All Cakes Considered: A Year's Worth of Weekly Recipes Tested, Tasted, and Approved by the Staff of NPR's All Things Considered by Melissa Gray, includes recipes like Dark-Chocolate Red Velvet Cake; Fried Pies; and Spanish Meringue Cake.
18 Fried Pies
Here's the thing that is so cool about being from a fairly homogeneous hometown and working at NPR: You really learn a lot about people from other regions, other traditions, and other countries, and occasionally they get to learn from you. For a brief moment you realize, "Hey, I'm not as boring and white bread as I thought!"
Back in March of 2006, I came across a series of reports in the Atlanta Journal Constitution chronicling the plight of Willie Watts, a sixty-something home baker who supplemented her monthly income by making Fried Pies and selling them at a barbecue place in Lithonia, Georgia.
Mr. Watts had health problems, and what the missus earned paid for his medications, plus making Fried Pies was just something she liked to do. Well, the AJC reported her story, which had an unfortunate consequence: The Georgia Department of Agriculture, which regulates food prep and sales, shut her down because she was working from an unregulated kitchen. Fortunately, she was able to work out of the barbecue's kitchen in Lithonia, and her plight caught the eyes of a number of state representatives, who attempted to pass an exemption law that would allow her to return to her home kitchen. I pitched this story at ATC's morning meeting, and Melissa Block interviewed Mrs. Watts about her Fried Pie operation that afternoon.
Nobody in the morning meeting had ever had a Fried Pie. To me, it was like saying you'd never written with a number-2 pencil. Fried Pies are small, crescent-shaped doughy pods filled with apples, cherries, sweet potatoes, lemon, or chocolate. They're generally cooked in melted shortening, then powdered with sugar or glazed with icing. We used to get them at local fairs or the Tastee-Freez in Virginia when I was a kid. They were more readily available when I moved to Georgia. Say "Fried Pie" to my cake-hating Georgia husband, and he'll offer to clean the bathrooms, prune the red tips hedges out front, vacuum the rugs, reorganize the attic, anything so I can fry some up. And he'll eat about twelve in one sitting.
After Melissa B. talked with Willie W., the whole ATC staff was dying of culinary curiosity. I went online to see if there was a way to order Fried Pies and have them delivered, only to discover yet again what a lame town DC is for Southern food. Then I decided to figure it out on my own, based on Mrs. Watts's description of her piemaking process.
Well, my Fried Pies are still evolving and getting better all the time. When a few of our producers go to Baghdad, I bake whatever they want before they go, and then repeat it when they get back eight weeks later. Several of them have had Fried Pies coming and going. And no matter how many incredible cakes I bring in week after week, the inevitable question always comes up: "Hey! When are we getting Fried Pies again?"
Sadly, attempts by the Georgia legislature to get Mrs. Watts that exemption didn't work that session; it was among several last-minute changes that didn't get finalized as the assembly wound down. Last I heard, she was still working out of the barbecue place in Lithonia.
Fried Pies are best served immediately.
They get greasy just hanging around too long. I've tried coating them in butter and baking them, which keeps the crust flakey. These are Faux Fried Pies, and only I know the difference.
I use Dorie Greenspan's rugelach dough recipe for the dough, but any regular pie dough recipe works fine, so long as it's fairly flexible and forgiving.
This should be enough to make about 18 Fried Pies.
- A food processor
- A rolling pin
- A biscuit cutter
- A pastry brush
- A deep fryer and a slotted metal spatula
- Plenty of paper towels and a few paper plates
For the Pie Dough
- One 8-ounce package cold cream cheese, cut into a pieces
- 2 sticks (1 cup) cold butter, cut into a pieces
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (see Tip)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the Filling
- Your choice of Fried Pie Filling (below, but see Tip)
For Finishing the Pies
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon water
- Safflower oil for frying OR 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for baking
- Coarse or confectioners' sugar for dusting
Tips: In an attempt to make Fried Pies a TAD healthier, I sometimes use 1 cup of all-purpose flour and 1 cup of whole wheat flour. The dough has a nuttier taste, but it's still good.
Instead of making one of the fillings (below), feel free to use a canned pie filling, preferably cherry, lemon, or chocolate. This is one recipe I don't mind cheating on.
