To do lists are all well and good, but they’re only satisfying if you can actually cross something off them. For once, I am proud to say that two tasks on my to do list can have a line drawn firmly through them, and this is particularly satisfying as these two tasks were hanging over me like a heavy raincloud about to burst. They were:
- Update my blog – check!
- Cook something from my bucket list – check!
And with that, I feel the sun beaming down on me again! The universe must be listening as today is one of the first beautifully sunny days in over a week. All thanks to my to do list!
This old blog of mine has had a face lift! I’d been wanting a homepage for a long time, and now there’s a recipe page and also a story page, handy if you’re just looking for something to read. There’s also a recipe box with cooking times and a print button, which, for most food bloggers, is a standard but for me has been a technological leap forward. Have you ever tried to update a blog? Oh myyyyy. I have stories to tell. Mostly of me tearing my hair out about menial things like colours and fonts, storming away from my computer, or frantically typing a plea for help to the WordPress help desk (thank you thank you thank you).
Once the updating had reached a stage a little less frantic, I returned to the part I actually enjoy – the cooking. Back in January I wrote my 2022 food bucket list – yes, another list, I like lists – and so far I’ve ticked off only one bucket list dish: creamy twice-baked crab soufflés, a winner in my book especially as the leftovers (because of course you make six soufflés when there’s only two of you) are equally delicious a few hours later, cold from the fridge.
The next challenge I set myself was to make hand pies and with that homemade flaky pastry. I go weak at the knees for pastry within the realm of puff – flaky, rough puff, there may be others, I don’t remember – especially a flirtatious little parcel filled with fruit and/or custard, yet I’d always had a fear of making my own. Personally, I think this fear is completely rational. Puff pastry is not something we all rush into the kitchen to make. Memories of soft, melted butter oozing out of a book-fold of pastry still haunt me. Supermarkets surely do us a service by selling it ready made?
However, over the last month or so, I’ve actually baked two varieties of hand pies (and croissants but that’s a disaster story for another day) and I have no intention of using shop-bought puff pastry again. You heard it here first folks. (Disclaimer: I MIGHT use shop-bought puff pastry again. But I promise never for sweet recipes.)
Hand pies are different to turnovers as they are made with two separate pieces of flaky pastry, but like turnovers they look like a bakery masterpiece, all golden and sprinkled in sparkling sugar. Can you believe they look just as perfect when they emerge from your own oven? I was gobsmacked – the recipe was so easy! And it produced professional-looking pastries?! Call me queen of the oven! – and now I’ll be rustling up puff pastry every other weekend.
The hand pies are beautifully flaky, each bite showering your plate and your clothes in pastry shards, and there’s a satisfactory snap as you take a mouthful, narry a soggy bottom in sight. And that’s not even my favourite part. Inside nestles nectarine compote and a smooth cream cheese filling which can ooze over your fingers as you eat, and the internal pastry is much softer – squidgier if you will, I do love under-done pastry. As I stamped the pastry pieces together with a little beaten egg and a fork, I did worry about leakage but there was no need to, they stayed perfectly intact, a mere dribble of crimson juice staining the baking paper.
I like to serve my nectarine cheesecake hand pies with a dollop of extra cream filling to make an occasion out of it. And they certainly slip down very easily. Although, I wish I could say the same for the rest of my to do list so I might just bask here in contented achievement for a while.
Nectarine cheesecake hand pies
For the puff pastry dough
- 375 g flour
- A pinch of salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- 225 g unsalted butter cold
- 240 ml water cold, with ice
- 60 ml apple cider vinegar
- 1 beaten egg
For the nectarine compote
- 500 g chopped and destoned nectarines
- 2 tbsp dried hibiscus flowers optional
- 250 ml water
- 200 g sugar
For the cheesecake filling
- 100 g crème fraiche
- 250 g fromage blanc or cream cheese
- 40 g sugar
- To make the pastry, pour the flour, sugar and salt into a bowl and mix together. Cut the butter into cubes and toss them with all the flour. Rub them into the flour with your fingertips, and try to be as gentle as possible, keeping your fingers nice and cold. Once you have rough breadcrumbs, set the bowl aside.
- Add the vinegar to the iced water. Add a tablespoon of water to the flour at a time, mixing with each addition. I added 10 tbsp water until it all came together, but yours may be different. Bring the dough together with your hands, it should still be a bit messy and floury, then divide into two rectangles and securely wrap in cling film. Chill them for two hours or overnight.
- To make the nectarine compote you can make it with hibiscus for a lovely red colour or without. With hibiscus, combine the water and the hibiscus flowers in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Lower the temperature and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Strain the liquid, which should be beautifully vibrant, into another pan and add the chopped nectarines and sugar. (If you don't want to add hibiscus go from here, adding 100ml water.) Bring to the boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the temperature and simmer gently for roughly 30 minutes, until the liquid has evaporated and the compote is thick and velvety.
- To make the cheesecake filling, beat together the crème fraiche and fromage blanc or cream cheese in a bowl. Add the sugar and feel free to taste, it's utterly addictive.
- Once the pastry has chilled for long enough, it is time to make hand pies! Take one of the pastry rectangles from the fridge and roll it out on a floured work surface until it's the thickness of a £1 coin. Try to keep the rectangular shape intact, but no problem if the pastry has a mind of its own. Trim the edges with a sharp knife then cut out 8 rectangles roughly 7cm x 10cm. Place them all on a tray or plate and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes to half an hour so that they are firm and ready to fill.
- Now's the time to roll and cut the other rectangle of pastry if you'd like to cook 8 hand pies. I don't blame you if you do. Repeat the previous step.
- Pair pastry rectangles which have similar sizes so that they seal together easily. Take one rectangle and fill with a tablespoon or two of cheesecake filling. Top with a tablespoon or two of nectarine compote. Make sure you keep a border clean around the edge.
- Brush the beaten egg around the border, then lay the matching pastry partner on top. Push down along the edges to seal, then, with a fork press the prongs around the edge. Set aside and repeat with the rest of the pastry.
- Chill the hand pies in the fridge – yes, there's a lot of chilling, I know, nearly there! – for 10 minutes and preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F.
- When the hand pies are ready to bake, lay them on a paper-lined baking tray. Brush them with egg wash and sprinkle with demerara sugar. Slide the tray into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and puffed up like a balloon. Leave to cool slightly then tuck in with leftover cream cheese filling.