Concord Grape Hand Pies

Concord Grape Hand Pies
Erin Jeanne McDowell's concord grape hand pies. (Mark Weinberg)

Concord Grape Hand Pies

It’s no secret that Concord grapes are my favorite fruit for pies, and their incredible juiciness translates particularly well to hand pies. I turn the grapes into a precooked jam filling that is thicker and easier to work with. If you can’t get your hands on fresh Concord grapes, you can make this recipe using 1 1/4 cups (424 grams) high-quality grape jam or jelly instead.
Makes 12 hand pies
  • 2 pounds (about 6 1/2 cups, 906 grams) Concord grapes
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped out and reserved
  • 1 cup (198 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup (37 grams) cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) fine sea salt
  • Triple recipe pie dough (see below), divided in half, shaped into disks, and chilled
  • Egg wash (1 large egg (56 grams), whisked well with 1 tablespoon (15 grams) cool water)
  • Turbinado or sanding sugar for sprinkling
Squeeze the pulp from the grapes into a medium pot, reserving the skins. Transfer the skins to a food processor or blender.

Set the pot over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a simmer. Continue to cook until the grapes have broken down and released their juices, about 10 minutes.

While the pulp cooks, pulse the skins with the lemon juice to coarsely chop them.

When the pulp mixture is fully broken down, strain it into a medium bowl, pressing firmly on the sieve to extract all of the juice, and discard the seeds that remain in the strainer.

Transfer the mixture back to the pot and add the chopped skins and cinnamon stick. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, rub the vanilla bean seeds and sugar together to combine. Whisk in the cornstarch and salt. Sprinkle the cornstarch mixture over the grape mixture and stir well to combine, then bring the mixture to a simmer and simmer for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Transfer the filling to a bowl to cool completely (you can pour it onto a baking sheet and spread it into an even layer to speed things up). Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly against the surface to prevent a skin from forming.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one portion of the pie dough to a rectangle a little larger than 12 by 16 inches and about 1/4 inch thick. Use a pastry wheel or knife to trim the edges of the dough straight on all sides. Use the pastry wheel or knife to cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. With one of the longer sides facing you, cut the dough horizontally into four 4-inch-wide strips, then cut each strip crosswise into 3 pieces to create a total of 12 squares.

Transfer half of the squares to one of the prepared baking sheets (stagger them on the sheet, but they can be relatively close together). Spoon about 1 heaping tablespoon (35 grams) of the filling into the center of each square of dough. Brush the edges of each square with egg wash and place one of the remaining pieces of dough on top of it. Use a fork to crimp the edges to seal.

Repeat the process with the remaining dough and jam. Chill the trays of assembled hand pies in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F with racks in the upper and lower thirds.

Brush the pies with egg wash (try to avoid brushing too much on the edges, which will brown more on their own) and sprinkle generously with turbinado or sanding sugar. Cut a small slash or X in the top of each pie with the tip of a paring knife.

Transfer to the oven and bake until deeply golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

Make Ahead and Storage

The jam filling can be made through the step of simmering with the cinnamon stick (before adding the cornstarch mixture) and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 6 months. These pies are best eaten fresh, but leftovers will still be delicious 1 to 2 days after baking. You can refresh the pies before eating them; I usually just do this in the toaster or toaster oven for 2 minutes.
They can also be frozen after baking: Freeze until solid on a baking sheet, then wrap in plastic wrap and store in a freezer bag for up to 3 months. Refresh the frozen pies by wrapping individually in aluminum foil and placing them on a baking sheet. Put the pies in the oven and turn the oven to 375 degrees F. Leave the pies in the oven for 5 minutes after the oven has preheated.

All-Buttah Pie Dough

This is my go-to pie dough: all buttah, all the time. Butter can be harder for beginners to work with, because it has a lower melting point than fats such as shortening, but the flavor can’t be beat. And once you know how to handle the dough, it’s easy. The key? Colder is always better when pie dough is involved. When in doubt, toss everything (the ingredients, the bowl, and maybe even the half-mixed dough) into the fridge before proceeding. The recipe can easily be increased to make up to a quadruple batch of dough.
Makes one 9-inch crust
  • 1 1/4 cups (150 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) fine sea salt
  • 8 tablespoons (4 ounces/113 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) ice water, plus more as needed
Prepare the dough using your desired mixing method.

Form the dough into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.

Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using. This dough is best baked at 425 degrees F. Parbake, blind-bake, or fill and bake as directed in the recipe of your choice.

Excerpted from "The Book on Pie" copyright 2020 by Erin Jeanne McDowell. Photography copyright 2020 by Mark Weinberg. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
 "The Book on Pie" by Erin Jeanne McDowell (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35)
"The Book on Pie" by Erin Jeanne McDowell (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35)
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