When I was little, I remember eagerly waiting for my dad to come home from grocery shopping. He would unload all the big bags full of fruits, vegetables, and canned goods, and I would always be peeking to spy the inevitable sweet treat that he had snuck in with the rest of the healthy groceries. We didn't eat many 'gourmet' foods back then (this was in the pre-foodie era), so the sugary surprise might have been some Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies, or maybe some Swiss Rolls, and I can remember eating Entenmann's Raspberry Danishes on dozens of occasions. I would usually gobble up a slice of Entenmann's danish after school, but those plastic-wrapped Little Debbie treats usually made their way into my lunch bag since they were perfectly portable.
And speaking of wrapped, lunchbox treats, I can't forget about all the Hostess Fruit Pies that I used to eat! My memory of whether or not we had fruit pies at home is slightly foggy, but I do know that I could get them with my lunch if I ordered from the school cafeteria. I remember I could never quite decide which flavor to get, but I could be sure that the filling would be super sweet, oozing, and not at all 'made with real fruit.' The pie 'crust' was waxy, chewy, and also laden with sugar. As a kid, this was exactly the way I wanted it.
Nowadays, I prefer more adult-type treats, but that doesn't mean I need to completely shake off my childhood addiction to snack cakes. For grown-ups and kids alike, a dessert that will give you the tasty goodness of a slice of pie in a compact hand-held form is delicious and just plain fun. Plus, there is the added aspect that it is yours, and only yours; it is your own personal pocket pie and you don't have to share it with anyone.
For my very non-Hostess type fruit pie, I wanted to use a real pie crust, and also have a more legit fruit filling. And when I say legit, I mean I wanted it to have actual fruit inside, and no ooze.
If you have never had a Hostess Fruit Pie before, I might need to describe this further for clarification: The filling in the Hostess Pies is more like fruit 'gel.' It is thick and syrupy, most likely due to a high amount of corn syrup (which makes it taste fabulous to children, and some adults). There might be some actual bits of fruit disguised in there, but frankly, I doubt it. If you were to spoon out some of the filling and throw it at your wall (because of course, this would be a totally normal thing to do), I bet it would stick there like glue. Yes, it is that thick, and kids can't seem to get enough of it.
However, this was not the way I wanted the filling for my pocket pies to be, so I made sure to use all natural ingredients. For starters, how about these awesome red bartlett pears? Their crimson color was so beautiful that I could not resist them, and they were softer and sweeter than their pale green cousins. The 'soft,' ripe pears were essential for the recipe I had in mind, because I did not want to cook or boil down my filling.
To literally spice up the pear filling for fall, I mixed the minced pears with orange flavored cranberries from Trader Joe's (these imparted amazing flavor), organic dark brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and cloves. I didn't cook it down, but rather just mixed the fruit to let it macerate and then used it to fill my pie rounds.
As I mentioned, I wanted to use real thing for my pie crusts, so these pocket pies are made with my go-to all-butter pastry dough that I use for most of my pies. It is buttery (obviously), flaky, and utter perfection. I am blindly in love and blissfully happy with this crust, and would never dream of cheating on my love with another. Don't even try to tempt me, I am resolute. But the best part?? This dough is so incredibly easy to make with a food processor, that with practice you can have soft, smooth dough in just five minutes. (I am not kidding, I made the dough when my friend was over for dinner, and it literally took me five minutes.)
Actually, in all seriousness, speed is key when you are working with all-butter pastry dough for two reasons. First, you want to be quick when bringing the dough together in the processor because taking more time will overwork the dough and result in unpalatable toughness. Second, when you take the dough out of the processor and work it by hand, only do this for just a minute or two, since the heat from your hands will warm the dough and make it sticky.
And check it out: Who says you even need to use real cookie cutters to make pie rounds; I used the fine rim of a drinking glass and it worked great!
