Cherry Chocolate Hand Pies

Mini pockets of juicy cherry and chocolate goodness wrapped in hand-held flakey pastry.

Cherry Chocolate Hand Pies

My 33rd birthday was on Sunday.  I celebrated with my dear husband and toddler by hitting up the Farmer's Market, grabbing a delicious brunch at a funky vegetarian restaurant, squeezing a bit of work during nap, and then an early bird dinner at my top Italian restaurant in town.  So many of you asked who makes the birthday cake for a cake baker like me?  Nobody.  We had Blizzards from DQ and I couldn't be happier.  Oh, and these Cherry Chocolate Hand Pies.

Cherry Chocolate Hand Pies
Cherry Chocolate Hand Pies

I made these because, honestly, flakey pastry and sweet cherries were the only thing currently missing from my 12,045th day on Earth (give or take a few leap years).  I got to celebrate with my two favorite humans eating and exploring in my favorite city which I am lucky enough to call home.  33 is not young nor is it old, so don't expect too much wisdom coming from me yet.  But as I get older I do realize that I don't need much to feel special or even have the desire to be celebrated (I'll gladly take a small dinner party {or even just the hubs and a toddler at 5pm} over the dancing and sparkles {in my wine and on my dresses} of my twenties), and the important stuff I already have.  I don't mind being another year older if I get to spend it with a husband that I adore and the sweetest yet silliest toddler on the planet, working on career that I am truly passionate about, living in an always messy yet happy home that I promise to finish decorating this year, and cherry chocolate hand pies, of course.

Sometimes it's hard to talk about being happy or even perfectly content without sounding like a total asshole, but I really couldn't ask for more.  Don't get me wrong.  Life isn't totally perfect and will probably never be.  Even birthdays come with 6:45am wake-up calls and toddler tantrums.  I still miss our Remy girl every day, but other than that, I wouldn't have it any other way =)

Cherry Chocolate Hand Pies

I admit there's nothing super unique or life changing about this recipe.  Just perfectly flakey pastry, sweet juice cherries, and my favorite dark chocolate.  When you are working with great ingredients, then there's no need to alter their "pure-ness" just for the sake of coming up with an outrageous recipe.  I used my favorite all-butter pie dough and stuffed the hand-held treats with the filling from Yossy's Chocolate Cherry Turnovers from her book Sweeter Off the Vine.

I become both oddly frugal and frivolous when it comes to buying produce.  As a cook/baker, I am constantly buying ingredients.  I also have a toddler that can eat his weight in fresh fruit.  I know all the money spent at the grocery store is well spent either into a recipe I'm testing or into the bellies of my family members.  But damn - good, fresh fruit can be soooo expensive!  But most always necessary.  Especially when you are buying out-of-season for a recipe.  

Anyways, I love cherries so much.  They are so pricey, a pain to eat, and have such a short season that I tend to forget just how good they can be.  Growing up, I remember insisting on climbing to the top rung of our ladder in order to pick paper grocery bags full of cherries from the trees in our backyard.  Those were the days... Now, I am so stingy with cherries you'd think I somehow confused these ruby orbs for actual gems.  I can easily down a big $12 bowl of cherries in one sitting (I have to hold myself back from actually doing it), so it's almost criminal to me to bake them in a dessert.  But guys.... cherry pie is soooo good too!  See, I'm so confused and torn.  

To help solve my dilemma, I opted for hand pies.  For one, they are super cute.  And who doesn't love super cute food that you can eat with one hand?  Secondly, they require much less filling than a full cherry pie.  So if you are like me and find that you've eaten all of your filling while catching up on Netflix while your son is napping and no longer have enough for a full pie, then make these! 

All-Butter Pie Dough
makes 8 to 10 hand pies (may be doubled)

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold butter, diced
about 1/3 cup ice water
1 teaspoon lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
1 egg, beaten
splash milk
turbinado sugar for sprinkling

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and sugar.  Place the ice in the water and set aside.

Cut in the cold butter with a pastry cutter or by hand, rubbing the pieces of butter between your thumb, index, and middle fingers.  Once the pieces are no longer lager than about a peanut, begin to flatten the pieces of butter in sheets between your palms.  Be careful not to over-work the butter or let it get too warm.

Working with only a couple tablespoons at a time, add in about 6 to 8 tablespoons of the water along with the vinegar.  Stir together using a wooden spoon or even just a clean hand in the bowl.  The dough should appear fairly shaggy and not sticky.  Once you can squeeze a few pieces together and they hold, the dough is done being mixed.  Do not over-mix.

