December 5, 2011

Baked Apricot-Pecan Hand Pies

My grandparents describe a "good school lunch" as a leftover biscuit, a leftover sweet potato, and a fried hand-pie. They would throw the leftovers in little lunch pails before school and that lunch would keep them full all afternoon. No concern about antioxidants or daily doses of fiber, just convenient, homemade leftovers. Yesterday for lunch, I had a bowl of leftover sweet potato soup, leftover soda bread, and a baked hand pie and it made me think about this rounded lunch combination. Hand-pies are a simple, humble food that can be made fancy if so desired; but they also serve a purpose. Portable and small, a hand-pie is a homemade dose of fruit, a little shot of sugar, and just enough carbohydrates to fuel an afternoon. 

Where else to get a hand-pie recipe than from my Great-Aunt Sammie? Aunt Sammie has a degree - a degree - in Home Economics (a.k.a. she is to be trusted). She developed these little apricot pies to be fried rather than baked, but eventually adapted them to be baked as well. These pies are not very sweet but they have a delicious flaky crust. The key is to cool them completely and put them in an airtight container once cooled. The crust has essential oils that need to "rest" into the crust for a few hours before a hand-pie can be put in a coat pocket with no residual grease. 

Make these hand-pies and pop them in your lunch for some of these too-busy December days. They are old-fashioned, crusty, and completely satisfying without being overwhelmingly dessert-like. 

Baked Apricot-Pecan Hand Pies
Adapted (loosely) from Sammie Pickard (BS Ouachita Baptist University, home economics, 1941)

Apricot filling

1 pound dried apricots 
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 heaping tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Handful chopped pecans (optional)

Cover apricots with water and let soften at least 2 hours. Cook apricots and water on medium heat until soft, about 30 minutes. Add butter, sugar, and flour. Cook until slightly thickened and add pecans. Cool.

Pecan Crust

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup pecans
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2/3 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 F. In a food processor, chop pecans until very fine. Add half of the flour and grind a few seconds more. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and pecan mixture with salt. Mix in oil and buttermilk and stir thoroughly with wooden spoon, until flour is fully incorporated into the fat. 
Divide dough into 8 sections. Roll each section into as near a circle as possible, then cut a perfect circle with a bowl or saucer (or margarita glass!). Save trimmings and roll into extra circles. I ended up with 12 circles of dough.

Put apricot filling on one side of each circle. Fold circles over filling and seal edges with a fork. Place pies on a cookie sheet and prick tops lightly to let out the delicious pie steam. Bake about 15-16 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool completely.

The filling for these hand-pies could be cherries, or peaches, or really any stone fruit. If you are using fresh fruit, allow the pieces to soak overnight. If using dried fruit, then raisins and dates would work just as well. My next combination will be fried apple pies but I will save those for a more dessert-minded time. These adorable little things taste even better the day after baking...and even better the next...and better the next...

I should mention that Aunt Sammie doesn't mess with this pecan business. Her hand-pies are made of fresh apricots and her crusts are smooth and, I'm sure, quite perfect. But I currently have a pound and a half of North Carolina pecans in my freezer and plan on using them intermittently throughout the holiday season. Plus the pecans in these pies give them a bit of crunchy, contrasting texture, both in the filling and in the crust. I love apricot and nuts together, but try different combinations!

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