To Make the Pie Dough
1. Let the cream cheese and butter rest for 10 minutes at room temperature.
2. In a food processor, combine the flour and salt, then drop cut-up pieces of cream cheese and butter over the top. Pulse 6 to 10 times, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until the dough forms large curds.
3. Take the dough out and divide into 4 discs. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling out.
4. Meanwhile, make one of the fillings.
5. On a floured work surface, roll out the cold dough to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Begin in the center of the disc, and flour the rolling pin if the dough sticks.
6. With a biscuit cutter, cut out as many circles as you can. Flour them lightly so they don't stick together, and place them on a plate. Gather up the scraps of dough and set aside.
7. Reflour the work surface, roll out the second disc of dough, cut out more pastry circles, and set aside. Gather up the scraps of dough and combine them with the reserved scraps from the first disc. Gently knead the dough together into one disc, wrap, and pop into the refrigerator.
8. Roll out the third and fourth discs in the same manner, kneading the excess dough into a disc and refrigerating.
9. Roll out the discs of dough scraps, cut out the pastry circles, and combine the scraps. Again, knead together the scraps, but this time continue rolling out the dough and cutting circles until there's just a finger length of dough left. Set that little piece aside to test the oil when you're ready to fry.
10. Clear the work surface of any sticky dough and reflour. Roll out the biscuit shapes to 1/8 inch thickness. Lightly flour and collect them on a plate until all the pastry rounds are now thin minipancakes.
To Fill the Pies
11. Whisk together the egg and water. Set aside along with a pastry brush and fork.
12. Clear the work surface and lay out as many pastry circles as you can. Get your filling.
13. Drop 1 heaping tablespoon of filling, but no more, on ONE HALF of each circle. DO NOT SPREAD.
14. Take the pastry brush and brush the egg mixture around the edges of the half circle where the filling is. Then fold over the empty half, forming a half-moon or pod. Using a fork, gently press down on the edge. Set the pie aside. Repeat until all the pastry circles are filled, painted with egg wash, folded, and forked.
To Fry the Pies
15. Fill your deep fryer with at least 2 inches of oil and turn it on. Use a pinch of the leftover dough to test when the oil is ready. The dough will puff and fry up to a golden brown in about a minute. Remove from the oil.
16. Using a slotted spatula, place as many pies as will float on the surface of your deep fryer.
17. Keep a watchful eye and flip the pies over when the bottoms are golden brown. Using the slotted spatula, remove from the fryer when the second side is done. Drain over the oil. then place the pies on paper towels to drain some more. Allow the pies to cool completely.
Or, To Bake the Pies
15. Center a rack and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a shallow baking pan with baking spray.
16. Use a pastry brush, coat both sides of each pie with some of the melted butter.
17. Arrange the pies evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from the oven, flip the pies over, then bake for 10 minutes more, until golden brown.
To Finish The Pies
18. Dust the cooled pies with sugar and dig in.
A Trio of Fried Pie Fillings
Several Options Here.
- A double boiler, real or improvised
- 2 Granny Smith apples
- 1 Gala, Braeburn, or Fuji apple
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup water
1. Peel, core, and dice the apples and toss with the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
2. Pour about 1 inch of water in the bottom of a double boiler and put the apple mixture in the top. Place over medium-high heat. add the water to the apples, and stir. Stew until the mixture is tender and thick. Add extra spices and sugar to your taste.
- A double boiler, real or improvised
- 3/4 cup blueberries
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
1. Pour about 1 inch of water in the bottom of a double boiler and combine the blueberries, sugar, and 1/2 cup of water in the top.
2. Stew over medium heat until the mixture is tender and thick.
- 1 medium sweet potato
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1. Bake the sweet potato until done (see step 1 on page 46 of the book).
2. Remove the skin. In a large bowl. mash the sweet potato with the butter, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
If you're also making apple filling, you can add 2 tablespoons of that. Mash together.
All Cakes Considered:
A Year's Worth of Weekly Recipes
Tested, Tasted, and Approved by
the Staff of NPR's All Things Considered
- by Melissa Gray
- Photographs by Annabelle Breakey
- Chronicle Books 2010
- $24.95; Hardcover
- ISBN: 0811867811
- ISBN-13: 9780811867818
- Reprinted by permission.
This page created January 2011