Handpies, Home, and Halloween!

My parents made the drive to North Carolina this week.  They bought a house an hour outside of Raleigh.  It’s in a town my brother lives in with his wife.  It’s a three-bedroom house and the back yard is littered with dead leaves and gravel.  It’s their second home with a cheap mortgage.  They bought it for a reason to get together for holidays, a reason to celebrate more.  An excuse to throw a party and where they plan on living in ten years.  They bought it for tax reasons.  They bought it so I would visit home more, as they think I’m embarrassed of my childhood home in Pennsylvania.  They bought it to make a life for themselves outside of the house that’s too big for two people, full of cats and memories and finger-paint portraits still hung up on the fridge.

You can feel the pulse of the whole world when you visit Pennsylvania in the fall. The roadside beauty is unapologetic in its drama. The trees strangle the mountains in a crime of passion.  The ouroboros sheds its skin this time of year and I find the cycle calming.  So do my parents.  They watched the world die on their five hour drive in a U-Haul down to their North Carolina house and didn’t say a word the whole time.  My mom said she looked out her window until she fell asleep.  My dad said he kept driving the whole five hours, afraid to break the silence with the radio.  They saw the leaves fall in the Laurel Valley and never took the toll roads once.  My dad likes to save the $8.60, even if it means two extra hours of driving.  I think he likes the excuse to see the world change in the undeniable beauty of autumn, the window down and a super-sized Diet Coke in the cup holder. 

I would sacrifice my whole world I have created without them in California to spend drive with them to North Carolina.  To hear my mom tell stories about the cats, who has died from our hometown in Indiana, what my brother’s wife is doing wrong.  I would love to hear my dad singing to the Top 40 under his breath, to see his hand move over to my mom’s and hold it while she naps.  I would love to go home as I did when I was younger, where I could throw my bookbag on the staircase and run upstairs to read. 

But it’s been six year since I could do that, since I could call myself a child.  Since I could walk to the end of the hall and see my mother.  Since I didn’t have to add three hours for the time zone.  I mourn that loss; but I hardly recognize that person at the same time.  I mourn the sense memories more, how they don’t remind me of anything but the unattainable youth that I can’t seem to recreate out here.  How any candle I light never smells as soothing as the ones my mother had burning when I ‘d come home from school.  How the pumpkin rolls dry at the ends, while my mothers kept hers wrapped up in paper towels for days, keeping them out in the mud room where it was cold at night and drafty during the day.   How any feeling of home or comfort I have in California is just believable but temporary copy of my home in Pennsylvania, with its luxury of love and warmth and windows I kept open when I slept at night.

I try to recreate that home wherever I have lived since.  In a sorority house in Pittsburgh where I lived with seven girls.  When I lived in the dorms and when I lived in a guesthouse in California.  When I lived in a studio apartment in Texas. When I lived in an old mid-century in San Diego.  I’ve tried to recreate the ease of home and I have always missed the mark, made it forced, made it awkward.   The closest I’ve ever gotten to that feeling is when I made these handpies this past week.  It felt like home, like something my mom would make.  It felt like something we’d share over breakfast.  It smelled like an old candle whose flame went out before I got home from school—filled with spice and a warm undertone of fire and flour.  It felt like home to eat these while I tasted saltwater on the air, reminding me I’m too far from home anymore.  It felt like home to eat one of these, when I spread my mom’s apple butter recipe on the dough.  It felt like home to eat these, even though home has just been a figment of my imagination for years now.

Apple Butter Sweet Potato Handpies

If you read my piece over at Baking Society, you will know that apple butter has been a big part of my childhood, both in Indiana and Pennsylvania.  Here, I did a kind of play on PB&J with the nutty, buttery flavor of the sweet potatoes and brown sugar mixed with the cinnamon-sweetness of the apple butter.  Autumnal Uncrustables, if you will.  

Before beginning this recipe, double the apple butter recipe from here.  This can take about two hours, or can be made ahead of time before beginning on the pies

Ingredients for Pie Crust:

  • 2 cups AP flour
  • 1 cup almond flour (prefer Bob's Red Mill because it is not salty, gritty, and has a remarkable lightness to it; or sub with another cup of AP flour)
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar, dark
  • 1/2 teaspoon smokes salt (or 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt)
  • 12 tablespoons butter, cold
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening, cold
  • 5-8 tablespoons of ice water 

Directions for Pie Crust:

  1. Put all dry ingredients in a food processor, fitted with a steel blade and pulse 3 times to blend together
  2. Add fats and pulse 6 times or until fats have incorporated and are pea-sized
  3. With motor running, spoon out water one tablespoon at a time.  When dough begins to form and pull away from sides, turn motor off and turn out onto a floured work surface
  4. Gently roll into a ball with floured hands, cut in half, and wrap halves in plastic wrap
  5. Refrigerate for 30 minutes and move onto the sweet potato portion of the recipe

ngredients for the sweet potato filling:

  • 2 medium-sized sweet potatoes, washed and pierced five or six times
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, dark
  • 2 tablespoons butter

irections for the sweet potato filling:

  1. Place prepared sweet potatoes on a plate and microwave on high for 8 minutes.  They will be EXTREMELY hot, but turn them over and repeat for another 8 minutes
  2. Check for doneness by inserting a knife into middle of sweet potatoes.  If still hard in center, continue microwaving and turning over at three minute intervals
  3. Allow to cool (again, will be very hot)
  4. Peel skins off and put flesh of sweet potato in a clean bowl with brown sugar and butter
  5. Mix all together and set aside


Assembly and baking directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400*F and prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper
  2. Take one half of the dough from refrigerator and unwrap, while keeping the other one cold while you work.  Roll out onto a heavily floured work surface to a 1/6-1/4 inch thickness.  For this recipe, I used a bowl that had a 5-inch diameter (which yielded 12 pies), but you can use any cutter you'd like. After rolling out dough, cut rounds out and place on one baking sheet
  3. In a small bowl, mix one egg with a little water and brush the rim of each round with the egg wash as you work.  Spoon about 1 tablespoon of both the sweet potato mash and the apple butter into the middle of the round, a little off-center and then fold over one side, pressing at the edges to seal .  Press gently with a fork to reenforce the seal (and for looks, who are we kidding) and give a final brushing on top with the egg wash for some browning.  
  4. Repeat this process for remaining rounds you get from the half disc of dough
  5. Repeat steps 2 and 3 for remaining dough in fridge
  6. Brush all with a little more egg wash, sprinkle with about 1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon, 1/2 tablespoon of white sugar, and a pinch of finishing salt
  7. Bake all pies in oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.  Be sure to turn pans halfway to ensure even baking
  8. Enjoy warm or cool with some confectioner's sugar
  9. And have a Happy Halloween!!!

Special thanks to Bob's Red Mill for their box of goodies I received a few weeks ago and which has really inspired my baking game since.  The almond meal I mentioned above inspired this dough for this recipe and it was a no-brainer for the autumnal flavors to mix so well with the nuttiness from the flour.  Definitely check out their other products on their site, or check their instagram or Facebook for more inspiring recipes!