Monday, December 6, 2010

Southern Fried Hand Pies

Little fried hand pies made with fresh fruit or dried, your choice of pastry and either pan fried, deep fried or baked. No matter how you prepare them, they are a true Southern Classic!
Little fried hand pies made with fresh fruit or dried, your choice of pastry and either pan fried, deep fried or baked. No matter how you prepare them, they are a true Southern Classic!

Southern Fried Hand Pies

A reader over on the Facebook page asked about these little southern delicacies and we started chatting about everybody's favorites, and of course, impressionable me, decided I had to make some right away! I get cravings thrown on me like that all the time.

Some folks make these using biscuit dough, some canned biscuits, some fresh or store-bought pastry, and one reader even mentioned making them with tortillas! While I do enjoy them with the biscuit dough as pictured above, I am more in the pie dough pastry school of thought, since I like a hand pie to have the same kind of flaky crust that a regular pie has and love the final texture of the deep fried pastry dough, while the biscuit dough cooked in a skillet is more greasy. By the way, I hear that in North Carolina, they know these as applejacks. I like it!

I make homemade pie crusts most of the time, although I love Pillsbury refrigerator crusts too. You just can't beat those for consistent quality and presentation, unlike my homemade pies, which are always far from perfect. I've used boxed Jiffy mixes too, for those times that I'm feeling a bit lazy and don't feel like dragging out the food processor for a homemade crust. They are handy to keep in the pantry, and they produce a mighty fine pie crust with nothing more than the addition of a little ice cold water. You'll want to roll the dough out nice and thin for these and should get right at a dozen four-inch rounds from one box of Jiffy. Of course, feel free to substitute your own homemade pie crust or a box of Pillsbury - you'll need a two crust recipe - or make up your own homemade biscuit dough. I've included one in the recipe.

Speaking of that... {pulling out the ole soapbox} there are some southerners who will say the only "authentic" Southern hand pies will be made only with biscuit dough and only with dried fruit and only in a skillet. Bless their hearts.

That would be like saying the only way to wash clothes is still with a hand wringer washing machine! Can you imagine? By the way, I distinctly remember that my grandmother had one of those in the corner of her kitchen, even though more modern washers were certainly available by then. Funny. I can still see that washer in my mind's eye today as if I'm standing right her kitchen, even though my Mama's Mama passed when I was a young child, and her house was lost long ago to Hurricane Camille.

Anyway... back in the day, that certainly would have been true of the way our great grandmothers would have made a hand pie. Not only did they not have the funds for the discretionary spending we have today, nor did they have access to convenience products, so yes, of course, they made up their own doughs. For hand pies that would have been in a pastry form, either flaky, same as when they made their pies, or, more biscuit-like if they liked a thicker texture on their hand pies. What they did not use, however, were rolls of canned biscuits or pie crust found in the refrigerator aisle of their local super-center.

Our great grandmothers also used fresh apples, peaches or other fruit that had been harvested in season, most often from their own or the backyard tree of a neighbor who was willing to share their harvest. Out of season, our great grandmothers used that very same fruit that had been preserved right there at home, intended for use throughout the season until the next harvest, often dried on sheets of tin or screens out in the hot sun. What our great grandmothers did not use, however, were little packages of preservative laden and frankly, budget busting, commercial dried fruits like we have on our grocery store shelves today. Sorry but that just ain't our great grandma's dried fruit.

All that to say, what you do is not wrong, nor any less authentic, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise. Ever.

Absolutely, you can use a homemade crust or biscuit recipe. Or, you can use a roll of canned biscuits, a box of pie dough mix, or a refrigerated pie crust. Or tortillas! And, you can use freshly cooked fruit, or commercially dried pouches of fruit. A lot of people love the concentrated sweetness of the fruit and frankly, the memories associated with reconstituting the dried fruit that their mothers or grandmothers may have used when they no longer dried fruit at home. You should always do what is most meaningful to you.

Since we mostly aren't drying fruit from our fruit trees these days, and thankfully our year-round availability of fresh fruit is much better in these modern times, I prefer using fresh fruit for hand pies, especially when in season, abundant, and especially locally grown. It just is the best for my body and frankly, I think it tastes best. {tucks away the soapbox}

Here's how to make some tasty fried apple pies.

The first thing to do is stew the apples down in nothing but butter and sugar. I like to use Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into chunks, and cook them covered, usually about 15 to 20 minutes or so. Any good firm apple that you like with do. You'll need about 2 cups of chopped apple, so how many will just depend on their size. A medium apple should give you about one cup of chopped.

Then remove from the heat and add in some brown sugar, cinnamon and just a bit of freshly grated nutmeg. If you make peach pies, peel and chop the peaches, and then let them drain in a colander for at least 30 minutes before proceeding.

Give them a good stir, a taste to adjust the sweetness, and set them aside to cool. They should be the consistency of a sort of chunky applesauce. One thing you do not want to do is to try to wrap hot apples in your pastry - it will melt it into a mess. While the apples are cooling, prepare the dough you're using, roll it out nice and thin and cut it into rounds. I usually use a small ramekin that measures 4 inches across to cut mine. A Tervis tumbler works pretty good too.

Once you have all the rounds cut out, sprinkle them lightly with a bit of granulated sugar and refrigerate them until you are ready to assemble the fried pies. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of apple filling onto each round. Depending on the size of your apples, and how large you make your pie circles, you'll probably end up with a bit of apple filling leftover. Just eat that with your oatmeal, on pancakes or mixed in some vanilla yogurt!

Fold them over, press the edges together and then crimp them with the tines of a fork so that they are well sealed. Place them on a plate that has been lightly sprinkled with flour and stick the plate in the fridge for about 10 minutes to chill the pastry.

