A Pie in Every Pocket


    Ahh. The pie cooling on the windowsill. It's not so much a dessert as an icon. An edible emblem of America, democracy, and all that is good. But allow me to humbly suggest that in this guise at least, pie is actually a tool of repression. Think about it. It's almost as tedious to eat as it is to make. Specialized equipment is required for extracting the pieces. You need a plate. You need a fork. And then, of course, you've got to have a table to sit at. And as for removing the first piece, well, I'd just as soon take out my own appendix with a pen knife. No, this is not a pastry for the convenience age.
    However, in its original incarnation, the pie looked very very different. In fact, it looked a lot like this ... [shows a "pocket pie"]. Now although any good southern boy would recognize this device—a gift from our plantation past—most Americans are unfamiliar with this edible envelope and the culinary freedom that it allows. So, prepare yourselves, America, because the hand pie, or pocket pie is going to set you free. Not only is it convenient, it's tasty. And it's ...

["Good Eats" theme plays]

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Husband and Wife Cornish Couple

    Ahh. Hand pies, pocket pies, or turnovers of various shapes and sizes hail from all over the globe. If you've ever had a pierogi in Cleveland, you can thank the Poles who settled there. Empanadas in Texas? Say thanks to Spain, specifically the region of Galicia. Although Louisiana's "hot meat pies" also reflect some Spanish influence, if you look further back, you'll see Arab intervention in the form of the triangular sambusak pastry. If you've ever traveled the Aegean, you've probably munched down on Greece's kolokotes. Of course, there's the calzone, which means "pant's leg" in Italian.

CORNISH COUPLE: [in the background while AB is talking, the "wife" takes the pies out of the oven, wraps it in the newspaper her husband was reading, gives it to him, they hug, he leaves]

    But the pocket pie concept reached its true zenith in the able hands of Cornish housewives who used to bake up small meat and vegetable pies for their coal miner husbands. They'd wrap them up, while still warm, in either a napkin or an old newspaper, and they'd stash them in lunchboxes or even right in the pockets of their mates, who then went off to the coal mines.
    [AB looks back at the couple] What can I say? Re-enactments are really expensive.

Coal Mine

GUESTS: Two coal miners

    When lunchtime came, the miner would simply unwrap his parcel. And if his wife used enough newspaper, the pie would probably still be warm. If it wasn't quite warm enough, he would simply place it on the blade of his shovel, and warm it over his wee little lantern. Now if the miner was really lucky, his wife would use two different fillings. She'd put a savory filing in one end of the pie, and a sweet filling in the other.

MINER #1: It's me lucky day! [the mine shakes, a chunk of rock falls and hits the minerand knocks him unconscious]
AB: [takes the pie from the minter] No, actually. it's me lucky day!

The Kitchen

             Another Cornish wife

    So prevalent was the "pasty" in Cornish cuisine that it is said that the devil himself would not go to Cornwall for fear of being cooked into one of these pies. Is that true?

SATAN: Nah, are you kidding? I'm Satan. I'm a thin red dude. I'm not scared of no ... Ahhh! [he's run off by the man playing the "wife" two scenes ago, and another Cornish wife]

    Well, um, perhaps before we ...

SATAN: [runs around the counter] Ahhh!

... actually try to make pies of our own, we should consider the various characteristics that we ...

SATAN: [the women have caught up to him and beat him up] Aahhhh!

... might be looking for in a pocket pie crust. [notes the pummeling] That's going to leave a mark!

    [AB is "inside" a sleeping-bag sized "pocket pie"] A proper pocket pie crust is characterized by two seemingly contradictory traits, flexibility, and strength. Now the flexibility comes from the fact that the crust is actually a foam, just like the foam that you see here, made up of very very tiny little bubbles. Well, you can almost see it here. This is exactly precisely the kind of thing that we want to see in our dough, but there's something else. Step into my office, please.
    [the camera moves inside the "pie" with AB] We also want to see gluten. That's what this stuff is. Okay, it's really chicken wire, but work with me here, okay? Any long-time fan of this show knows that gluten is a protein matrix created when wheat flour is mixed together with water. In its raw state, it's very plastic and elastic. But when it is cooked, it is very very rigid. So, how do we get rigidity and flexibility into one dough? By not thinking pie. No, we must think biscuit.

AB: Somebody get me out of this thing?

    [AB is still trapped inside the pocket pie but continues to narrate] Perhaps this would be a good time to review the biscuit method of mixing things; after [all], this dough is essentially a biscuit. Come this way, won't you? First, we cut solid fat (in this case, shortening) into flour. Now this flour will also be laced with both salt and baking powder. That's where we're going to get those nice little bubbles. When that is done, we will then integrate dairy product, in this case, milk. That is where we get biscuits, or in this case, pocket pie dough. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go find some wire cutters. Excuse me. Pardon me.

