Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Blueberry Hand Pies with a Secret Ingredient from Culinary Mystery Writer Cleo Coyle

Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb, 
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum 
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!

~ Robert Frost

With blueberry season nearly upon us here in New York, I thought this recipe might come in handy. (Yes, "handy" as in hand pies. Hey, no groaning. You can't expect a cozy writer to ignore a pun like that, can you?) 

So what’s with this promised "secret" ingredient? Well, I’ll tell you, it’s not in the filling, which I’ve kept very simple. The secret ingredient is in the homemade crust.

Question: Hey, wait a second. Didn't you already
a pie crust recipe with a secret ingredient? 

Answer: Good memory.

No, vodka is not today's
secret ingredient. So what is?
Scroll down...
A few months ago, I blogged about my take on the famous America's Test Kitchen pie crust recipe that called for vodka. If you missed that recipe and my geek-speak explanation on (a) why a vodka pie crust works and (b) what I do to make the recipe work even better for me, simply click here to read the post and get the recipe.

So what is today's secret ingredient if it's not vodka? Find out in my recipe notes below and, if you bake it, I sincerely hope you will… 

Eat with joy 
~ Cleo

Hand Pies

Cleo Coyle is author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries
While the famous "vodka pie crust" recipe is one of the best crusts that can be made in a pie pan, it's not the perfect crust for every pie. For one thing, it's far too fragile to work well in a hand pie (aka turnover or pocket pie). 

Below is the recipe I use when I have a hankering for hand pies. The crust is tasty and tender, but it's also strong enough to hold together for a pan-free pie. 

As you can see, my "secret ingredient" is yogurt, which accomplishes a few things in the recipe. It slightly reduces the amount of butter and shortening thus reducing the calorie count a bit. It makes the dough easier to work with. It also boosts the crust’s flavor. The slight tanginess of the yogurt offsets the heaviness of the butter and shortening and creates a crust with a brighter flavor, one that especially complements the taste of a fruit pie. 

To download this recipe in a PDF format that you can print, save, or share, click here.

Cleo Coyle's 
Yogurt Pastry Crust

Makes 6 or 7 hand pies, depending on size and crust thickness


2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, very cold

1/4 cup (4 T) solid vegetable shortening (e.g. Crisco), cold

2 large eggs

1 Tablespoon water

1/4 cup plain regular yogurt - full-fat yogurt is best
     (low-fat is okay to use, but do not use nonfat yogurt)

Step 1 - Sift flour, salt, and sugar into a bowl. Cut butter into small slices, add solid shortening and use fingertips or pastry blender to work the fats into the flour. (Or pulse mixture in a food processor.) When the mixture resembles coarse meal, place the bowl in the refrigerator to keep cold

 Step 2 – Measure out the yogurt and place in a small bowl. Into a separate small bowl, crack two large eggs, add the 1 T. of water, and whisk vigorously until well blended. Measure out ¼ cup of this egg-water mixture and combine it with the yogurt. Using a fork, vigorously whisk the yogurt and egg-water mixture until blended and smooth. (Reserve the remaining egg-water mixture for brushing crust before baking.) 

Step 3 - Remove the bowl with the flour mixture from the refrigerator. Add the yogurt-egg mixture and stir with a spoon, rubber spatula, or your hand until a smooth dough forms. This dough will be sticky. That’s okay! Shape it into a ball, wrap it in plastic and place in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours. The dough will be less sticky, easier to work with, and because it’s well hydrated, you can use flour as you roll it out and the dough will stay tender. When ready, lightly flour a flat surface and your rolling pin and roll out and bake according to pie or tart recipe. 

2 TIPs: Always keep pastry dough COLD. Roll hand pie crusts one at a time and keep the rest of the dough in the fridge. Place all formed pies back in the fridge for ten minutes before baking. If you bake the pies cold, they will have even flakier crusts.

To Make Hand Pies

Mix the filling: Gently mix 2-1/2 cups fresh or frozen* blueberries with 1 tablespoon flour and 2 tablespoons sugar (more sugar if berries are tart). Toss with 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Set aside.

*Fun update - Thanks to Libby, one of our blog's followers, I tried the recipe with frozen blueberries and it worked beautifully. No need to thaw frozen berries, but be sure to toss them with the flour to absorb the excess juice during baking. If you need a gluten-free option other than flour, use cornstarch.

Make the pies: To make the pies, break the chilled pie dough into 6 or 7 even pieces and lightly roll these pieces into balls. One at a time, flatten each dough ball into a disc. Lightly flour a rolling pin and roll each disc into a wider circle. Dough can be rolled thin, down to about 1/8-inch, but no thinner or the pie may break while baking. Mound a small amount of the blueberry mixture into the lower half of the circle. Wet your finger with water and run it along the outside edge of the circle. Fold the circle over the filling and seal the pie by pressing down the edges with a fork. Trim ends with a pizza cutter or knife. Brush with the egg wash you made as part of the Yogurt Pastry Crust recipe. Sprinkle with sugar if you like.

Bake on parchment paper: Place a small venting slice in the top of each pie. CHILL the pies before baking and your crusts will turn out even flakier (simply pop them in the fridge for 10 minutes.) 

