When Pies Fly

Handmade Pastries from Strudels to Stromboli, Empanadas to Knishes


By Cathy Barrow

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Following up on PIE SQUARED’s slab pies, food writer Cathy Barrow finds more ways to use pastry dough deliciously with crowd-pleasing (and easy to make) galettes and small tarts, as well as empanadas, strudels, and knishes. Barrow digs into a world of doughs for turnovers, fried pies, poppers, and Texas-by-way-of-Krakow kolaches, all offered in sweet and savory iterations.

WHEN PIES FLY guides the rolling pin novice and the experienced dough wrangler to dozens of shapes and styles of crusty, flaky, delicious treats. Barrow’s well-tested, foolproof crust recipes means pie-making is fun, not scary, and her step-by-step techniques makes turning out a free-form pie practically foolproof.

WHEN PIES FLY includes many types of pastries (both homemade and store-bought), ready for the lunchbox, the dinner table, road trips, and picnics. These handy crusty offerings go from freezer to oven, and will win over everyone at the table. No one will be able to resist Sesame Chicken Hand Pies, Savory Nectarine Marscapone Tarts, Pork Pastor Empanadas, Spiced Apple Strudels, and much more. The perfect mix of nostalgic favorites and new pastry creations, WHEN PIES FLY is a wonderful dive into the world of pies in all of their forms.


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“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook—try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”

—JULIA CHILD, My Life in France

Whether sweet or savory, double crusted, scattered with toasty crumbles, intricately latticed, or with stars dotting the surface, I love a pie. I love to make pie, to eat pie, and to share pie with friends. For years, my pies were round, baked in a pie pan. I had a delicious flirtation that bloomed into an all-out love affair with square, slab pies on the way to Pie Squared, my first pie book.

During my slab pie year, because there were almost always blocks of pie dough or a container of filling lingering in the refrigerator, I found my mind drifting to other pie shapes and sizes. Fueled by curiosity, and because food waste weighs on me, I looked for new ways to wrap filling with pie and pastry doughs.

Home cooks around the world have faced what I call the pre-dinner scrounge since before refrigerators and plastic storage containers existed. And they have been creative with dough in almost every case. How can this leftover be refashioned, reimagined, and perhaps even stretched to fill more bellies? From this thinking, I’m now convinced, we have empanadas, filled with last night’s roast, amplified into picadillo (see Turkey Picadillo Empanadas, here). From the imagination of cooks contemplating Northern Europe’s limited winter vegetables came Onion and Sauerkraut Knishes (see here). And from the land of pastry itself, home cooks place a family-sized strudel on the table, bursting with vegetables and cheese, abundant and hearty (Kale, Mushroom, and Gruyère Strudel, here). The more I thought about the way in which we fill pastries (Spring rolls! Pasties! Samosas! Toaster pastries! Sausage rolls!) the broader the concept of flying pies became.

My view of pie became universal for anything wrapped up in pastry—a flying pie, unencumbered, not needing a pan to be formed. From the moment I imagined flying pies, I began to explore the ways different cuisines respond to that familiar refrigerator moment, staring down the options for the evening. Now, the contents of my refrigerator are regularly transformed into pies and pie-adjacent pastries.

The recipes that follow are for single-serving pies to family-sized pies to party pies, both sweet and savory. There are pies for breakfast (Fresh Apricot Breakfast Pastries, here, and Bacon, Egg, and Swiss Hand Pies, here), and pies for snacks (Classic Potato Knishes, here, and Broccoli Cheddar Hand Pies, here). There are pies that make an easy dinner (Philly Cheesesteak Galette, here) and there are project pies (Antipasto Stromboli, here) that make a statement at your next potluck. More than anything, I hope you will be inspired to conjure up your own creations from the ideas I’ve shared on these pages.

There are seven pie doughs, virtually interchangeable. Learn one and you’ll know them all, as the same techniques result in a flaky, light, crisp crust in each recipe. And there are another six pastry doughs specific to recipes like Buttermilk Dough for Fried Fruit Pies (here) and Dairy-Free Dough for Knishes (here). Learn to make Pulled Dough for Strudel (here) and your dinnertime options will expand tenfold. And Quick Puff Pastry (here) is so different from the dough found in the grocery store, and so straightforward to make, there’s a solid argument for keeping a block in the freezer all the time.

