My grandfather was an engineer. He was a mechanical engineer to be exact. In fact, he actually invented the automatic shut-off valve on gas pumps, so the next time you’re pumping your gas, feel free to give him a little shout out (his name was Columbus). As someone who does not possess an aptitude for engineering, I very much respect anyone whose brain actually does allow them to engineer things of the mechanical sort, like my grandfather. I got a steam cleaner as an early Christmas present last week (you know you’re getting old when … ) and I literally did a little jig after I successfully assembled the thing. So no, an engineer I am not. Anyway, I was watching TV the other day with my husband, and we were transfixed by a show that basically just shows you how random things are made. This particular episode on this particular day happened to be about the making of toaster pastries. Toaster pastries! Of all things. I cross my heart and hope to die that I really had planned on making homemade toaster pastries this week as a test for my blog, so clearly this was a sign. I was so amused by this coincidence that I started snapping photos of the TV screen to capture the action. My husband, meanwhile, was probably thinking to himself, “Wow. She just keeps getting weirder and weirder.”
As I was snapping said photos, I couldn’t help but think that there was something sort of sad about the flat, sad looking little pastries that rolled very un-merrily along the massive conveyor belts in the factory. “Thwump. Thwump. Thwump.” They just fell lifelessly into piles of thousands, vats of pink frosting being dumped over them as they were packaged up and shipped off to their various grocery store destinations. It was sort of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory without all of the magic. Which, as you can imagine, really just leaves not much more than a scary, almost disturbing scene.
>> shudders <<
I can do better than that, I thought to myself, and with rolling pin in hand, I set out to make a homemade, small batch version of these beloved toaster pastries. I even decided to re-name mine “hand pies” because, well, that’s what they are and it’s just the hip thing to do. It’s the right thing to do.
These hand pies are everything I’d hoped they’d be, and dare I say it, they might even be a little bit more. I actually wasn’t quite as confident in my abilities to pull these off as I may have let on a moment ago. But nevertheless, I tried, I frosted and I conquered. While I absolutely do appreciate the brilliant innovation that has clearly gone into the toaster pastry mechanization process, it is that “processed” nature of them that had me turning in the other direction, pointed directly toward my very own kitchen where I could decide exactly how I wanted them to turn out, what size I wanted them to be, and just how much of that delicious glaze I wanted to dump all over them. In fact, I actually ate mine with extra glaze on the side … for dunking. You can’t get that out of any box, I’m quite certain.
I never had the privilege of meeting my grandfather, but I have a feeling he would respect my momentary shunning of modern day engineering in favor of doing things the old fashioned way. He was, in fact, a real live inventor who spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make things the best way possible. I just bet that the mechanically inspired inventor in him would appreciate the culinarily inspired inventor in me, always trying to discover something new, something better, and something just a little bit different. His name was Columbus, after all.
P.S. The iconic I Love Lucy assembly line episode even aired on the very same day as the toaster pastry episode. Double coincidence! These babies were written in the stars …
For the Pastry:
8 ounces cold butter, cubed (use shortening for vegan)
10 ounces all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
6 ounces corn syrup
For the Brown Sugar, Cinnamon + Sorghum Filling:
¾ cup plain bread crumbs
2 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
4 teaspoons cinnamon
2 1/2 ounces sorghum (if you can’t find this, just sub in corn syrup, molasses, honey, or agave nectar – all should work)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the Cinnamon Glaze:
2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 – 2.5 tablespoons corn syrup
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
Cinnamon (to taste)
For the pastry: Place the flour, salt, and butter into a food processor. Add the corn syrup and pulse until it comes together in a smooth ball. Dust your hands with some flour, scoop out the dough, and flatten it into a square(ish) shape, wrap it in plastic, and chill for half an hour.
For the filling: Place the breadcrumbs and melted butter in a bowl. Toss to coat. Add the remaining filling ingredients and mash together to make a paste (a fork works great here).
For the pies: Preheat your oven to 350° F. Place the chilled dough onto a work surface that has been liberally dusted with flour. Roll out the pastry to an even thickness of about 1/4” (much thicker and you’ll get really dense pies, which are tougher to eat). A good tip here is to keep the pastry as cold as you possibly can. I actually worked in smaller batches, and kept what I wasn’t using in the fridge until I needed it. It is MUCH easier to work with this buttery pastry when it is good and cold.
You might want to lift and scoot the dough occasionally to ensure it hasn’t stuck. Cut the pastry into 3-inch wide strips. Cut each strip lengthwise at 4-inch intervals (or, you could roll them to whatever size you like. I made huge pies!). Gather up any remaining scraps, roll, and cut likewise until you’ve used up all of the pastry.
Place about a tablespoon of the filling into the center of half of the pieces, and use your fingers to push and mold it into a rectangular shape, leaving about 1/4″ margin all around the edges.
Cover each filled pie with a plain dough piece. Use your fingers to smooth the dough and to gently press out any air pockets. gently seal the dough along all four sides of each tart. Seal the edges with either your fingers or with a fork. Once sealed, carefully prick the surface of each pie with a fork. Use a spatula to transfer the pies to your baking sheet(s). Bake for about 16 – 18 minutes, until barely beginning to show signs of color. Be careful not to over bake! The pastry will get tough and lose its tenderness. Better to err on the side of under-baking at first. Cool thoroughly.
To finish the pies: Combine all of the glaze ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until a smooth paste forms. If you need to add a tiny splash of water to get things moving, that’s fine. Just don’t add too much liquid at once. You might need to add more powdered sugar and/or corn syrup to achieve the right consistency. You are looking for a very thick yet spreadable paste (not a runny glaze). Start by adding only 1 tablespoon of corn syrup at first, and go from there.
Spoon about 2 teaspoons (give or take) of glaze onto each pie and gently work to spread it evenly over the tops, leaving borders of your size preference (or none at all).
To store: Store in an airtight container, about two weeks at room temperature.