    Two teaspoons of baking powder and three-quarter teaspoon of kosher salt go into nine and one-half ounces of all-purpose flour—that's about two cups—and that we will sift. Only, I really hate sifting. So I'm going to do this in my handy dandy food processor. Besides mixing, the food processor will also aerate the powdered goods making it easier for the milk to mix in later on. There. That should just about do it.

2 tsp. Baking Powder
3/4 tsp. Kosher Salt
9.5 Ounces All Purpose Flour

    Now this mixture goes into a nice big work bowl. But first, two and a half ounces of shortening which I have chilled in water—makes it a little easier to work with. Don't worry about whatever liquid sticks to that. And the dry goods go on top of that. Don't worry about getting a homogeneous mixture here. Just distribute the fat evenly. The rolling pin will even things out later.

2.5 Ounces Shortening

    Kind of mush the flour into the fat, using the tips of your fingers. They don't get as hot as your palms, so it won't melt the shortening. Now make a little well in the middle, and then pour in three quarters of a cup of milk, and stir it in good.

3/4 Cup Whole Milk

    Now this is different from regular biscuits, where we don't want to overwork them. Here, we want gluten. So stir your heart out. And then turn it out onto a counter, give it a little bit of flour, and knead it, good and hard, 10 to 20 times. The more the merrier.
    There. Now is the time to summon your favorite rolling pin. I like this French model: no ball bearings, no handles, no funny business. Just a nice taper on both ends, and a narrow diameter for better control. Roll your dough out until it's about half an inch thick all the way around, give or take a few millimeters, of course. Then, take yourself a two and a quarter inch cutting ring or a cookie cutter, biscuit cutter, what have you, and cut out your rounds. Remember to push down to the board, and then twist to extract your round. Roll your remnant and get as many more rounds out of it as you possibly can. Then, re-flour your board and roll each one of the rounds until it's five to six inches in diameter. About like that.

Many attempts have been made to declare the pasty Michigan's official food.

The Kitchen

    As you finish rolling out your dough rounds, stack them up in wax paper.
    Since a little shot of cold will firm the fat in these rounds making them easier to deal with later, you might want to stash them in your chill chest for an hour or two prior to forming the final pies. This will give you time to contemplate the proper filling.
    Now, if we had some fresh fruit, we'd be in luck. [camera pans to some mangos] Wow! Mangoes! My favorite, and gosh, they are nice and ripe. You know, the problem with working with these ancient cousins of the cashew is that they have a flesh that clings relentlessly to these flat, fibrous seeds. Now there are a lot of strange recommendations out there for how to deal with this. One involves cutting the mango kind of in half with a paring knife and then criss-crossing the insides and then scooping it out with ... You know what? I'd rather remove the thymus gland from a gerbil. Here's what I will do, though.
    [peels the mango with a peeler] There. Now I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to have to hold onto this wet, slimy thing with one hand while trying to carve it with this knife in the other. I just wouldn't do it. Here's what I would do, though.
    Slice just a little bit off of each end and then take a corn-on-the-cob holder and push it right down into that seed. Then you can hold on to the holder while you carve off the sides of the mango. Look, no muss, no fuss. There. As the cook, you should get a few bennies every now and then.

    [adds ingredients to a pot] Bring this to a boil over high heat, then clamp on your lid, drop the heat to a simmer, and cook for half an hour.

4 Mangos Peels and Diced
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Cider Vinegar
2 tsp. Curry Powder
1/4 Cup Freshly Squeezed
    Lime Juice

    Move your mango mixture to a large stainless steel bowl and cool it on the counter for about an hour before stashing it in the refrigerator until it's thoroughly chill, about three or four hours. Why this stainless steel bowl? Because metal is a conductor. It'll help move heat away from the fruit faster than either glass or plastic ever could. I'll be back. [close the fridge door and then immediately opens it again] Wow, time flies when you're on TV.
    Let's pie one on, shall we? I've got my station all set up. Extract a dough. Place it in front of me, thusly. Get a wee spoonful of filling and place off to one side. Now this is the first place you can make big mistakes with this kind of pie, because the mixture is full of water, water turns to steam during cooking, and it can blow a hole in the side of the pie. So no more than that fat spoonful.
    Next, we have a little egg wash. This is nothing but one egg, with two teaspoons of water. Lightly brush on with your finger. No need for a basting brush. Then, we fold over. You want to work this so that any air around the filling works its way out. Don't try to push down on the dough. This isn't a sealing step, just an airing out step.
The sealing will come from the fork. And there's an art to crimping. You want to lay the bowl of the fork down on the counter, and just roll the tines on, until they make that impression. The last thing you want to do is squeeze so hard that you punch a hole in it or cut the dough. There. Just roll it on. I'm not pushing down, I'm rolling on. There. Work your way all the way around. Notice that I'm overlapping, putting the tine in the slot of the last crimp all the way around.
    There. Now we move this to its resting place on a piece of parchment on a sheet pan, and I'm going to label it "M", for mango. And last, but not least, we're going to cut some steam holes in it with shears: one, two, three. I think this does a lot less damage than using a knife. Now the mango filling is definitely my favorite fruit filling, but that isn't to say that it's my favorite pie filling.

