I have not posted in a while, between company and other commitments, I found I could cook or write about cooking. I love stuffed breads—a meal in a handy bread pocket, whether you call them samsa, pasties, samosa, or bierock—the major difference between all of these pocket breads is the type of starch that you use to wrap around the savory filling. These filling delights also have a second advantage in that—with one preparation—you can feed a family of three for several meals.
When you use biscuit dough as the bread wrapper it is usually called a hand pie. Today, I decided to use a beef and spinach filling—making it a full meal with protein, starch, and green leafy vegetables. While I usually use a raised dough to make a bierock, I did not want to wait for the dough to rise and decided to use my best biscuit recipe.
Karl’s Beef and Spinach Hand Pies
1 Tbs. oil
½ lb. beef, ground
¾ cup yellow onion, diced
1 large stalk celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 oz. baby spinach
¼ cup sherry
1 Tbs. Beef Better than Bouillon, reduced sodium
1 tsp. thyme
½ tsp. savory
¼ tsp. black pepper
2½ cups flour, AP
1 Tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbs. sugar
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, semi-frozen
1 large egg
1+ cup whole milk, separate uses (I use lactose free)
1. Put a stick of butter (8 tablespoons) in the freezer for 20-30 minutes, until it is semi-frozen.
Tip: This is going to be used in making the biscuit wrappers later.
Note: Putting a whole stick of butter in the freezer gives me a handle to keep my fingers away from the grater blades as I grate off six tablespoons. However, you do not want the butter to be frozen solid, because it then becomes hard to grate.
2. Add one tablespoon of oil to a large pan over medium high heat.
3. Form the beef into a single large patty, about half an inch thick.
4. Fry the patty for about eight minutes on one side, until crispy and well browned.
5. Turn the patty over and continue frying until well browned on the second side, about another 6-8 minutes.
6. Remove the meat patty to a plate to cool.
Tip: It is OK if there is still some pink bits of meat remaining in the center of the patty, because the filling will be cooked a second time when your bake the hand pies.
Note: When the meat is cool enough to handle break or chop the meat up into bits—not to fine and not too big.
7. Spoon out all but two tablespoons of the grease from the pan.
Tip: Reserve the grease for later—you may need a bit more when you fry the garlic.
8. Deglaze the pan with a little water and then add the onions and celery.
9. Sauté the onions until they are starting to pick up some color, about five minutes.
10. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and sauté the garlic in the hole in the center.
Tip: Add some of the reserve grease to the garlic, if necessary.
11. Add the spinach and continue sautéing until the spinach has wilted a bit.
Tip: You do not want to overcook the spinach, but raw spinach is quite bulky. Stop once most of the spinach has wilted.
12. Use the sherry to deglaze the pan again and add the bouillon paste, herbs, pepper, and the cornstarch.
13. Simmer the mixture, stirring, for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.
14. Stir the beef bits and remove the pan from the heat and let it cool as you prepare the biscuit wrappers.
Tip: You filling should not be soggy, but you want there to be some gravy.
15. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar several times into a large bowl.
Tip: When I am making this recipe as biscuits I usually add some potato starch to prevent the formation of too much gluten—creating tough biscuits. Using this dough as a wrapper, however, I need a bit more gluten strength to keep the thin sheet of dough from tearing as I fold the wrapper over.
16. Using a box grater, grate ¾ of the stick of frozen butter into the flour mixture.
Tip: Half way through, stir the butter shreds into the flour, so that they do not clump together.
17. Use a pastry cutter, to break the butter shreds into tiny bits.
Tip: Many recipes have you cut the butter into large lumps and then you break them up with the pastry cutter. While this eventually works, the heat created by the repeated chopping starts to warm the butter. With the frozen butter shreds you only have to chop the butter a few times to get a thorough mix.
Note: This biscuit recipe uses a “French” technique. The bits of cold butter melt in the oven to create little pockets of steam, providing more lift than the baking powder alone and producing a fluffy, flaky biscuit.
18. Preheat the oven to 375º F.
19. Put the egg in a large measuring cup and lightly scramble it.
Tip: I use a fork.
20. Measure one cup of milk and add some of it to the egg.
21. Scramble the milk/egg mixture well.
Tip: This allows you to scramble the egg well, without splashing it all over.
22. Add the rest of the milk and mix it in.
23. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the milk mixture.
Tip: You want to end up with soft dough. If it is too dry it will be difficult to roll out during the folding process.
Note: I have found that it is easier to add more flour to dry out a “wet” dough, than to add liquid to a “overly dry” dough.
24. Use a spatula to combine the milk and flour mixtures, until most of the dry flour has been incorporated into the dough.
Tip: Unless you have cold hands—like my wife—you want to handle the dough as little as possible. Warm hands—like mine—will melt the butter.
25. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 7-8 times, until there is no visible dry flour.
Tip: Flour your hands and the kneading board well.
Note: If necessary, add a bit more flour to make a soft dough.
26. Form the dough into a ball and roll the dough out into a 14 X14 inch square.
Tip: Flour your rolling pin well, so that it does not stick and cause tears in the dough sheet.
Note: The dough sheet will be less than ¼ inch thick when you have it all rolled out.
27. Fold one third of the dough sheet over the middle third—starting with the edge that is closest to you.
Tip: You may need to use a bread board scraper to free the dough from your kneading surface.
28. Take the edge that is farthest from you and fold that third over the first two layers.
Tip: This is called a letter-fold.
Note: You will now have a rectangular piece of dough, three layers thick.
29. Letter-fold the outer edges of this rectangle in to the center.
Note: This will produce a thick four inch square of dough nine layers thick.
30. Let the dough rest for two minutes.
Tip: This gives the gluten bonds time to relax and makes it easier to roll out again.
31. While the dough is resting, line a large lipped baking sheet with parchment paper.
Tip: I used to grease my baking sheets, but the biscuits tended to stick and burn. The parchment paper needs no grease.
32. Re-flour your board and roll the dough square into another 14 X14 inch square.
Note: Within each layer of dough, the cold butter will be squished into thin flakes, trapped in a gluten web.
33. Letter-fold the dough sheet again.
Tip: First the top and bottom edges and then the sides.
Note: You will now have a four inch square of dough with 91 layers.
34. Roll the dough out to one half inch thick.
Note: This will be about an eight inch square of dough.
35. Cut the biscuits out with a 2½ inch biscuit cutter.
Tip: I get about 6-7 biscuits from this first cut.
Note: It is important to use a sharp-edged biscuit cutter to cut out your biscuits.
36. Dust the biscuits heavily with flour and set them aside.
37. Gather up the remaining scraps and form them, into dough ball.
38. Role flat again and cut out 2-3 more biscuits.
Tip: I roll out this dough ball and letter fold it to create more layers.
Assembling the hand pies
39. Pre-heat the oven to 375º F.
40. Roll each biscuit out into a 6-7 inch disk.
41. Scoop up one quarter cup of filling and set it in the center of the disk.
42. Brush the edge of the disk with water and pull the far side of the dough over the filling.
Tip: Line up the edges to form a half moon shape.
43. Use the tines of a fork to seal the edge of the pie.
Tip: Press down with the fork all around the open edge of the half moon.
Note: Before you seal the last bit of the edge, gently push down on the filling to spread it across the inside of the hand pie and to force out any air that might get trapped inside.
44. Put the hand pies on a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.
Tip: Rotate the pan half way through the baking time, so that the pies bake evenly. The back of the oven is usually hotter than the front.
45. Transfer the pies to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes before eating.