Working with any dough becomes easier with repetition. The more pie dough you roll out, the more comfortable it will become. There are specific steps for rolling out pie dough, for making strudels and knishes, for forming a repulgue on the edge of an empanada. I’ve included process photos whenever I thought they might explain the steps needed to get that pie off the ground. With practice comes proficiency. I like to remind myself that home cooks around the world make doughs regularly; it shouldn’t be that big a deal.

It takes no more than imagination to dream up a pie filling, but without plenty of herbs, spices, nuts, and chiles, a filling’s flavor can be overwhelmed by the richness of the pastry. I found that the smaller the pies became (see Pie Poppers, here), the more I had to make the fillings dynamic to deliver a big taste. It was the international aisle in the grocery store, along with my collection of cookbooks from other countries, that provided inspiration. I added fermented foods like kimchi, and used ginger, garlic, and Sriracha with abandon. It wasn’t only the savory pies that benefited from this attention; sweet fillings needed coaxing, too, so I added layers of spice (Chai-Spiced Plum and Walnut Empanaditas, here) and texture (Strawberry Funnel Cake Pie, here).

Some pies demanded saucing. When I thought about Crab Rangoon Pie Poppers (here), I knew I had to replicate the caramel sauce that’s de rigeur for that Chinese restaurant favorite. The Old-Fashioned Apple Dumpling (here) is delicious alone, but puddling a warm caramel sauce beneath it made me feel very fancy.

And that’s really the beauty of pies. They feel a little fancy, a little special. The pages that follow are filled with shareable pies and their close cousins, knishes, kolache, strudel, and more. Bake and share these pies with your people. Pie tastes like coming home.


A few pieces of key equipment can change up your kitchen game:

A digital scale makes baking better; weighing ingredients means a precise, repeatable bake.

Like a scale, an instant read thermometer adds precision to your kitchen game.

I can’t go a day without cooking in a cast-iron skillet. I have 10- and 12-inch skillets, both well-loved and well-used. They were both found in sad condition at a junk shop and lovingly restored. If that’s not your thing, new pans are fairly priced.

A food processor has been my secret weapon for decades, turning out the flakiest, most tender pie crusts. I have had an extra-large Cuisinart model for several years. The motor is strong, the blades are sharp, and the plastic parts are pretty sturdy (and easily replaced every few years, when they become scratched or chipped or lost in a house move).

A great pie has a crisp bottom crust, achieved by cooking the bottom of the pie at the same high heat as the top. I discovered the benefit of cooking atop a hot surface when I forgot to remove my beloved Baking Steel (see Resources, here) from the oven when preheating it to bake a pie. The Baking Steel is a 15-pound cast-iron slab that retains and amplifies the heat of the oven, carrying it directly to the bottom of the baking sheet holding a flying pie. A baking stone or pizza stone will work the same way, as will an inverted baking sheet, when put in the oven during preheating. It will be hot and ready for the pan holding the pie when the oven is at temperature.

Parchment paper is on the shelf at most grocery stores now, sold in rolls along with the foil and plastic wrap. For ease of use, I prefer pre-cut sheets, sized for half sheet baking sheets (13 by 18 inches) and available at kitchen shops, restaurant supply houses, and from many online retailers.

Your rolling pin may have handles or not, might be tapered or perfectly cylindrical. It can be silicone or wood, metal or marble. I switch between a handled silicone pin that is heavy and allows me to roll wider pieces of dough without my knuckles getting in the way and my other favorite, a heavy maple cylinder that has lived in my kitchen for about 45 years. It’s smooth and heavy and familiar. Find your pin, the one that you love so much you pack it in your suitcase on the way to the vacation house.

A plastic, washable ruler is an essential tool. Use painter’s tape (I like the blue because it’s easily visible next to the pie dough) to mark off the size to roll out the dough—it’s noted in every recipe. Then lightly dust the surface with flour and roll the dough out. It’s a beautiful thing to waste less pie dough, a moment when high school geometry becomes real.