    Let's say for a moment that you had ten ounces of butter in a bag, and to that bag, you added two and a half cups of granulated sugar, one quarter cup plus one tablespoon of your favorite cocoa powder, and just a nice heavy pinch of salt. If you sealed up that bag, letting some of the air out, thusly, and kneaded it up into a nice paste, you would have my favorite pie filling: an old-fashioned chocolate filling. And you'd have enough for 15 to 20 pies.

10 Ounces Softened Unsalted
2 1/2 Cups Sugar
1/4 Cup + 1 Tbs. Cocoa
Pinch of Kosher Salt

    And dispensing is nice and easy. There you go. Now you might be wondering, "Are sweet dessert pies the only pocket pies available?" Of course not. There are myriads of savory options. Got beef or vegetable stew? Then you've got a savory pocket pie waiting to happen. Just fill it up as you would with the other fillings, and you've got yourself a nice Cornish pasty.
    Or perhaps you're in the mood for pizza. No problem. Just spoon on a little sauce and kind of smear it out—not getting too close to the edge—and add your favorite toppings. Just go light. A little of bit grated cheese. I like some green onions, but that's just me. Pepperoni's fine, because it's nice and flexible. A little red pepper flake—again, just don't overstuff or you'll be sorry later. A little bit of your egg wash goes on in just half of the dough, and then fold over, and make sure that you work out as much air as possible before you get to the crimping. And of course, when it comes to crimping, again, roll the fork on. You don't want to punch holes in it.

    When it comes time to cook your pies, you could just park them in a 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes. You'd get the job done, but if you ask me, there are some tastier tangents to take.

350 Degrees

In France, a pocket pie filled with apples is a
chausson aux pommes
, or ‘apple sock'.

The Kitchen

    To pan fry your hand pies, you'll need a heavy skillet—preferably cast iron—and you'll want that set over medium-low heat. Relatively low heat because we will be cooking with a wee pat of butter. There we go. We might need a little more, depending on how many pies, but this pan will only hold two. Now this is a method taught to me by my grandmother, and I think her grandmother taught her. It's a method that's based on wanting to get a lot of flavor out of a relatively small amount of fuel and not a whole lot of fat; in other words, it's poor people working food.
    Now when that's melted, we will go with two pies, carefully. And arrange them with the round side—the rounded inside facing out—and kind of give it a jiggle to make sure they don't stick in those first few minutes of cooking. There. Now this method, it is said, originated with the slaves, American slaves. After baking fancy lattice-topped pies for their masters up in the big house, they would sneak whatever remnants they could out of the kitchen and they would put together these small hand pies that the workers could kind of sneak out with them into the fields so they would get enough to eat. Oddly enough, it's a method that's been used in a lot of different countries. For instance, in China, where there's often not enough fuel or fat to cook with, this is exactly how you treat pot stickers, which is essentially what they are. Only we're not going to let them stick.
    Time to flip. Very careful; don't want to splash any butter. Now we're going to let these cook for another three to four minutes, or until golden brown and delicious. There. Now this isn't actually my favorite method, flavorful though it is. My favorite method is ...

    Brothers and sisters, I'm talking about deep fried pocket pies. You will require one large, deep vessel—cast iron is good— about two quarts of cooking oil—canola is what I have here—a thermometer that you trust to ensure 375 degrees, which is the target, and you will also want a draining rig of some type. I prefer a cooling rack turned upside down over newspaper.