Bake the pies on a baking sheet that's been covered with parchment paper (do this for 2 reasons). The pies may leak blueberry juice and the paper will catch this mess. The parchment paper also provides a bit of a shield from the direct heat of the pan so the pies will bake more evenly and are less likely to over-brown or burn in places. Bake time 15 to 20 minutes, depending on your oven and thickness of the crust. Bake temperature 375 degrees F. in an oven that's been well preheated for at least half an hour. The combination of a very hot oven and cold pastry dough helps produce a flakier crust.

Sweet White Drizzling Glaze

This is the same simple, sweet glaze I used on my mini cranberry pastries. Click here to get that recipe. Just drizzle the glaze on the finished, cooled pies and you're ready to...

Eat with joy!
~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Yes, this is me, Cleo (aka Alice). 
Friend me on facebook here.
Follow me on twitter here
Visit my online coffeehouse here.

To view the
Coffeehouse Mystery
book trailer, click here.

The Coffeehouse Mysteries are bestselling
works of amateur sleuth fiction set in a landmark
Greenwich Village coffeehouse, and each of the
12 titles includes the added bonus of recipes. 
To learn more, click here. 

The Ghost and
Mrs. McClure

Book #1 of 

The Haunted Bookshop
, which Cleo writes
under the name
Alice Kimberly

To learn more, click here


  1. This pies recipe different than other pies. I also like to try new recipe with new tastes. That’s why i came here and share recipes.

    1. Thanks, EPD, I'm glad you stopped by. Come on back to our Kitchen, anytime.

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  2. This looks so good. I'm also in New York and as soon as the local blueberries are here I want to try this.

    1. Carol - I hope you enjoy it as much as my husband and I do. I'm crossing fingers that our blueberry season is a good one this year. It's a joy to see overflowing pints of big, fat berries lined up for reasonable prices (and, if I do, I intend to bake me up plates and plates of hand pies :)).

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  3. Wonder if this would work with frozen wild Maine blueberries? What adjustments would be needed, I wonder?
    They look so inviting.

    1. Libby - I have used frozen blueberries in this recipe, and they work just fine. What I do is this: I toss the frozen blueberries into a colander and rinse them briefly with warm water to begin the thawing process. I shake the colander gently over the sink. Then I place the colander over a bowl to let the blueberries continue to drain as they thaw. (I drink the juice that accumulates, it's delicious!) In about 30 minutes, they thaw enough for me to toss with flour (I double the amount and use 2 T instead of 1) and I add a little extra sugar for flavor because I find frozen berries are not as flavorful as fresh.

      I have yet to try baking with them completely frozen, but now that you've asked, I'll give it a try and report back. I will again toss them with a little extra flour to absorb the melting liquid and a little extra sugar to provide more flavor.

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

    2. I find the wild Maine blueberries have more flavor than the big commercial ones. This is calling to me to try.
      I like the fact that you explained the different needs of a light tender pie crust and an "able to be held in the hand" crust. An important distinction.
      Like women's underwear: one size does NOT fit all!

    3. Huzzah! They worked beautifully frozen. No need to thaw!

      I purchased a package of frozen wild Maine blueberries, tossed them with the flour and sugar (the same amount as I suggested for the fresh in my recipe). I mounded them into the raw dough circle, folded it, baked it the same temperature and time as the fresh and voila! Perfect results!

      So there you have it, frozen blueberries can be used for this recipe in exactly the same way as the fresh. Simply toss with flour and sugar and bake as directed.

      Thanks so much for asking about this, Libby, I'll make the update to the recipe, as well. Now I can eat my blueberry hand pies all year long with frozen berries (and without thawing).

      ~ Cleo

    4. Fantastic! Thanks for experimenting for all of us.

    5. YW, Libby, and thank you again for asking about this. I've used frozen berries in large pies, but I didn't think there was enough bake time on the hand pies for it to work. I'm so happy it did. Your question saved me a lot of time. Now I don't have to thaw the berries, in they go frozen, so much easier!

      Cheers and have a great Memorial Day weekend,

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  4. What a clever idea. You know I'll be trying this. I love yogurt in recipes. Your hand pies look so beautiful! One would go perfectly with my cup of tea right now!


    1. Thanks, Krista. For sure, yogurt can be a great ingredient to play with in recipes. I loved the way you used Greek yogurt in your easy hollandaise sauce yesterday. (For anyone who missed it, Click Here. It's a keeper!)

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  5. What a smart idea. I use sour cream in many of my gluten-free cakes because it adds the moisture. Using yogurt in a pie crust...Hm, I must see if this works for gluten-free. Maybe it'll hold the flour together better. What a cute way to roll and cut, by the way. Loved the step by step pix.

    Thanks, Cleo.

    Daryl aka Avery

    1. Thanks, Daryl/Avery - and I agree, sour cream is a very nice addition to pastries, even crusts. You could sub sour cream for the yogurt here in a pinch, as well. That, along with that little bit of egg I added in the recipe, will make the dough easier to work with--roll out and bake without breaking. I wonder how this would work with a GF flour, maybe a rice flour?

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  6. I love hand pies. Put anything in a pie envelope and put it in my hand, and I'll be in rapture. Goes back to when I was a child and my mom would often greet me after school with hot fried pies. These blueberry jewels are a lot healthier-looking than Mom's, and they look irresistible! Yogurt AND eggs in the hand-pie crust - I've got to give that a try. Soon. Very soon.