When Pies Fly

“When Pies Fly: Handmade Pastries from Strudels to Stromboli, Empanadas to Knishes.” Grand Central Publishing/provided

Just in time for the holidays, award-winning author Cathy Barrow follows her hit cookbook “Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet & Savory Slab Pies” with her new one, “When Pies Fly: Handmade Pastries from Strudels to Stromboli, Empanadas to Knishes.”

Barrow’s definition of flying pies is simple: They are “unencumbered, not needing a pan to be formed.” To make them, she provides 13 doughs, ranging from buttermilk dough to quick puff pastry to pulled dough for strudel. The doughs can be applied to nine types of pie, ranging from hand pies to fried pies to tarts.

Her inspiration is global, her instructions impeccable. If you make the hand pie below, you’ll know why you want her book.

Grand Central Publishing. $30.

Spinach, Cranberry, Pecan and Blue Cheese Hand Pies

Spinach pies

"Spinach, Cranberry, Pecan and Blue Cheese Hand Pies." Grand Central Publishing/provided

Makes 12

A welcome addition to the holiday buffet table, here is a satisfying vegetarian hand pie that is also ideal for picnics. It has a winning combination of spinach and candied nuts balanced by creamy, sharp blue cheese. I love the chew of dried cranberries in the filling, but golden raisins, dried tart cherries, or chopped dried mango are fine substitutions. The filling is sweet, green, textural, and salty and hits all my happy buttons.


2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup diced shallots (about 2 medium)

8 ounces frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry (about ½ cup)

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup chopped candied pecans

4 tablespoons cream cheese, at room temperature, cubed

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

2 batches All-Butter Pie Dough, below, formed into square blocks

Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon cool water and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt)


Line two baking sheets with parchment. Place a Baking Steel, baking stone or inverted baking sheet on the center rack and heat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a wide skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add the shallots and cook until wilted, then stir in the spinach and continue cooking and stirring over medium-high heat until the mixture is dry. Scrape into a medium bowl.

Stir in the cranberries, pecans, softened cream cheese and parsley. Cool completely. Fold in the blue cheese.

Remove one block of dough from the refrigerator. Roll out the dough to an approximate 11-inch square, cut into 12 (3½- to 4½-inch) rectangles, and vent half of them. Add a packed scant 1/4 cup filling to one rectangle and form a hand pie with a second (vented) rectangle. Transfer to a baking sheet and firmly fork-crimp the edges. Brush the surface with egg wash.

Continue to make the remaining pies. Refrigerate or freeze while repeating the process with the other block of pie dough to make a total of 12 hand pies.

Bake the hand pies for 30 to 35 minutes, until deeply golden brown. I prefer to bake them one baking sheet at a time to take advantage of the Baking Steel in my oven. If you prefer to bake the two sheet pans at the same time, switch their position from top to bottom and front to back halfway through the bake.

Freeze hand pies (baked or unbaked) for up to 3 months.

All-Butter Pie Dough

Makes 1 recipe pie dough


1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and frozen for 20 minutes

Scant pinch kosher salt

1/4 cup ice water


Place the work bowl of the food processor on the scale, set the scale to zero, and weigh the flour into the bowl. Add the butter and salt.

Move the bowl to the food processor base, insert the metal blade, cover, and use the pulse function to cut the flour and butter into flour-covered pea-sized pieces, about 15 quick pulses. Add the ice water all at once and process until the dough almost comes together in a ball. All the flour will be dampened and the dough will clump.

Spend time on this next step because the more compact and precise the dough, the easier it is to roll to the correct size and thickness. Form an X with two long pieces of overlapping plastic wrap and lightly flour the surface. Dump the dough onto the center of the plastic wrap, scraping the processor bowl clean. Wrap the sloppy gathering of dough in the plastic and, at the same time, use a bench scraper (not your warm hands that might melt the butter clumps) to form the dough into a 4-inch disk or a 3½- by 3½-inch block.

Once wrapped, use a rolling pin to gently press across the surface of the dough, then flip it over and do the same on the other side. Now let it rest: Refrigerate the dough for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight. Alternatively, slip the plastic-wrapped dough block into a zip-close bag and freeze it for up to 3 months. Defrost gently, overnight in the refrigerator.

Excerpted from “When Pies Fly: Handmade Pastries from Strudels to Stromboli, Empanadas to Knishes.”

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