Some people might liken the hand pie trend to the cup-cake craze. Cutesy up your pastry by zapping it with a shrink ray and it’ll sell like, well, hotcakes.
But hand pies are so much more than cute. They’re as saturated with history as they are with butter or lard. They’re crusty relics – in the most literal and delicious sense – of our hardworking, pioneering past.
When you think about it, the tidy little double-crust hand pie is the original to-go box. British miners took them into the deep. Practical Southern church ladies have long stocked them at bake sales. And can’t you just picture Laura and Mary Ingalls slipping a couple edible hand-warmers into their pockets for their walk to the schoolhouse?
Unlike cupcakes, which are almost always muffin-shaped and voluminously frosted, hand pie bakers have their way with any and all geometry. Hand pies might be moon-shaped – full or crescent. Some are flat and boxy enough to give you Pop-Tart flashbacks. They can be triangular turnovers or the shape and size of bricks.
And, yes, sometimes they are just miniature pies – round, crimp-edged and nested in teensy tin plates. They are baked, they are fired, and in the case of, say, empanadas or samosas they have alluring accents.
This tour focuses on the hand pies of winter – pastry-crusted and warming o both the stomach and the heart. Some these pies are hearty enough to be dinner. Others serve as that nip of sweetness you need with your afternoon tea. Each and everyone is cozy, buttery and addicted handful.
Ostensibly, the beautifully burnished pies at Biltong Bar are South African style. But their true inspiration is much more precise.
“These pies were specifically designed with Ponce City Market in mind. You can walk around and eat them with the filling not falling out,” said owner Justin Anthony, whom Atlantans also know from 10 Degrees South, where his mother, Diane, is executive chef.
Thank an ingenious crust (devised by Biltong Bar but made by Holeman & Finch) for the pies’ portability. Buttery and light, the crust is also, somehow, sturdy. The gently rounded pies remain crisp around their moist, savory innards, which include bobotie (sweet curried ground beef) and a gravy-licious chicken stew. Meanwhile, the 1-inch-wide crimped edge never crumbles when bitten.
Dip these pies in the accompanying fruit chutneys or zingy peri-peri sauce. Or go for an even better pairing – one of Biltong’s boozy, bold cocktails.
The resulting joy will make you wonder why more bars don’t traffic delectable little meat pies such as these.