Sometimes when you’re hosting events, everything in your life is tidy. You have time to shop for ingredients, to prepare food, to pull off the complicated and make it look easy.
But sometimes life gets messy – that was the year we had last year. As one family emergency after another enfolded and the holidays drew near, we continued to alter our Thanksgiving plans until less than a week before.
Our solution? Trade the formality of the turkey dinner for a soup potluck, invite both sides of the family, serve with smiles and mismatched bowls. We carried on, hosting in our newly leased townhouse, the boxes only recently unpacked. In the end, “Soupsgiving” was enough of a success that several family members suggested making a new tradition out of it.
By Easter, life hadn’t gotten any simpler, and I had a book deadline looming very near. So we made things even simpler. My mom bought a pre-cooked ham, and I planned to make a couple sides, which I’d throw together after church.
That was the plan. It was a good plan. But it changed, as plans do, when my usually sociable dog decided to leave the party and consume a couple chocolate protein bars he’d found in a guest’s suitcase.
So instead of cooking for the guests milling in my living room, I found myself making phone calls to the emergency vet clinic, followed by a pet poison control hotline, and then taking my sweet, confused little dog for a walk after inducing vomiting.
It was not ideal.
We returned flustered and disconcerted, the dog and I, and found that everyone has carried on beautifully. Others had finished the simple side dishes, and a Trader Joe’s pear tart served as an elegant dessert. Everyone enjoyed the gathering just as much as if I’d been there preparing and plating the food myself.
The lesson, of course, is that your hospitality can bless others in both the best and worst of times. Whether you’ve been able to prepare a feast yourself or piece together an eclectic spread, what matters is the love shown in the opening of a door.
I love a recipe that can be simplified easily, and these strawberry and basil hand pies fit that description. Not only are they delicious, especially hot from the oven, but the filling can be cooked on the stove ahead of time and refrigerated until the pies are assembled. If necessary, you could even freeze the filling and thaw it before use.
In A Table by the Window, Juliette dreams up these pies for a cooking demonstration. The daughter of chefs, she makes everything from scratch out of habit. However, the pies can be made from store-bought dough just as well.
The finished pies are perfect for picnics and barbecues, or anytime you’re thinking of opening your door to share food with loved ones.
Strawberry and Basil Hand Pies
For the crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, sliced and chilled
1 egg, lightly beaten and chilled
3 to 5 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
3 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1½ tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1½ tablespoons honey, more if the berries are on the firm side
½ teaspoon basil leaves, minced
½ teaspoon lemon zest
Squeeze of lemon juice
1 to 2 eggs, beaten
Sparkling or demerara sugar
To make the pastry:
Whisk the dry ingredients for the crust together in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
Add the chilled slices of butter and work into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter (or use a food processor). Cut the butter in, or pulse, until the mixture looks like small peas.
Add the egg and mix with the pastry cutter. Add the ice water a tablespoon at a time, cutting and scraping until a dough forms. The dough should feel just a little tackier than a standard pie dough.
Shape the dough into two equal disks, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rest in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.
To make the filling:
Place all the filling ingredients, save the basil, in a large saucepan—an enameled dutch oven is perfect for this—and give everything a good stir.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar melts, the berries soften, and the juices have thickened—about 5 to 8 minutes.
Remove from the heat and sprinkle the basil over the top. Stir and then cover, and allow to cool. If you’re going to assemble the pies much later, refrigerate the mixture.
Assemble the pies:
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Place a small handful of flour on a pastry cloth and spread it around. Working with one pastry disk at a time, dust the top and bottom with a bit of flour to prevent sticking.
Roll the dough out with a rolling pin in single-direction strokes (center to back, lift, center to back, rather than back and forth over the dough) until the dough is about 1/8-inch thick.
With a sharp paring knife, cut dough into circles about 5 or 6 inches in diameter. You can use a teacup saucer as a guide, but just know that they might come out smaller, depending on the saucer. If you have enough dough, roll your scraps together for another circle. (If not, brush the scraps with butter, dust with cinnamon-sugar, and bake separately from the pies to make piecrust cookies.)
Repeat with the second disk of dough. In a small bowl, beat the egg for the egg wash.
Spoon about 1½ tablespoons filling into the rounds—you don’t want to overfill. Dip your finger—or a pastry brush—into the egg wash, and brush the egg around the edge. Carefully fold the pie closed into a half-moon shape, running your finger over the edge to seal it shut. Crimp the edge with a fork, and then use the fork to poke a few holes in the top to vent.
Coat the pie all over with the egg wash, and place on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with sugar. (You could also sprinkle a little coarse sea salt, if you wanted.)
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes about 12 pies.
Hillary Manton Lodge is the author of the novels A Table by the Window, Plain Jayne, and Simply Sara. When she’s not writing she can be found tinkering in her kitchen, and exploring new walking paths. Readers can find her at www.hillarymantonlodge.com.