These past few weeks I find myself feeling nostalgic. Nostalgic for my childhood home. Nostalgic for the day last week when the leaves on the tree outside my house were the perfect glowy shade of orange against the sky. Nostalgic for my honeymoon in Paris (partially thanks to this blog, which always makes me feel dreamy for Paris, though it doesn’t take much). So where is this feeling coming from? Is it that it’s autumn? Is it the fact I’m pretty sure I’m getting more crinkly wrinkles around my eyes when I smile? Beats me. I can tell you that pie – making it and eating it – always feeds my nostalgia, so I guess I might have to get used to the feeling.
Last week I made portable pies again, this time delightful little pear pies with lots of vanilla. Vanilla is a flavour perfect for a nostalgic mood – sweet and aromatic and comfortable. I wasn’t so sure about them at first, the puffed up texture of their tops and the fact that the crusts didn’t brown up as well as I like, but it only took a bite to find they had a beautiful creaminess and a rich vanilla taste that made me feel wrapped up and ready for November’s chill.
Pear and Vanilla Hand Pies
(adapted from Martha Stewart’s New Pies and Tarts)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter cut into little pieces
1/4 cup cold shortening, cut into small pieces
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
2 large eggs
2/3 cup plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup plus 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 ripe, firm pears, peeled and chopped into 1/4 inch dice
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, halved and scraped out
1 tsp vanilla extract
confectioners’ sugar for dusting
1. Mix the dry ingredients for the crust. Add the butter and shortening and cut it in with a pastry cutter until you have a coarse meal. Combine vinegar and 1/4 cup of water and drizzle over, using a fork to mix. If the dough is still crumbly and won’t hold together, add up to another 1/4 cup of water, a little at a time.
2. Form the dough into 2 disks and wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
3. Flour the surface and roll the dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out 5-inch rounds from the dough. Press into the cups of a standard 12-cup muffin tin, pleating around the edges to make it fit and pressing to seal. This part is tricky, and I think it works more easily if you roll the dough a shade thinner. You may want to refrigerate the dough a bit before putting it into the tin. Chill the shells about 30 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 375º. Make the filling: in a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and granulated sugar until thick and pale yellow. Mix in the lemon juice, flour, and salt. Place the diced pears in a bowl.
5. In a small saucepan, heat the butter and the vanilla bean and seeds over medium-high heat until the butter foams and browns and smells nutty, about 5 minutes. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve over the pears and discard the solids. Stir the egg mixture into the pear mixture after the butter/pear mixture has had a few minutes to cool off. You don’t want scrambly eggs!
6. Divide the batter among the chilled shells. Bake until the crusts and filling are golden, about 30 minutes. Let them cool in the tins before unmolding. Before serving, dust with icing sugar.
Here’s a song just right for feeling nostalgic. Have a listen while you eat your pie: