it’s not a typical punishment in our culture. Thank you for always being around. And I look forward to our family dinners even though technology has slowly crept in with phones and tablets in the kitchen.

I think flan will always be associated with you. It was the first time I found out that there was a dessert out in this world that you liked. That it gave you childhood memories. That it’s one thing I’ll serve that you won’t share with others and will give me the plate back with no flan crumbs on it.

I’ve made classic flan and then a coffee flavoured one in your request, but for this Thanksgiving, I’m adding an autumn touch with apples.

Apple Flan
(Fits one loaf pan)

1 apple
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
1½ cup whole milk
1 (300mL) can condensed milk
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Use a roasting pan that is large enough to fit your loaf pan in it. Put in the loaf pan and then fill the roasting pan with water. Make sure the water doesn’t spill into the loaf pan, you want it about half an inch from the top. Remove the loaf pan. Put the roasting pan with water into the oven.
  2. In a small pot, add in the sugar and water over medium-high heat. Let the sugar dissolve, you don’t need to stir or move it.
  3. While the caramel is forming, slice up the apple into thin slices. I only needed about half the apple, but you can use the entire one if you want more apple in your flan.
  4. Take out a skillet or frying pan and heat if over medium-high heat. Add in the butter, apple, and cinnamon. Cook until the apples are tender, which should take around 5 minutes. Then turn off the heat and set it aside to cool.
  5. Check on that caramel! When you see it turn brown, you know it’s ready. Mine went to a deep golden colour because I took my eyes off of it to set up the next photo. Oops! Luckily it didn’t burn and I quickly poured it into the loaf pan to keep it from cooking any more. Make sure the caramel coats the entire bottom of the loaf pan.
  6. In a mixing bowl or using your stand mixer, pour in the milk, condensed milk, eggs, and vanilla extra. Whisk until combined.
  7. Arrange the apple slices over the caramel in the loaf pan. As much as I wanted them to stay in the pretty layers on the caramel, they will get loose and float to the top of the flan.
  8. Using a sieve or strainer, pour in the flan batter over the caramel and apple slices.
  9. Carefully place the loaf plan in the roasting pan with hot water and bake for 50 minutes. The custard should be set when you take it out – it’ll be a little jiggly, but will firm up after some chill time. Let it get to room temperature and then cover with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
  10. When it’s time to serve, fill the roasting pan with hot water. Place the loaf pan in it to help loosen up the caramel. This will make it easier to unmold. Then, run a knife around the edge of the pan to help separate the flan from the loaf pan. Find a platter or pan with edges to serve the flan in. Carefully turn the flan upside down and give it a slight shimmy if needed. The edges of the serving dish will help catch any extra caramel sauce.
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I remove the skin on my apples – mainly because Howard seems to get an allergic reaction to apple skin (maybe from the pesticides? – but you can choose to keep them if you want.
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Slide those apples up really nice.
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The cinnamon apples smelled sooooo good.
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Ai! Hot, hot, hot. Look at that steam from the caramel.
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There really isn’t a point to arranging the apple slices nicely, but . . . doesn’t it look nice?
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Straining the batter will help you get a smoother flan texture.

Apple Flan
Use the same pan from the water bath to help loosen the bottom of the flan. Sometimes you get to hear a very satisfying “crack” from the caramel.
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Plop! A clean removal.Apple FlanLook at all that caramel sauce. Soak your loaf pan in hot water to help remove the hardened caramel.Apple Flan
Don’t forget the extra caramel sauce when you serve!

Sincerely,
Syl