Pan fry, deep fry or bake them, but fry in batches so you don't overcrowd the pan and cool the oil down. I prefer to deep fry, because for one, I have a good deep fryer, and also because pan frying them absorbs more grease, while deep frying fries them faster with much less grease absorption. By the way, they are also quite good baked.

Deep fried hand pies made with a pie crust dough.
Drain on a paper towel and sprinkle with granulated sugar as soon as they come out of the fryer, or let them cool slightly and dust lightly with powdered sugar. Try not to devour the entire platter. Not that I would know anything about that.

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Recipe: Southern Fried Hand Pies

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 30 min |Cook time: 5 min | Yield: About 12 Pies


For the Fruit:
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 a stick) of unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped (about 2 cups) (additional variations below)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
For Homemade Dough:
  • 2-1/2 cups of self-rising flour, divided
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable shortening (like Crisco)
  • 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
  • Yolk from one egg
  • 1/2 cup of ice water
  • About 1 cup of vegetable oil, for the skillet
  • Powdered sugar or granulated sugar, for dusting, optional

For the fruit, melt the butter and sugar together; add chopped apples and simmer covered, over medium heat for about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat, sprinkle brown sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon over the apples, stir, taste and adjust sweetness. Set aside to cool.

For the dough, cut the shortening into 2 cups of the flour. Stir in the sugar, egg yolk and ice water until dough is sticky. Turn out onto a floured surface and sprinkle more flour on top, working it in until dough is smooth. Roll out to about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick and cut into 4 to 6 inch circles. You may also pinch off golf ball-sized pieces and flatten individually by hand. Place about a half tablespoon of the cooled filling in the center of each round. Barely wet the edges of the round with water, fold over, lightly press down on the edges and the filling; seal the edges with the tines of a fork. Place all of the pies in a single layer onto a plate that has been lightly sprinkled with flour and refrigerate about 10 minutes.

Fry in a skillet, with about 1/2 inch of hot oil, until browned on both sides. Remove from the skillet, drain on paper towels and sprinkle with granulated sugar or dust with powdered sugar while still warm, if desired. Best served warm, but delicious cold too!

Cook's Notes: Oil must be hot (at least 350 degrees F) or dough will absorb too much grease and will disintegrate. Substitute canned biscuits, boxed pie crust mix (like Jiffy), or use a homemade or store-bought pie crust (Pillsbury recommended).  You'll need two crusts, rolled out a bit thinner to get 12 pies. Can also substitute other types of apples. You may have a little bit of extra apple left over, depending on the size apples that you use and how large you make the pies. You can add that to yogurt, or use over pancakes, French toast, over oatmeal, or as a side dish just like any stewed apple.

To Use Dried Fruit: Combine two small packages (about 7 ounces each) of dried fruit in two cups of water and one cup of sugar in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes. Add seasonings and proceed. Can also use peaches, apricots, mixed or other dried or fresh fruits.

To Deep Fry: Preheat deep fryer to 375 degrees F and fry, in batches to avoid chilling the oil, for about 3-1/2 minutes, or until golden brown. Shake basket gently after about 30 seconds to avoid the pastry from sticking.

To Bake: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place the mini pies on a greased cookie sheet or pan. Make a couple of small slits in the dough so the steam will vent out, brush the tops with the juice from the pan or with an egg wash over each pie if desired, and sprinkle tops with a bit of granulated sugar. Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Salted Caramel Apple Pies: Chop up a handful of caramel candies and sprinkle on top of filling. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt before sealing.

For Peach Filling: For peach pies, or other juicy fruit such as pears, peel and chop ripe peaches, you'll want about 2 pounds. Set aside in a colander and let them drain for at least 30 minutes, then sprinkle with 1/4 cup of sugar before filling dough. It is not necessary to stew these softer fruits, so long as they are ripe, although you may if you prefer. Can also substitute any other stewed fruit for pie recipe.

For Strawberry Filling: Add 2 cups of hulled and mashed strawberries to a saucepan, add 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. Taste and increase sugar as needed, as strawberries will vary in sweetness. Mix 2 tablespoons of cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water and add to the mixture. Bring to a boil and cook until mixture thickens. Set aside to cool completely.

For Blackberry Filling: Add 1/2 pint of fresh blackberries or 1 (21-ounce can), drained to a saucepan along with 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. Taste and increase sugar as needed, as berries will vary in sweetness. Add 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice and a pinch of the zest. Mix 2 tablespoons of cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water and add to the mixture. Bring to a boil and cook until mixture thickens. Remove and mash the berries to desired consistency.

For Sweet Potato Filling: Combine 2 cups of mashed, cooked sweet potatoes, with 1/2 cup (1 stick) of softened butter, a cup of light brown sugar, packed, a pinch of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg, and enough milk to moisten. Also can be made with leftover candied yams and sweet potato casserole.

For Pecan Pie Filling: In a saucepan, combine 1 cup granulated sugar with 2/3 cup light corn syrup, 1/3 cup unsalted, softened butter and 2 large eggs. Stir in 1 cup chopped pecans, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook 10 minutes.

For Chocolate Filling: In a saucepan, whisk together 1/2 cup of granulated sugar with 1/3 cup of all purpose flour and 2 tablespoons of cocoa. Add 1 cup of evaporated milk, 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 4 tablespoons of butter and heat over medium heat until mixture thickens. Let cool before filling pies.

Fast Food Pies: Prepare filling as above substituting egg roll or wonton wrappers for the dough. Add about 2 tablespoons of filling in one wrapper and fold in the sides. Fold over to a rectangle or roll tight like an egg roll. Fry in deep oil preheated to 350 degrees F, until lightly browned and crispy, about 4 minutes. Drain on a rack over paper towels; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar while still slightly warm.


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