3.14159265, the ratio of the distance around a circle to the circle’s diameter. Guess what? Today, March 14th, is “Pi Day” the day to celebrate math and science, very important things we need to understand the world around us. Quite clever, I think. We bakers also celebrate Pi Day though we tend to think of it as Pie Day. We are funny people. Pastry dough, a sweet or savory filling and most of the time, a little heat to crisp the whole thing up. No surprise, this can go in many directions. Today, I chose to celebrate Pie Day with lovely little hand pies.
A week or two ago, I used up some leftover ricotta in a sweet little blueberry cake. Digging around in my fridge the other day, I found some more. I swear, this stuff multiplies when I’m not looking. I decided to use it in my pie filling, choosing a savory route this time with a little spring inspiration.
I really like hand pies. They’re their own little contained snack which is always a bonus. Sometimes you just don’t want to make a whole pie but you want that buttery flaky bite. They also freeze, unbaked, perfectly so you can bake them off as you like; one or two here, three or four there. For the filling, bright green peas caught my eye so I went in that direction. Ricotta, peas … and what? Mint, of course. And parmesan. And what goes better with peas and cheese than a little pancetta or bacon? I’ll answer for you: nothing. It’s a perfect match.
So I crisped up some fat cubes of pancetta and let those drain on a paper towel while I blanched a cup of frozen peas to soften a little. I then added some olive oil, a bit of fresh mint and a pinch of chile flakes, everything crushed together a little with a fork. It all went into a bowl with the ricotta, some parmesan and a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Delicious. I could eat this on toast and be a happy woman.
Instead, I encased the filling in a round of buttery pastry, folded in half and arranged neatly on a parchment lined sheet pan with a quick slick of egg wash. A little more than a half hour later the most beautiful, golden pastries emerged; bright and cheesy, punctuated every so often with a nugget of pancetta. They were utterly delicious and fit the season perfectly. Celebrate Pi(e) Day right.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SPRING FORWARD. This one is just enough of a project to keep you happy and busy. While I made the pie dough in a food processor, it is immensely pleasing to make by hand, squishing the butter between your fingers gets out all kinds of aggressions. The rolling, cutting, filling and crimping? Just detailed enough to let you focus while allowing your mind to relax and melt a bit. These would be lovely for any brunch plans you may have, they travel well, can be made ahead and frozen unbaked and are just as delicious at room temperature. Perfection.
Other pie recipes to celebrate Pie Day: Sausage Hand Pies, Rhubarb Custard Pie, Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie with a Lard Crust, Sour Cherry Slab Pie, Ginger Peach Hand Pies, Blackberry Lime Pie, Classic Apple Pie, Lattice Love, Lessons in Pie Crust, Chicken Pot Pie, French Apple Pie, Salted Caramel Apple Pie, Classic Pumpkin Pie, Cider Apple Pie, Shaker Lemon Pie
Eight years ago: Khachpuri (cheesy Georgian bread)
Seven years ago: Irish Soda Bread
Six years ago: French Onion Soup
Five years ago: Soda Bread Tarte Tatin
Four years ago: Shaker Lemon Pie
Three years ago: Brown Bread Ice Cream, Guinness Chicken & Mushroom Boxty
Two years ago: Flourless Chocolate Cookies
Last year: Everything Bagels, Bakewell Tart
PANCETTA PEA & RICOTTA HAND PIES
Makes 18 4” handpies, yield will vary based on the size of your cutter
If you can’t find pancetta, a good chunk of bacon will work and if you can’t find a whole piece of bacon, use thick cut bacon.
For the dough:
16 Tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½” pieces (1 cup/2 sticks)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, + more for rolling
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more
½ cup ice water
for the filling:
2 ounces pancetta (or slab bacon), cut into ½” dice (½ cup)
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1 Tablespoon fresh mint leaves, finely minced
pinch of red chile flakes
2 Tablespoons olive oil
½ cup whole-milk ricotta
¼ cup grated parmesan
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
kosher salt and ground black pepper
for the egg wash:
1 large egg
1 teaspoon water
- For the dough: Pulse butter, flour and salt in a food processor until mixture resembles coarse meal with a few pea-size pieces of butter. (You can also do with by hand in a large bowl.)
- Add the ice water and process until a shaggy dough comes together and starts to form a ball around the blade (a few dry spots are okay).
- Turn the mixture to a lightly floured surface and gently knead until dough comes together completely (don’t overmix). You should see little bits of butter throughout the dough.
- Divide dough to thirds and roll between sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to about 1/8” thick. Lightly flour, if needed, to prevent any sticking.
- Place the sheets of dough on a sheet pan and refrigerate while you make the filling.
- For the filling: In a small sauté pan, cook the pancetta over medium heat until crisp but still a bit pliable. Drain on a few layers of paper towels and allow to cool completely.
- In a small pot of boiling salted water, blanch the peas until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Drain and transfer to a small bowl.
- Add the olive oil to the peas and roughly mash, leaving some peas fairly chunky.
- Add the mint, chile flakes and a pinch each of salt and pepper; stir to combine.
- In another small bowl, mix ricotta, parmesan, lemon juice and fold in the pea mixtute.
- Fold in the cooled pancetta and taste; add more salt and pepper if needed.
- In a small bowl, beat the egg and water together for the egg wash.
- Preheat oven to 375°F and line a sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
- To shape: Working with one sheet of chilled dough at a time, cut as many rounds as possible, trying to minimize scraps. I used a 4” round cutter and got 18 rounds total.
- Brush one edge of the pastry circle with the egg wash and place 1 rounded Tablespoon of filling in the center.
- Fold the dough over to make a half moon shape and press the edges to seal.
- With a fork, press the tines over the edge to reinforce the seal.
- Place the finished hand pies on the prepared baking sheet and continue with the remaining pastry circles and filling.
- Carefully press the dough scraps together, reroll and cut additional rounds. Continue in this manner until you run out of dough, filling or both. If the pastry becomes too warm or difficult to work with, pop it in the refrigerator to chill. 30 minutes will do wonders for your sanity.
- Lightly brush the tops of the filled hand pies with the egg wash and bake for 10 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle each hand pie with a pinch or two of parmesan.
- Rotate the tray and bake for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown.
- Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool 10 minutes.
- Do ahead: the pastry dough can be made 3 days ahead; keep chilled or frozen up to 3 months (defrost in the fridge overnight). Hand pies (without egg wash) can be assembled 1 day ahead; covered and refrigerated (or freeze for up to 2 months). Brush with egg wash just before baking. Hand pies are best freshly baked.