Pie! I have never met a pie I didn’t like. If it rests in or between two crusts, I will eat it. For me, it’s all about the crust. Memories of my Grandma making pie dough go way back to when I was a little girl. I can still picture the light dusting of flour covering her red counter top as she effortlessly rolled out round after round of pastry dough. One pie for my large family would never do. If you were making pie, you were making more than one. The most tender, flaky crust came from nothing more than my Grandmother’s slender hands, a pastry blender, and her small dark wood rolling pin. Eventually that rolling pin fell into my hands becoming one of my most treasured possessions.
Being such a lover of pie, earlier this year I was thrilled when I heard of the release of Handheld Pies by Sarah Billingsley and Rachel Wharton. In my opinion, the best part of a hand held pie is the crust to filling ratio – emphasis on crust! I ordered a copy of the book and then waited patiently. When it finally arrived, I made a cup of coffee, curled up on the sofa, and read it cover to cover. Forget dog-earring the pages that were my favorites; there wasn’t one recipe in the book I wouldn’t make or eat. In the end, it was a sweet/savory cheese and thyme number that I settled on to try first. The original recipe from the book called for farmer cheese. I chose the ricotta variation suggested in the recipe since it is a cheese more readily available at the market.
As tasty as the filling of this miniature pie is, the cornmeal crust is the real show stopper. Crunchy, buttery, and with a fair amount of sweetness, it lends itself to endless possibility. In fact, I made two variations (below) to the original recipe, both of which worked beautifully.
I miss my Grandma. I think how nice it would be to have her in MY kitchen and to bake a pie with her once again.
Ricotta and Thyme Pie
Versatile Cornmeal Crust (recipe follows)
All-purpose flour for dusting
1 2/3 cups/380 g ricotta cheese (Drain in a sieve set over a bowl in the refrigerator for 2 hours.)
1/2 cup/120ml half-and-half
3 tbsp honey
Generous pinch of kosher salt
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
Have ready two 12-cup muffin tins.
Lightly flour a clean work surface. Working with one disk of dough at a time (keep remaining disk chilled until needed) roll out the dough into a large circle approximately 1/8 inch thick, flouring as necessary to keep from sticking. Using a round biscuit or cookie cutter, cut out as many circles 4-5 inches/10 to 12 cm in diameter as possible. Gently lift each dough circle and press it into a muffin cup. Patch any tears by pinching together or plug with a scrap of dough. (Re-roll the scraps once for additional circles.)
As you fill the first tin, refrigerate it while you line the cups of the second tin. Refrigerate the second tin.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the cheese and eggs until smooth. Add half-and-half, honey, and salt and beat until thoroughly combined. Sprinkle in the thyme and stir to mix. (The filling can be made up to 24 hours in advance and refrigerated.)
Remove the dough-lined tins from the refrigerator. Place 3- 4 tablespoons of filling in each cup. Refrigerate the filled cup for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours. Preheat the oven to 375?F.
Bake the pies until the filling is slightly puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. The filling should jiggle slightly when a tin is gently shaken. Be careful not to over bake or the filling will crack. Let cool on a baking rack for 10 minutes. Gently remove from tin. Serve warm or at room temperature. Best enjoyed the day they are made but can be kept in an air-tight container for up to 2 days.
Versatile Cornmeal Crust
3/4 cup/170 g cold butter
1 1/2 cups/195 g all-purpose flour
1/2 cup/70 g cornmeal
1/2 cup/100 g sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 egg yolks
2-3 tablespoons ice water
Cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes and freeze while you measure and mix the dry ingredients.
Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse three or four times to mix. Scattered the butter cubes over the flour and pulse until the mixture forms pea sized clumps. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of the ice water. Drizzle the yolk mixture into the flour mixture and pulse just until the dough holds together. If the dough does not come together, pulse in the remaining tablespoon of ice water.
Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead it a few times until it smooths out. Divide it in half and press each half into a circle about 1/2 inch thick. Wrap in plastic wrap or parchment paper and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. The dough can be frozen for up to 2 months sealed in a plastic freezer bag.
Variation 1: Ricotta Cheese and Bacon
Fry 1/2 pound of bacon until crisp. Crumble bacon and evenly distributed among the filled cups before baking.
Variation 2: Raspberry Lemon
Substitute 1 cup of goat cheese for 1 cup of the ricotta. Eliminate the thyme and add the zest and juice of one lemon along with the half-and-half and honey. Distribute 1 1/2 pints of raspberries evenly among the filled cups before baking.
Source: Handheld Pies by: Sarah Billingsley & Rachel Wharton