At twenty-five, Victoria Dearmond is the head pastry chef at one of the best restaurants in Houston. How did she rise to the top so quickly? Her hand pies might have something to do with it. They’ve become a menu mainstay, stuffed with everything from blackberries to sticky rice. This time of year, she folds diced local peaches into a black-pepper-spiked pudding. “We add pepper for the same reason some people salt their watermelon,” Dearmond says. “It brings out the sweetness of the fruit.” And if you don’t have a deep fryer, don’t worry. “They’re also great baked, just different. The crust is thick and flaky, not blistered.” Either way, though the pies take some time to put together, they’ll disappear in seconds.
Food & Drink
Peaches and Cream Hand Pies
Makes 9 pies
The portable sweet treat
photo: Johnny Autry
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 lb. very cold lard or shortening
1 egg, for egg wash
Canola oil, for frying
1 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup sugar, divided
Generous pinch salt
Generous pinch freshly ground black pepper
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. butter
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
2 peaches, cut into 1-inch dice
For the crust:
Combine flour with salt and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Mix well. Grate in lard and then slowly stir in ½ cup cold water until the texture is elastic. (You want to be able to pull the dough, but you don’t want it to stick to your fingers.) Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
For the filling:
Add half-and-half, 2 tbsp. sugar, salt, and pepper to a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
While the mixture is warming, whisk together egg yolks, cornstarch, and remaining sugar. Heat half-and-half mixture just until bubbles begin to appear around the edges, and then slowly pour it over the egg yolks while whisking. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan, whisking constantly for about 1 minute or until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla, whisking until butter is completely melted.
Pour half-and-half mixture into a bowl and allow it to cool on the countertop. Once cooled to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the mixture, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Remove half-and-half mixture from the refrigerator and whisk it to loosen it. Then, stir in diced peaches.
To assemble the pies, pinch off palm-size balls of dough. On a floured surface, roll them out into 9 circles ¼ inch to ½ inch thick. Place a large spoonful of filling on the top half of each, leaving ½ inch remaining around the edges. Whisk together the egg and a splash of water, then brush the edges. Fold the bottom halves of the dough over the top halves. Seal by crimping with a fork or your fingers. Chill the pies in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Use a deep fryer or fill a Dutch oven with 2 inches of oil and clip a deep-frying thermometer to the side. Place over medium-high heat and bring the oil to 375°F. (The temperature will drop significantly when you add the pies. You want them to cook at about 350°F.) Add the pies to the oil a few at a time, and fry them for 4 to 5 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. You may need to flip them to ensure even browning. The pies will typically float to the surface when finished. Remove the pies to a paper-towel-lined plate and allow them to cool for several minutes.
If you prefer not to fry, you can bake the pies. Egg wash the tops and bake at 350°F for 15 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Recipe from pastry chef Victoria Dearmond of Underbelly in Houston, Texas.
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