I have two different bench scrapers, the handled, stiff, straight-edged tool used to clean bakers’ tables by scraping off the excess flour. Use the bench scraper to push and lift as much of the dry residue as possible. The straight edge may be used to divide pie dough blocks, sure, but I also use it as a transferring tool when carrying diced onions from the cutting board to a skillet. It’s a tool that is on the counter from the moment I start any kitchen project. In contrast to the stiff metal scraper, a flexible, silicone bench scraper is my favorite tool for scraping out the work bowl of the food processor, or lifting meringue from the mixing bowl to a pastry bag.

A pastry wheel makes ruffled edges and a pizza wheel makes a straight edge. In fact, a sharp paring knife will serve the same function, but I like the feeling of a handled wheel against the ruler, like an X-Acto knife against a T-square in drafting class.

Pie weights are used for blind baking (see here), resting atop a sheet of foil or parchment paper, and might be as simple as piles of pennies, raw dried beans, raw rice, or white sugar. (Hat tip to Stella Parks for that last one—afterward, use the toasted sugar just as you might use granulated sugar in any recipe. It delivers a distinct caramel tone.) Reusable ceramic and metal pie weights are available at kitchen shops, restaurant supply houses, and from many online retailers.

I use a cookie scoop to fill hand pies and poppers, empanadas, and kolache. Look for 1-tablespoon, 3-tablespoon, and ¼-cup sizes—all are smaller than a regular ice cream scoop.

An offset spatula has so many uses—lifting trimmed dough from the counter, swooshing frosting over a hand pie, spreading sauce along the bottom of a tart or galette. I have two sizes, small and large, and the smaller one gets more use.

For frying, for draining saucy fillings, for lifting leeks from a cool water rinse, a long-handled skimmer—often called a spider—or even a generous slotted spoon will be invaluable in your kitchen arsenal.

Grate cheese, garlic, ginger, or nutmeg on a Microplane or rasp. A four-sided box grater is essential for those long strands of cheese that make a melty topping.

Cookie cutters are inspiration for flying pies. Round, square, hearts, flowers, alphabet letters… there’s no end to the options.

Small and large silicone brushes swab egg wash onto the top of the pie, leaving no fussy brush hairs—and they are easy to clean, too.

Find the right cotton cloth for strudel pulling. While a generously sized, soft, well-used, all-cotton or linen tea towel (not terry cloth) may be used for strudeling, a larger cloth like an old tablecloth—again, soft, well-worn cotton or linen—keeps the flour contained.

I love to add to my collection of sparkling sugars, sprinkles, and other decorations. It’s especially fun to shop for these twinkling toppers when traveling in other countries. Online retailers offer many options, even color coordinated, and most grocery stores have a small collection of suitable decorations.

Recipes were developed and tested with King Arthur flours, grocery store “American-style” butters, and Diamond Crystal coarse kosher salt. Brown sugar, unless otherwise noted, refers to light brown sugar.

Galettes are friendly flying pies: Free form, open in the center, and with a no-fuss attitude, an exposed filling is embraced by rustic pleats and folds of flaky dough. They are a first-class leftover solution for last night’s roast or a little bit of rotisserie chicken or a few handfuls of seasonal fruit.

A galette is a welcome, ready-in-an-instant option when there’s an opportunity for pie, but there’s no pie pan in sight. In the world of flying pies, galettes are at the top of the list. These free-form pies are easy-going, often round, always open-faced. There is no make-ahead strategy for galettes other than keeping pie dough on hand. Galettes should be formed, chilled, and baked all at once. They don’t benefit from sitting around—as the dough warms, the weight of the filling will stretch the form. Embrace the galette as a strategy and wrap up all sorts of delicious ingredients in a rustic, appealing pie.


