Take a look around the world and you’ll find that almost every culture has a hand pie. Indeed, the variations on crust (Flaky! Rich! Crumbly!) and filling (Ground meat! Garlicky veggies! Fruit compote!) are endless, but the result is always delectable, convenient, and compact. Here, we’ve taken a few classics and amped them up with cheese (surprised?). So, break out that rolling pin and get to baking. Your fall picnic—or tailgate—awaits.
Hand Pie 101
Whether it’s half-moon or triangle-shaped, sweet or savory, all hand pies boil down to a crust and a filling—here’s how to get ’em right.
The foundation to any good pastry is a flaky, buttery crust, and hand pies are no different. The basic ingredients are flour and fat, with a bit of salt for seasoning and water to bring it all together. You can play around with different flours (all-purpose, whole wheat, masa, and more) and fats (butter, lard, shortening, oil, or a combination), but the most important thing to remember—and the secret to that first bite’s satisfying shatter—is this: Always keep your fat of choice cold; it ensures that the layers of pastry formed in the process have enough time to firm up in the oven. Once the fat melts away, it leaves behind air pockets between these firmed sheets, creating layers and layers of crisp, flaky pastry. (Temperature matters less with oil-based pastries, but the principle of gluten formation still holds true—you want to keep it at a minimum, so don’t overwork the dough!)
Once you have your crust down, it’s time to think about filling. Is your sweet tooth itching or are you craving something savory? Before you get to chopping and stirring, here a few things to consider: A liquidy filling will seep into your dough and produce a soggy, sad crust—so keep it soft and moist, but not overly wet. Drain off any extra moisture, add an egg for “glue,” or toss fruit with cornstarch or tapioca to thicken their juices while baking.
You also don’t want to bite into a beautifully browned, tender pastry, only to find that your veggies are still tough or your meat is raw. It’s smart to parcook veggies, meat, and other ingredients to avoid this (though it’s not always necessary). Either way, make sure your filling comes to room temperature before you stuff your pies, so you don’t melt the fat in the dough. And lastly, take care not to overfill and be sure to seal the edges properly—otherwise you’ll have filling everywhere except for where it matters.
JUST ADD CHEESE
Whether it’s starring in the filling, kneaded into the crust, or transformed into a delicious dipping sidekick, cheese can easily be worked into any mini pastry. For some direction, think about hand pie and cheese pairings through a cultural lens. Spanish empanadas stuffed with Manchego or Mahón; Latin American versions with cotija, queso blanco, or even cream cheese to mimic a sweet Cuban pastelito; samosas and paneer; Britain’s pasties with the region’s famed cheddars and Stilton; and Middle Eastern and Mediterranean pastries loaded with fresh cheeses like feta, ricotta, halloumi, and farmer’s cheese.
Or, to give your crust the curd treatment, spring for hard and semi-firm cheeses with low-moisture contents—try cheddar, parmesan, aged gouda, or Alpine styles like Gruyère.
Our 5 Favorite Hand Pie Recipes
A twist on the American classic, these mini pies marry sweet and savory with the addition of Landaff cheese in their flaky, buttery crust. The Welsh-style cheddar is a delectable backdrop to spiced apples and pears.
The Cornish Pasty Association has strict rules regarding a pasty filling’s ingredients. For the sake of tradition, we stuck with their formula, but jazzed up these hearty parcels with an irresistibly creamy-chunky Stilton dip.
Madras curry powder packs more heat than other curry blends. If you can’t find it, add cayenne pepper to taste for an added kick. Don’t worry: The spice is balanced by a generous serving of squeaky paneer.
In Lebanon, sambouseks are often prepared with spiced lamb and served as part of a classic mezze spread. If you can’t find kashkaval, substitute a similarly mild, semi-firm cheese such as Greek kasseri, provolone, muenster, or low-moisture mozzarella.
Tropical guava paste and tangy cream cheese are a classic pairing for sweet empanadas throughout Latin America. If you can’t find guava paste, quince paste also makes for a fine (Spanish-inspired) substitute.
Photography by Nina Gallant, Styling by Chantal Lambeth