Pie by the slice is neighborly and bighearted, the kind of dessert that invites you to sit and visit for a while. But hand pies are snack-y and fetching and fun: palm-size parcels that treat you to the pleasures of sugar-crusted pastry and vibrant, jewel-toned fruit without tethering you to a plate and fork. Bringing one up to your mouth for a bite feels more intimate and thrilling than using flatware, the way ice cream tastes better from a cone than from a dish. The sealed-up, dough-heavy framework makes it extra‑special for crust lovers, since all those crimped edges mean that every bite is crisp and toasty. And that moment when you break through the buttery shell is electric: The ebullient fruit within bursts onto your palate, flaunting its sweet-tart flavor.
All that—and they’re functional, too. Not just portable but also easy to assemble and freeze weeks before baking. You can stockpile batches of peach, plum, or cherry pies for parties or personal on‑demand indulgence, baking them off as casually as you would preportioned cookie dough.
What they’re not, however, is a travel-size version of pie that bakes in a plate. Hand pie dough requires a different formula because pastry that’s designed to bake up ultratender and flaky in a plate will slump and spread without walls to support it and shed crumbs with every bite. Same goes for the fruit: There isn’t much of it, so the flavor and acidity need to pop with Technicolor vividness. And the chunks can’t be as big as what you’d spear with a fork, lest they tumble out when you take a bite.
That’s a lot of details to get right, but none of them is difficult—and eating pie with your hands is the ultimate reward. Here’s a breakdown of my approach.
Sturdy, Tender Crust
Dough that bakes in a plate can get away with moderate gluten, since the vessel and filling hold it in place until the heat of the oven sets its starches and proteins. But hand pie dough needs a little extra structure, which is why I opted to make rough puff: a type of pastry that comes together by working cold butter into the flour mixture and then rolling out and folding the dough a few times to create flaky layers. (The “rough” acknowledges that the layers are haphazard rather than perfectly stacked as they are in true puff pastry.)
Make Prettier Pies
These simple tweaks will make the pie crust look prettier and more professional.
Rough puff is sturdier than most pie pastry, thanks to its hydration and the mixing method. Water (when combined with flour) encourages gluten development, which is why most pie dough formulas keep hydration to a minimum (around 32 percent), whereas rough puff contains around 50 percent. The mixing method affects gluten development even more: Whereas pie dough is manipulated as little as possible, leaving some of the butter in small but discrete chunks or shreds, mixing, rolling, and folding rough puff builds gluten that helps the dough hold its shape in the oven, stay crisp underneath the filling, and shed few crumbs. It also creates layers that puff during baking, resulting in a flaky, crisp crust.
To make it, I combine butter planks with the flour‑sugar-salt mixture in a zipper-lock bag (handy for keeping everything contained) and use a rolling pin to flatten the fat into thin sheets. When the dough is ragged and pale yellow, a visual cue that most of the butter is incorporated, I transfer the mixture to a bowl and add ice water (its temperature keeps the butter firm as the dough is worked), mix until the dough is tacky, roll it into a large sheet, and then fold it over itself multiple times. The last step is a long (at least 1 hour or up to two days), cold rest: During that time, starch in the flour continues to hydrate so that the dough is pliable, not tacky, and its gluten relaxes so that the pastry doesn’t contract when it’s rolled and cut.
Assemble Hand Pies Like Ravioli
1. Roll dough into 17 by 9-inch rectangle. Brush 4 squares onto bottom of dough with egg wash.
2. Add 2 tablespoons filling to each square, spreading up to (but not on) grid lines.
3. Cut dough between filling to create 4 even pieces.
4. Fold 1 piece of dough over itself, aligning top and bottom edges.
5. Seal edges with your fingers, pressing out as much air as possible. Repeat with remaining 3 pieces.
6. Trim 1/4 inch from ragged and folded sides of pies. Repeat steps 1–5 with remaining dough and filling.
Vibrant, Cohesive Fruit Filling
Tender, bright-tasting, gently bound fruit is always the goal for pie filling, and that cohesiveness is especially important when you’re going to be eating the pie with your hands. Fresh fruit is always an option, but my testing really got me to appreciate the benefits of using frozen fruit in pie. It’s picked and frozen at its peak, so its flavor is potentially better than fresh fruit that’s picked before it’s ripe, and it’s sold peeled and/or pitted, saving the cook loads of tedious work.
I like to start with ½-inch chunks of peaches, cherries, or pineapple: consistently available options that are sturdy, moderately juicy, and boast similar levels of sweetness and acidity. The trick is to crush a portion of the fruit with sugar: Doing so makes a pulpy mash that fills in gaps between the chunks and releases juice that gels lightly when cooked with a little cornstarch—a two-pronged way to make the filling more cohesive. Stirring in plenty of lemon (or lime) juice gives the fruit’s acidity real oomph.
Keys to an Easy, Flavor-Packed Fruit Filling
Frozen fruit and interchangeable seasonings make for lots of filling options.
Go for Frozen: Peeled and/or pitted frozen fruit requires little prep, and most is picked at its peak and individually quick frozen (IQF: blasted with supercold air before packaging). The pieces retain structural integrity when they defrost and are easy to select and weigh, so you get exactly what you need.
Season to Taste: Feel free to mix and match citrus zest, spices, and extracts with the fruits. Be sure to wait until the fruit has cooked before adding the seasonings, all of which contain volatile compounds that will dissipate if heated.
- Zest (lemon, lime): 1/4–1/2 teaspoon
- Ground Spices (pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise): 1/4–1/2 teaspoon
- Extracts (vanilla, almond): 1/8–1/4 teaspoon
Thin, Glossy Egg Wash
Egg wash is an unsung hero of pastry work. It’s the glue that adheres one piece of dough to another and the sugar to its surface for that postbake sweetness and sparkle, and it’s the gloss that makes a baked crust shine. And it does each of these tasks more effectively than water or liquid dairy, thanks to its rich protein and fat contents. When I brushed a thin coat around the perimeter of the pastry and let it dry briefly while I placed the filling in the center of each pie, the protein in the wash made it slightly sticky—ideal for fastening the top crust to the bottom so that the package was leakproof. Fat from the yolk gave the coating I applied to the top crust real luster.
Sturdy enough to tote on a stroll or pass around at a picnic or bake sale, make-ahead friendly, and endlessly customizable, these pies are brimming with practical perks—not to mention sweet-tart fruit, butter, and charm.