Canola Oil
Heat Oil to 375 Degrees

    Oh, come on, we've gone over this before. By having direct contact between the metal rack and the newspaper, the paper can wick away oil from the pies faster. You're also going to need an extraction device. I like this wire mesh strainer. Oh, last note, before the pies go in, you want to prep them a little differently for the deep fryer. Instead of snipping them across the top, creating steam vents, you want to poke with a fork, or dock. That way, we will lose less of the filling during the cooking.
    Now, don't just go dropping them in, or you will deeply regret it. You want to basically release them as though they were little fish, and don't go more than about three at a time. Now we're going to cook them until they float, and are golden brown and delicious, three to four minutes. And don't forget, you're going to need to change your oil temperature to make up for the heat that's being sucked out by the pies. Keep an eye on your thermometer.
    Hear that? You hear that kind of deep, "ping ping ping" kind of sound? That means that the pies are basically done. It's excess moisture leaving the pie that we don't want to leave the pie, so we will fish them out. Besides, they are nice golden brown and delicious. And we'll space those out on our cooling rack. Now you're going to want to let these sit and cool for at least five minutes. Well, if you don't, you'll burn your mouth, and that's not good eats.
    Here we have poofy baked pies, blistered deep-fried pies—I like those a lot—and the very flat, but very caramelized pan-fried pies. All made with the exact same dough, and all with different fillings. Variety, it's the spice of life.
    Nowm, it seems that I have made more than even I can eat at one sitting. So we need to consider some storage options. Now the fruit pies and the chocolate pies—once those are cooled—you could simply put those in zip top bags and stash them in your bread box, at room temperature, of course, for up to a week. The meat pies, of course, should probably be refrigerated, also for up to a week, but you'll want to re-toast those, so that the dough isn't soggy. Now if you're looking for long-term solutions, well, then you're going to have to look into your freezer.
    Simply park your uncooked pies on a metal sheet pan or a cookie sheet, and freeze them until they are rock hard. Then you can stash them for, I'd say, up to about three months in a freezer bag. When it comes time to reheat, stick them straight in a 350 degree oven.

Traditionally Russian brides serve pirozhki (pocket pies)
on the third day after the wedding.

A Road

    [AB is cruising in a convertible down the highway with a retro shirt, full head of hair and sporting a bodacious mustache] On September 14, 1964, the hand pie world changed forever. For it was upon that fateful day that these [holds up a Pop-Tart] were unleashed upon the planet. Like the hand pies of old, this was meant to be consumed on the go without the aid of utensils. It would fit in a glove compartment, a briefcase, a purse, and it was perfectly sized to slide right into the most American of all culinary inventions [holds up a toaster].
    By the time Sergeant Pepper hit the airwaves, this device was the most popular manufactured breakfast food in America. Taste one today, and you'll be a trifle disappointed. Make your own, well, then you're going to taste the love.

The Kitchen

    Making your own toaster pastries is a snap. Just start with the same dough we've been working with all day, and split it in half. Take each one of those pieces and roll it out, nice and slow and careful-like with your French rolling pin—always helpful—until you've got a rectangle that's 12 inches by 10 inches. I like to use this construction "T" to actually square things off, and divide it into four by five-inch pieces.
    Then you just rub your egg wash all the way around, and then ladle on whatever filling you want. In this case, I'm using about a teaspoon and a half to two teaspoons of blueberry preserves. Then you're going to take your other piece of ... not pictured ... roll it out, cut it into the same sizes, so that you've basically got lids, or tops of your toaster pastries, just like that. But before you put them on, you want to dock them with a fork, anywhere from, you know, eight to ten times, and then lay them right down on top. Again, you want to make sure you kind of smooth the excess air out, because even though you've docked it, they could blow up like nasty bubbles, and you don't want that.
    Seal the edges, kind of as you go, and then go back and do all your crimping at once. If at any time, the dough gets mushy on you, just cover it with wax paper, and then place a pan—an upside down sheet pan that you've kept in the freezer—on top. It'll suck out some of the heat, and help the fat to harden. Then, get to crimping.

    Slide into a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.

350 Degrees

The term docking comes from the Middle Dutch word dok, meaning "to drill".

    When they're done, they won't be brown at all ... not yet. That's because we're only par-cooking them here. They'll finish in your toaster. Let these cool completely, then stash them in a zip top bag in your bread box, or bag, tag, and freeze for up to a month. That way, when breakfast comes, you'll be ready. All you have to do is pop a couple in the toaster, and you've got breakfast. I think I'll have boysenberry and ginger lime today. Or maybe two chocolates. Heck, I'll have a couple of each.
    I certainly hope that we've instilled in you a healthy desire to take hand pies into your own hands. One basic dough, cunningly crafted, can become a tasty tantalating [sic] envelope for a wide spectrum of goodies, from meat and potatoes to chocolate, to anywhere beyond. And the best thing is, you'll never have to share a pie ever again. And you can even keep one in your pocket, just in case.
    I'm Alton Brown; see you next time on "Good Eats"

Outtake: Coal Mine

MINER #1: It's me lucky day.

[lights flash, the set is shaken, and a piece of rock eventually falls on the miner ... obviously mis-timed]

AB: You know, in comedy, timing really is everything.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010