Divide the dough into half and shape each piece into a rectanlge.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours, or overnight (preferably).

Meanwhile, make the filling (recipe to follow) and let cool.

Once ready, bring one piece of dough out of the refrigerator and allow to rest for about 10 minutes.  Liberally flour the work surface and begin to roll out the dough into a rectangle, working from the center out – rotating the dough after each roll.  Roll the dough until about ¼ inch thick and about 13 X 9. 

Trim the dough.  Cut along the long edge into 3 strips (each should be about 8 X 4 inches).  Repeat with the second piece of dough, using an scraps to squeeze out extra pies.

Place a heaping tablespoons of cherry filling in the center of one end of each strip of dough (you will be folding the dough in half), about 3 to 5 cherry halves.  Sprinkle with a good pinch of the chopped chocolate.  Try not to over-stuff your pies.

Gently take the empty end of each strip and fold it over the filling.  Using the tines of a fork, crimp all four edges of the hand pies to seal. 

Place on a baking sheet and chill in the refrigerator while you pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees.

Once ready to bake, create an egg wash by whisking the egg and a splash of milk.  Brush over each pie and sprinkle with turbanado sugar.

Use a paring knife to cut a few vents in each pie.

Reduce the over to 375 degrees and bake for 18 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.  Carefully lift up a pie and check to see if the bottom has some coloring before removing.  

Allow to cool before serving.  Enjoy by hand or on a plate with ice cream.

Keep wrapped in foil for up to 3 days.

Cherry Chocolate Filling
adapted from Sweeter Off the Vine

10 ounces sweet cherries, pitted and halved
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
splash vanilla
6 tablespoons dark chocolate, chopped

Place the cherries, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla in a small saucepan.  Stir to combine.  Cook, while stirring intermittently, over medium-high until the cherries begin to soften and the juices start to thicken, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let cool before using.

Retro Cherry Chip Layer Cake

Cherry Chip Cake with chocolate ganache, vanilla whipped buttercream, and a retro, diner-inspired finish.

Cherry Chip Cake with chocolate ganache and whipped vanilla buttercream.

This cake is so much fun!!  A bright pink interior from sugary sweet maraschino cherries with Tiffany blue buttercream?  Yes, this cake certainly is a dream.  But really – I've been thinking and dreaming about this cake for over a year now.  I am constantly brainstorming new cake flavors and decoration ideas.  This one in particular (blue frosting and all) popped into my brain last winter, and I am so excited to finally share it with you all!

Cherry Chip Cake with chocolate ganache and whipped vanilla buttercream.
Cherry Chip Cake with chocolate ganache and whipped vanilla buttercream.
Cherry Chip Cake with chocolate ganache and whipped vanilla buttercream.
Cherry Chip Cake with chocolate ganache and whipped vanilla buttercream.

Between holiday baking and seasonal assignments, this fun, whimsical cake kept getting pushed to the back-burner.  I kept it on my "to-bake" list month after month.  The idea waited patiently as berry season came and went, while my short obsession for braided pie crust took up all of fall 2016, and for my brief trial with gluten-free baking to last just long enough to stock up on a dozen different alternative flours that have now been pushed to the back of the pantry.

But as winter rolled around again, this cake idea floated back up to the top of the list.  When the only produce in season is citrus and you need something bright and playful to chase away the winter blues, jarred cherries and artificial hues come to the rescue!!  

For as long as I've been decorating cakes, I've been wanting to make a cake inspired by my favorite Wayne Thiebaud paintings.  He attended college in my hometown of Sacramento, CA and even taught at my Alma mater, UC Davis, so I've always felt a small connection to his work.  Plus cake, obviously (Does anyone know if they are still on display at the Crocker Art Museum?).  This cherry cake is not quite like his paintings, but the swag detail is definitely similar.  One day, I would LOVE to create a scene of cakes that replicates this famous painting, but today I will settle for a Thiebaud X retro diner cake "swag" instead.  

Cherry Chip Cake with chocolate ganache and whipped vanilla buttercream.
Packed with maraschino cherries and decorated with an almost retro feel, this cake naturally comes with a sweet side of nostalgia. I imagine it being served at a diner with checkerboard floors and red vinyl booths or at a soda shoppe, where everything is topped with whipped cream and bright red cherries. The pale Tiffany blue frosting was begging to be paired with the pink interior. For whatever reason, blue is often synonymous with vanilla-flavored candies (when not representing the ambiguous “blue raspberry” ??), and in this cake, I think the color brings everything to life.
— Tessa Huff for The Cake Blog

As you can imagine, the cake here itself is fairly sweet.  Studded with maraschino cherries, the pink hued layers will have your tastebuds dancing in no time.  My recipes tend to encompass all sorts of ingredients and styles from rustic bakes using wholesome grains and seasonal produce to death-by-chocoalte pastries and technicolored cakes.  This cake definitely lies on the playful, sugar-filled end of the spectrum.  To help balance out the flavors, a thin layer of bittersweet ganache is spread between the cherry chip cake and whipped vanilla frosting.

