For the PTA Bake Sale last week, I was all out of mixes and had zero time to stop by a store. Normally, in the city, I’d just pop out to Trader Joe’s or CVS or something and pick up some squishy brownie or neon pink cake mix. Out here, the closest CVS is 35 minutes, and Trader Joe’s is more like 45.
I opened up the cupboards: nothing. Half a bag of mixed frozen fruit, some flour, and what remained of a tub of vegan shortening from my holiday baking. Epicurious has never failed me before, but do you realize, they have NO SEARCH CATEGORY FOR BAKE SALE?
What could I make in less time than a store trip?
If I actually had a real freezer, instead of the moody little shoebox-sized compartment on top of our 3/4 scale apartment style fridge, I would keep frozen pie crusts handy for something like this. In this case, a few hours shy of the bake sale, I had nada. Fortunately, making crust is a lot easier than you think–it’s trying to make it into a giant perfectly round disc that’s hard. For hand pies, though, anything goes.
To make pastry quickly in your own moment of desperation, blend 3/4 cup plus about 2 tablespoons shortening (or vegan shortening, or butter, or butter-like substance) into 2-1/4 cups flour and a teaspoon of salt. Use a fork, or a pastry blender if you have one, or ideally, a Cuisinart. You can mix shortening and butter, too, depending on what you have left. I had about half a cup of shortening, so added some butter I had leftover from making something else. The butter has better flavor, and more butter will give you a more shortbread-like texture. More shortening in the ratio makes it lighter and flakier. I also added a tablespoon of sugar, to give the crust a little sweetness, but you don’t need it. If you’re using a Cuisinart, use the “pulse” button just until it forms a crumbly texture with little pea-sized bits. If you just whirl the snot out of it, the crust will be tough. This whole process takes about five minutes, unless you use the Cuisinart. Then it will take three minutes, but you will have spent ten minutes looking for all the parts and trying to reassemble it.
Add up to 1/3 cup COLD water, very slowly, using the fork/pastry blender/”pulse” control until the dough wants to form a ball. Stop before it gets sticky. Put plastic wrap over the bowl and turn it upside-down, wrapping the plastic wrap around the ball and pressing in any of the loose bits. Wrap it up nice and tight and stick it in the fridge for an hour or two while you finish your hair/thesis/blog post/email/taxes.
When the crust is a little firmer, pull it out of the fridge and put it on a lightly floured board. Roll it out to about 1/8″ thick, flipping and turning it a couple of times to make sure it’s not sticking. The beauty of hand pies is that you’re not making a large crust, so if it tears or isn’t perfect, so what? Whip out those cookie cutters and find shapes you can work with. The only rule is to cut the shapes in pairs, obviously, so you have a top and a bottom for each pie.
I used flower and heart cutters that have proved incredibly multi-purpose. Cookies, sure, but also cheese, flat bread, all kinds of things. Sure, Miss H will eat a wide variety of things, but she’ll eat almost anything shaped like a flower or heart. Don’t have fancy cookie cutters? Slice the dough like you’re going to play tic-tac-toe, and then diagonally to make matching triangles. Voila, just like you used to buy at the corner store when you were a kid! What were those things called? Homepies?
Anyhow, put your filling into the center of each bottom shape. No more than a teaspoon, or they get too messy! Then put the matching top on and press around the outside to seal. The flower worked particularly well here, because a nice thumbprint on each petal really enhanced the shape. Frozen berries and jams of all types make great fillings. If you are using vegan shortening and your own preserves, you can easily make this a vegan or sugar-free dessert, and no one ever has to know.
If you’d like to really rock the bake sale, and you’re not that strictly vegan, brush the tops with egg white for that bakery-case display look. If you’re in a hurry, just put them in the oven for about 20-25 minutes at 400 and use the time to make yourself a cocktail or return some phone calls.
I also sprinkled a little cinnamon sugar on the top, but you could get your Fancy Nancy on with any sprinkles or colored sugar you have handy. Everyone will think you’ve worked so hard!