Finally, to package up these adorable pear pocket pies, I couldn't resist placing them in individual bags tied with raffia and a few sprigs of fresh thyme. A pocket pie in plastic wrapping was definitely a throw-back to the Hostess Fruit Pies of my youth, but more importantly, they were protected during their 'travel' to a picnic lunch with my friend and also on a domestic flight back to Ohio this weekend. But alright, I really can't deny that I also wanted to amp up the cute factor even more. Can you blame me?
Overall, I was throughly pleased with these pies. I dare say that I was tickled pink! My first efforts (where my dough was thicker and my filling was more chunky) were definitely good, but with some tweaking of my recipe and baking time, they transformed from good to fabulous. The pastry crust was flaky, and the rich, buttery taste complimented the spiced pear and cranberry really well. The filling was soft but definitely not oozing, and when you took a big bite out of the pocket pie there was no mess.
I think this might be one of the most well-rounded desserts I have ever made, that would be perfect for so many occasions and purposes:
-Obviously, a picnic lunch with friends or family
-Boxed up in a care package to send to a college student
-Given as a gift for the holiday season
-Spread out on a platter for Thanksgiving dinner
-And of course... wrapped up and placed in a child's lunch box. What little (or big) girl or boy wouldn't love to have one of these as a surprise at lunchtime. I know I would.
**Also, don't forget to vote for my Picnic at the Presidio for Challenge 6 of Project Food Blog! Today is the last day for voting and I would very much appreciate your vote. Thanks so much for supporting and encouraging me this far!
Spiced Pear and Cranberry Pocket Pies
Although I used pear and cranberry to fill these pies, you could really tuck almost any fruit or savory filling you want inside. The key is to keep the liquid level low, so that the bottom layer of dough doesn't become soggy during or after baking. Let your imagination run wild!
All butter-pastry dough:
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick of butter, cold, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4-5 tablespoons of ice cold water
Spiced Pear and Cranberry Filling:
3/4 lbs (for me this was 2) sweet, ripe pears; I used Red Bartlett
1/2 cup orange-flavored dried cranberries from Trader Joes (or, plain dried cranberries plus zest from one orange)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp flour
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tsp water
1/4 cup milk
First made dough. In a food processor, add the flour and salt and pulse just once or twice to mix. Add in all the cubes of butter, and pulse until it is all incorporated and the mixture resembles coarse, dry sand (just a minute or so). Add 4 tablespoons of the ice cold water, and pulse just until the dough comes together (only a few times). Squeeze and a bit of the dough between your fingertips: If it doesn't hold together, add more ice water 1/2 tablespoon at a time until it is soft and sticks together. I find 4 tablespoons is usually perfect for me.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and work with your hands for only a minute or two to evenly distribute butter (remember, keep this quick so the heat from your hands doesn't warm the butter in the dough). Roll dough into a ball, then flatten into a 5-inch disk. Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour. Meanwhile, make the filling. Peel and mince the pears, then mix with the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Let fruit sit for 15 minutes to macerate.
To make pies, preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Dust a clean surface with flour, and roll out the dough very thinly (the thinner the better). Use a round cutter, or the rim of a drinking glass, to cut 3-3 1/2 inch rounds from the dough. (The dough should make 12 rounds (for 6 pies) but you will need to re-roll the dough at least once or twice to cut them all out.) Place one round on the parchment-lined baking sheet, and carefully place about 2 heaping tablespoons of filling in the center of the round, making sure to leave the edges clean. Lightly brush the edges with the beaten egg, then top with a second dough round; press the edges together gently with your fingertips, then press completely together using the tines of a fork. Use a sharp knife to make a few slits in the top for venting. Repeat for the remaining pie rounds.
Just before baking, brush the top of each pocket pie with a little bit of milk, then bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 25-27 minutes, or until tops are golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.
**I know for sure these keep for at least two days in an airtight container, but beyond that, I can't tell you. ;) I plan to make some more and try freezing them, but for now, I would recommend eating them right away!