Blueberry Hand Pies, the subject of our July 2017 Bakealong challenge, inspired great feedback from many readers. You rocked Instagram with your beauty shots, and filled our Facebook feed with comments. Most important, you shared suggestions and questions, here in our blog and in your recipe reviews, thus giving us the opportunity to riff on one of our most popular Bakealong posts.

For example, here's a comment that sparked one of those "ah-ha!" moments for me. The original hand pie recipe calls for rolling the pastry dough into a 14" square — but this reader had a better idea:

"I always find it difficult to roll out dough into a large rectangle. I divided my chilled dough into 4 equal pieces. I rolled each section into a 7 x 7 square. This allowed me to keep the rest of the dough in the refrigerator, and it was easy to cut the large square into four 3 1/2 inch squares. — Lisa S."

Indeed, many of you have found it a challenge to roll this dough into a 14" square, especially when the heat of summer makes both your kitchen and dough stickier than usual.

Light dawns on Marblehead! Divide the dough into four pieces, working with one piece at a time and letting the other three cool their heels in the fridge. It's much easier to roll out four 7" squares rather than one 14". And since you roll them one at a time, you're pretty much always working with cool dough: no sticking, no tearing. Thanks, Lisa!

Here's another comment that resonated:

"I used strawberry preserves yesterday, and it was wonderful. I’m trying with apricot and raspberry preserves next. — Kathleen Correira"

Smart thinking, Kathleen. I hadn't considered anything beyond what the recipe suggests — cooking up some blueberry filling — but how easy it is to substitute your homemade preserves, or one of those high-quality store-bought jams? VERY easy. And delicious. Plus you can mix and match: I tried fig jam with a slice of cheddar, as well as raspberry jam with chopped fresh strawberries, both yummy.

Let's take a quick look at these (and other) suggestions in real time.

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Hand pies tip #1: Divide and conquer

Here's the Blueberry Hand Pies dough, mixed, rolled, folded, and ready to go into the fridge for 30 minutes.

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For easiest handling, cut the dough into four pieces.

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Since you're going to roll each piece into a square, give yourself a head start by gently shaping them into rough squares.

Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about 20 to 30 minutes, until they're chilled but not rock hard.

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Remove one piece of dough from the fridge, unwrap it, and place it on a floured work surface.

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Roll the dough into a rough 7 1/2" square, then trim it to 7"; trimming off the ragged edges will ensure each resulting pastry square is exactly 3 1/2" on a side.

Cut the dough into four 3 1/2" squares.

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Hand pies tip #2: Fill with your favorite jam or preserves

The Blueberry Hand Pies recipe calls for you to cook up your own filling from fresh blueberries. But your own fruit preserves — or a top-quality store-bought variety — allows you much more leeway in making an assortment of pies with different fillings.

Plop a heaping tablespoon of fruit into the center of two of the four squares you've just rolled out; a level tablespoon cookie scoop works well here. I'm using blackberry jam to start. 

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Brush the edges of each jam-topped square with beaten egg; this will help the top and bottom crusts adhere to one another.

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Cut a decorative vent in the other two pastry squares. Or if you're not interested in anything fancy, simply make a few parallel cuts with a knife.

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Press the edges of the top and bottom crusts together with the tines of a fork.

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Hand pies tip #3: Rise and shine

Numerous readers note that their pies' edges are flat, rather than thick and puffy like those shown in the recipe photo (above).

"How do you get those puffy edges?" you ask.

Sealing the edges of these hand pies with a fork keeps the filling from leaking out the side, but also squashes the top crust into the bottom, preventing either from rising as high as they might.

After thinking about this for awhile, I end up applying a well-known biscuit tip to these pastries: a sharp cut makes a high rise.

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I take a pizza cutter and cut a very thin strip off each of the four sides. Not only does this make the pastries look neater, it helps them puff up all the way around.

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Finish the job: Fill and seal the remaining hand pies

Assemble the six remaining hand pies using the other three pieces of dough. Have fun with the fillings; here I'm trying raspberry jam with chopped fresh strawberries, and mango-pineapple preserves.

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Seal the pies, then trim the edges.

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Brush the pies all over with the remaining beaten egg.

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While not entirely necessary, sprinkling the hand pies with sparkling white sugar will give them a glittery, crunchy crust.

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Place the hand pies on a parchment-lined baking sheet. If you don't have parchment, just put them on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake the pies in a preheated 425°F oven for 18 to 20 minutes, until they're nice and brown.

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Hand pies tip #4: Is there a way to prevent leaks?

Some of you have said that some of your pies leak while they're baking, emerging from the oven in a puddle of juice.

Why do hand pies sometimes spring a leak?

Well, for those that leak around the edges, the seal simply isn't strong enough. Be firm with the fork; and make the pressed margin wide enough that even when you trim the edge, there's enough left to provide a good seal.

As for those pies that leak from the center vent, I don't have a good answer. I can say that pies made with jam or preserves seem to leak less than those filled with freshly cooked filling. Which makes sense: the preserves have already lost most of their available liquid during processing, while the fresh filling may still have available liquid to give up.

Still, the two pies I made with added fresh strawberries don't necessarily support this: one leaked, one didn't.

For now, 'tis a mystery.

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Hand pies tip #5: Make now, bake later

Finally, several readers have asked about saving time by doing at least some of the work ahead. Anonymous Baker writes, "Can these be frozen and baked later?"

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Kye, my fellow blogger, provides the answer to this one. One of our talented bakers and writers, you may have seen "Kye@KAF" responding to your questions and comments via social media, or on our recipe site. Take it away, Kye:

"The Blueberry Hand Pies can be prepared up through step 12 [shaped, filled, and sealed] and then frozen. Let them harden for about 20 to 30 minutes before storing them in an airtight container or ziplock bag.

"When you're ready to bake, the hand pies can be placed on a baking sheet, brushed with egg wash and topped with sugar (if desired) and baked as directed. You may need to extend the baking time by about 5 minutes to account for them being frozen. The filling should bubble and the crust should be nicely golden brown. Happy baking!"

Any further questions about hand pies? Or if you've made them — any suggestions? Please add your feedback in comments, below. Many spoons stirring the pot can sometimes be a good thing!

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About PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was an award-winning Maine journalist (favorite topics: sports and food) before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. Hired to write the newly launched Baker’s Catalogue, PJ became the small but growing company’s sixth employee.PJ wa...
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