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Forget everything I said about pie and how fussy and daunting it is. I'm here to inform you that I was wrong. Pie is beautiful, pie is kind. Pie is what's holding me together these days, when I would much rather fall apart.
People do all sorts of funny things when they're sad. Me, I made pie. Two little apple pies. Then two little cherry pies. And now, I give you hand pies filled with guava and cream cheese, a popular pastry in places like Puerto Rico and Cuba.
The guava, which is actually guava paste (a dense type of jelly), melts just enough in the oven, and the cream cheese helps cut its sweetness. Together, they are awesome.
Don't let those recipes intimidate you with their stern instructions on how not to handle your pie dough. It helps to have a pie whisperer — you know, someone important in your life who walks you through the process and answers all your silly questions. I learned from my pie whisperer that pie dough is more forgiving than you think. Sure, you want the dough to stay cold and you don't want to overwork it, but unless you're baking in the heat of summer (who does that, anyway?) or fondling your dough with warm, sweaty hands, you'll be OK, and the pie will be, too.
To wit: I skipped the part about chilling your assembled hand pies before baking. Because who has the fridge space to do that? And the pies still came out beautifully.
One note on shapes: I made the pies in a variety of shapes and sizes using a couple of different techniques. In the end, I decided that stacking one piece on top of the other, sandwich style, was easier than folding the dough over into a square or half-moon. Cutting the dough into circles required more re-rolling of dough than cutting into squares, but I liked having both kinds, for variety's sake.
Happy Thanksgiving. These hand pies may not be traditional Thanksgiving fare, but give it a try over the weekend, when everyone is pumpkined out but still looking to indulge.
Guava-cream cheese hand pies (Pastelitos de guayaba y queso)
For the pie dough:
(Adapted from williams-sonoma.com)
1¼ cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 tablespoons cold water
For the filling:
(Adapted from Food & Wine)
7 ounces guava paste*, sliced thinly into 1½ inch squares
6 ounces cream cheese, cut into eight pieces
For the egg wash:
1 egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons water
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
If making dough with a pastry blender:
Mix the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and cut it into the flour mixture until butter pieces are pea-sized. Add water one tablespoon at a time while continuing to blend, until the dough starts to come together. You may need to add a little more water if the dough is too dry.
Don't overblend the dough, or the crust won't be as flaky and buttery as you want it. With clean hands, work the dough to incorporate any straggler flour bits, then shape into a ball. (The dough will be slightly sticky but surprisingly easy to work with. Much easier, in my opinion, than sugar cookie dough.)
If using a food processor:
Keep the blade in and follow the same steps, but pulse the dough to cut the butter into the flour and then drizzle in the water until the dough just comes together. Stop as soon as the dough forms itself into a ball.
At this point, you can freeze the dough for later use or start rolling it out immediately. I've learned to ignore the step in most pie dough recipes that call for a chilling period before rolling. All the chilling and waiting around was part of the reason why I never made pie. Who wants roadblocks on their way to deliciousness?
Generously flour your work surface. Use as much flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Roll a few times, then flip dough over and roll some more, until the dough is about 1/8 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes. I eyeballed it for the squares and used a plastic lid (from a container of store-bought cake frosting, of all things) to cut out the circles. My round hand pies were about 3½ inches in diameter, and my square ones were about the size of a Post-it.
Brush the egg wash around the edges of half the cut-out dough pieces. (It's OK to coat the entire piece with egg wash if that's easier for you.) Lay down one or two pieces of guava paste in the center of each piece, then top with some cream cheese. Just eyeball it — no need to get overly technical here. Just make sure not to pile too much filling on, or it might ooze out of the pie.
Lay a second piece of dough over the bottom piece, then use a fork to press down the edges, imprinting the fork tines on them. Cut a small slit in the middle of each hand pie, or do as I did and stab them once each with the fork tines.
Brush the pies with the egg wash, then sprinkle sugar on them.
Bake for about 30 minutes, rotating once, until the crust is shiny and golden.
Makes about eight small hand pies.
* Guava paste comes in discs and as a rectangular 14-ounce block in plastic wrapping. I found mine (Iberia brand) at ShopRite in New London. Look for it in the Latin American aisle.
Like Pavlov’s dog, the start of fall triggers an unhinged desire to buy more apples than one person can responsibly eat, and drink gallons of apple cider, and wrap myself in cozy sweaters and read by pumpkin-scented candles.