Strawberry Basil Hand Pies

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Sometimes the act of baking can make life momentarily enchanting.

Have you ever eloped with a bite of dessert… a sprig of basil… a ripened strawberry?

Sometimes even a picture of a dessert will do that for me. The lovely writer of {local milk} did an article on white peach rose basil hand pies. I didn’t even have to read the article to feel inspired. The picture was pure love.

I of course referenced the recipe when it came baking, but the benefit of not reading the recipe at first was that my mind had the freedom to wander. I had plenty of basil, but I also had plenty of strawberries and no peaches. It didn’t seem worth going out and buying a fruit that wouldn’t be in season for months. The strawberries had been so ripe when I purchased them on Monday that by Tuesday they were practically splitting at the seams with decadence. They needed to be used.

I made my favorite pie crust, a variation on the crust in Julia Child’s The Way to Cook. Admittedly, there is always an obscene amount of lard in my freezer, leftover from half pigs my family has purchased or pints that my boss has handed off to me after a day in his kitchen. I like lard for pies, even knowing how decadent and colonial it makes me sound. I’ve never been unhappy with a lard crust, and you’d be hard pressed to convince me that it’s any worse than a butter crust.

There is a calm and focus like no other when I’m baking. Mess is inevitable and so I don’t bother with it until I’ve finished. Flour piles high all around me. Dough is my favorite thing. Flour and water, and a little bit of this and that turns into something irresistible. I was particularly excited to be able to use Brookford Farm Pastry Flour for this recipe, which is rustic and uses old world wheat.

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I also finally got to use the cinnamon and opal basil growing in my herb garden. I’ve been in love with herbs paired with berries lately. With my last batch of strawberries I made a chamomile strawberry gelato that I’d like to attempt to make again.

When my mother came home the pies were half done – some cooling on racks, some in the oven. She thought the whole scene was very amusing and began to recite a very old poem.

The queen of hearts

she made some tarts,

all on a summers day;

Luckily for me and Thom, the Knave of Hearts never did show up, and there were plenty of tarts for every one.

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Strawberry Basil Hand Pies (yield about 18-20)

  • 2 cups of ripe chopped strawberries – Mildred Drumlin Farm
  • 2 Tbs roughly chopped basil – Grown in my herb garden, seedlings courtesy of New Roots Farm and Aspen Hill Herb Farm
  • 1Tbs orange juice
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs arrowroot powder or cornstarch
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten – Mona Farm
  • Brown sugar for sprinkling

Pie Crust

I mucked up a large portion of this dough when I was making it, so it may yield more than you want. However if you have any leftover, feel free to freeze it for later. Also if you have your own favorite pie crust you are more than welcome to use that.

  • 2 cups pastry flour – Brookford Farm
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 8 oz chilled lard in little hunks (Birch Hill Farm)  OR  6 oz chilled diced up unsalted butter and 2 oz lard/shortening
  • 1/2 cup ice water (I recommend chipped ice)

For the crust – Get all your ingredients measured beforehand, this recipe goes quickly. Put flour, salt, sugar, and lard into a food processor and and pulse 1 or 2 times. If you are using butter you need to pulse a few more times to break up the butter. Turn on the food processor and immediately pour in the ice water. Stop and pulse one or two times. The dough should be a bunch of small lumps. If it’s dry, pulse in a little more water. If its a little too sticky don’t worry, you’ll be able to incorporate that flour when you work the dough.

Turn the dough onto a cool work surface. Sprinkle more flour if the dough is very sticky. Press together into a mass. DO NOT OVERWORK THE DOUGH. Quickly using the heel of your hand smear the dough out in front of you, litte clumps at a time. Shape the dough into a cake. Wrap it in plastic and put into a plastic bag. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Hand Pies

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Chop the strawberries into little chunks. I like to just slice them several times so they still have that strawberry outline of a shape. Put them into a mixing bowl and add the orange juice, basil, sugar, and salt. Let sit for fifteen minutes. Pour a little of the juice into a separate bowl and combine the arrowroot powder with it. Reintroduce the thickened juice into the strawberry basil mixture. This is your filling.

Take the dough out of refrigerator. Generously flour your work surface. Cut the pie dough into thirds and put the unused thirds back into the refrigerator to stay cool. Roll out the dough until its about 1/8 inches thick. Using a cookie cutter or biscuit cutter cut out little circles and put them on a baking sheet. It’s always better to start from the outside and work your way in the dough to get the most yield. You may need to do the next few steps in batches. If the dough gets too warm just stick it in the freezer and take out another chilled bit of dough.

Put about a tablespoon of filling in the center of half of the circles. Take a little bit of water and run it around the edge of these same circles with the tip of your finger. Take the empty circles and place them on top of the filled bits, gently squeezing the edges together. Wash the tops with the beaten egg, sprinkle a little sugar, and if you’d like you can make a little pattern across the edges with a fork. I intentionally was a little messy with my edges, because I enjoy that rustic look.

Stick the first sheet of pies in the fridge as you are working on the next batch so that they might chill. When you go to put the second batch into the fridge pull out the first and pop it in the oven. Bake it at 425 for 5 minutes, and drop down to 350 for the remaining 15-20 minutes.

The author of {local milk} who wrote this recipe said that she could seem them used in a wedding. I could see that too, in one of those big beautiful old barns with lights hanging from the walls and the rafters, and all your best friends around you dancing.

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