Cherry Chip Cake with chocolate ganache and whipped vanilla buttercream.

Head on over to The Cake Blog for the full recipe!!

Chocolate Cherry Pavlova

Baked meringue provides a light and crispy bed for pillowy, almond-scented whipped cream, fresh cherries, and a shower of chocolate shavings.  A heavenly treat for summer!

Pavlova with almond cream, fresh cherries, and chocolate shavings.

That 16-hour plane ride to Sydney surely gives you a lot of time to build up expectations.  Thankfully, the trip did not disappoint – even in July (their winter). 

After I graduated from university, my family and I went way down under.  A trip to Australia!  How freakin' amazing is that?!?!?  I honestly didn’t know what to really except.  Would it be like cities in America or parts of Great Brittan but with a different accent?  Is it more tropical island-like with its many beaches and abundant wild life?  And why did we come during our summer – would it rain the entire time?  The trip was a decade ago this summer, so please forgive any lapses in my memory or ignorant generalisations. 

The best way I can describe the experience was that is was similar to going to a clean, modern, English-speaking country in Europe, where everything feels almost the same as home but then you turn the corner and see a peculiar food item or hear an unfamiliar phrase in an accent that is not your own.  Kind of like living in Vancouver and it feeling almost like any other major city in the US, until you spot the colourful Monopoly money or a bag of ketchup chips while hearing someone say "decal" instead of sticker, but pronouncing it de-kel instead of di-kal.  In fact, Vancouver reminds me of a mixture of Melbourne’s cosmopolitan city life and the scenic, waterfront of Sydney.  Both have similar climates, modern glass high-rises, and friendly locals, too!

Pavlova with almond cream, fresh cherries, and chocolate shavings.
Pavlova with almond cream, fresh cherries, and chocolate shavings.
Pavlova with almond cream, fresh cherries, and chocolate shavings.

I wish I could say that I saw a koala bear or a kangaroo in the wild, but most of our time was spent in the cites of Sydney and Melbourne.  Some of the highlights include: climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, taking a harbour boat tour, standing in awe in front of the opera house, attending a rugby match then running for the train after (as we learned that when the first train fills up, it may take forever until another arrives), hitting up the Lindt Chocolate Café, Bondi Beach (I snapped an awesome pic that was the desktop photo on my old computer for years!), the river walk in Melbourne, and more.  I know I didn’t even scratch the surface and mostly indulged in touristy things, but it was truly an amazing trip in a gorgeous country.  I’d go back any day – despite the longest plane ride ever (although I have to say that those Melona popsicle Kiwanis gives out mid-flight is a nice touch).

Food wise, I remember eating passion fruit EVERYTHING with reckless abandon.  Judging from this cake and these popsicles, you can probably tell that I have a thing for tangy passion fruit.  I recall going to a market for breakfast that was kind of like a fancy food court and ordering yogurt covered in fresh passion fruit pulp and my first ever flat whites daily.  

Pavlova with almond cream, fresh cherries, and chocolate shavings.

One of my favorite Aussie foods that I still enjoy baking today is the pavlova.  Some say it originated in New Zealand while other claim Australia.  All I know is that it is down right delicious.  The light and crisp meringue shell, sweetened whipped cream, and fresh, seasonal fruit – what is there not to love? When the cooler months have us craving more comforting treats laden with caramel sauce or decadent ganache, summer calls for something on the lighter side.  This recipe in particular calls for flecks of real vanilla bean, almond cream, fresh cherries, and a shower of chocolate shavings, but feel free to change up the flavor of the cream and use your favorite fruit.  There really is no reason why we shouldn’t be making these pillows of glory goodness all summer long!  Head on over to the West Elm Blog for the recipe.

Surely I am not giving Australian or its cuisine much justice.  How much can you really learn and appreciate about a culture in such a short amount of time?  Two of my favorite dessert bloggers just happen to hail from Australia.  I strongly urge you all to go check out Sarah’s The Sugar Hit blog and Thalia’s Butter and Brioche blog. And please forgive me ladies for not doing anything remotely “cool” while I was there.  Next time, will you please show me around? 

 

Pavlova with almond cream, fresh cherries, and chocolate shavings.