High Altitude Baking: Pie by the handful | SummitDaily.com

High Altitude Baking: Pie by the handful

Vera Dawson
High Country Baking

High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.

Three hits of chocolate make these hand pies a stand-out. Soft, rich chocolate ganache is hidden inside a cocoa-flavored cookie crust with a white chocolate drizzle that highlights them both. Served at room temperature, they can be eaten out of hand, so they’re a great choice for a buffet or a picnic. And, if you warm and plate them, they’re a fine ending to a sit-down dinner.

The dough is easy to make and to work with; just keep in mind that it’s fragile and can tear and crack. Watch for these flaws as you form the pies and as they bake. If any occur, smooth the dough back together or patch it with leftover dough so none of the pies lose any of their filling.

Chocolate Lover’s Hand Pies

Make on a parchment-lined cookie sheet

Yields five 4.5-inch pies

Recipe can be doubled


1 1/4 cups bleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter (one stick)

1 large egg yolk

1 tablespoon ice water


3 ounces high-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine

3 tablespoons heavy cream


1 egg

1 teaspoon milk or cream


1 1/2 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon canola oil

1. Make the crust: Combine the flour, cocoa powder, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine well. Cut the butter into 16 pieces, add them and pulse until the pieces are the size of small peas. Add the egg yolk and ice water and use short pulses to bring the dough to a moist, crumbly state; it shouldn’t come together. Pour it out onto a sheet of waxed paper or plastic wrap, gently knead it only until it comes together, form it into a disc, wrap and chill until firm. At this point, it can be double wrapped, so it’s airtight, and refrigerated for a day or frozen for up to a month.

2. Make the filling: Place the chopped chocolate in a small bowl. Heat the cream to just short of boiling (in a microwave or on the stovetop). Pour the cream over the chocolate, submerging all of it in the hot liquid, cover the bowl, and let it sit for four to five minutes. Stir until all chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Set aside to come to room temperature. When it has, the mixture should have thickened but still be soft enough to slide off a spoon. If it’s hardened, stir in a little more cream until it softens. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position.

3. Roll the dough (if it’s too cold, let it sit until it’s warm enough to roll) to a thickness of just a little less than 1/4 of an inch. Cut out circles with a scalloped 4.5-inch cutter and place them an inch apart on the prepared cookie sheet. Re-roll the dough (chill it if it’s too soft to work with), cut out more circles and save any leftover dough. Make a glaze by beating the egg and cream until combined. Brush some of this around the edges of each circle (it will help glue them together); save the rest.

4. Spoon a scant tablespoon of filling in a vertical line just left of the center of each circle, leaving 1/4 inch on each edge uncovered. Gently fold the right side of the circle over the filling; don’t stretch the dough or it may tear. Press the edges of the two sides together with the prongs of a fork so they’re sealed. Check the fold line; if it’s torn or stretched, smooth it back together or use some of the leftover dough to patch it. Use a skewer or a toothpick to make four holes in the top of each pie so that air can escape while baking (don’t use a knife to make slits or the dough will tear as it bakes). Freeze or refrigerate the pies, on the pan, until they are quite firm.

5. Remove the pies from the fridge, brush them with some of the remaining glaze, and bake until the glaze is shiny, the tops are set (they’ll still yield when touched because of the soft filling beneath them) and the fork-marked edges are firm, 22-30 minutes (the time depends on how cold the pies are when placed in the oven). Remove the pan to a cooling rack; after about five minutes transfer the pies from the pan to the rack to cool completely.

6. Make the drizzle: Place the chopped white chocolate and oil in a small bowl and microwave at a low temperature (white chocolate burns easily) until the chocolate has softened but isn’t fully melted. Remove it from the oven and stir until the mixture is smooth. Let it cool slightly and then drizzle it decoratively over each pie. When the drizzle has set, the pies can be served or stored, covered airtight, at cool room temperature for a day or refrigerated for two days. They can be eaten out of hand at room temperature or served warmed (heat just until the white chocolate drizzle starts to soften and melt) and plated.

Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbooks Baking Above It All and Cookies in the Clouds, (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco), is a high-altitude baking teacher. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at veradawson1@gmail.com.

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