Keep the fillings well-seasoned and distinctively chunky—mushy fillings will not do. Gather about 3 cups of ingredients for a 12-inch round of dough, to fill, but not overfill, the galette. A balanced ratio of dough to filling is preferred, about the same as a sandwich served on hearty bread. It was with sandwiches in mind that I conjured up savory options like Roast Turkey, Leek, and Gouda Galette (here) and Philly Cheesesteak Galette (here).

The sweet galettes are mostly fruity, because there’s nothing as charming as piling up beautiful, slightly sugared, positively ripe, highly scented, summer berries and lovingly pleating a buttery dough around them. These beauties rely on the bounty of the market and a devil-may-care attitude. These are guidelines more than recipes and changing up blackberry to marionberry in the Bumbleberry Galette (here) is as easy as pie. With the Blackberry Peach Galette (here), use the weights suggested and trade peaches for blueberries for nectarines for cherries for blackberries for raspberries for apricots.


Crusts make the galette, so do not feel restricted to the specific dough suggested in each recipe. Swap doughs at will. Cream Cheese (here) instead of All-Butter (here). Everything Spice (here) instead of Caramelized Onion and Cheese (here). Brown-Butter (here) for, well, anything. Feel inspired and encouraged to let your galette fly.

Keep the dough cold. Roll your round out to ¼ inch thick, no more than 12 inches across. If the dough is too thin, the galette will spring a leak. Work quickly. If the dough warms at all, the pleating will suffer, and the shape won’t hold, so chill the dough after rolling, using the time to construct the filling. A lava flow of all those lovely ingredients is a crying shame, but a whisper of filling enthusiastically bubbling up is a thrill. The recipes for pie crusts can be found here to here.


It’s possible to make a galette in no time at all, once the filling is prepared. The filling must be cold to help the form stay put. Work quickly and with a cold dough disk. Pile the filling in the middle of the rolled out round and gather up the edges as though forming a bundle. Fold evenly spaced pleats that make a tidy package about 7 or 8 inches across at the base.

Because of the weight of the filling and the elasticity of the dough, it is likely a galette will spread and open up while cooking. This is only a problem if the pleats give way and the galette flattens and the filling spills out. To avoid this problem, lift 2 to 3 inches of the edge up and over the filling, enthusiastically pinch the pleats together, and encourage the filling to move and fill in the tidy form with no large air pockets.

Some fillings are juicy, like the Blackberry Peach Galette (here), so I like to lift out the solids with a slotted spoon and reserve the liquid until the formed galette has chilled. I add back the juices right before I slide the galette into the oven, using a cup measure with a pouring spout to direct that delicious liquid into the center of the galette. This helps control overflow while ensuring a juicy filling.


Bake the galette on a baking sheet on top of a hot surface. I like the Baking Steel, but a baking stone or an inverted baking sheet, heated along with the oven, will also provide the sizzling hot surface that encourages a crispy bottom crust. Galettes should slice cleanly from top to bottom, with a tidy form and no soggy dough.


Chill the galette for 30 to 45 minutes after forming it. At the very least, put it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Fillings should not be runny, but also should not be dry. It’s a paradox. Think saucy, cooking down fillings until they are glazed with the sauce. And protect the crisp bottom crust by including a barrier, like mayonnaise or crème fraîche for the savory pies, or nuts or bread crumbs for the sweet ones.

Fillings must be boldly seasoned. Be confident with herbs, spices, salt, and pepper.

Roll the dough to ¼-inch thickness. It’s easier to manage when it isn’t too thin.

Don’t let the edges get too thin. Avoid rolling over the edge of the dough, or simply trim the dough round back to a thicker edge before lifting and pleating.

Let the galette rest. Savory galettes should be removed from the oven and allowed to rest for a few minutes before serving. Fruit galettes should cool for 2 hours or more to give the filling time to set up. If it’s warm fruit pie you want, reheat the galette briefly in a 350°F oven.

Keep a watchful eye. If the crust looks like it’s browning too quickly, gently tent the entire pie with foil until it’s finished baking. The Caramelized Onion and Cheese Pie Dough (here) and the Brown-Butter Pie Dough (here), especially, as each has a tendency to brown more quickly.


Serves 8

I love a classic Southern tomato pie and I love quiche Lorraine, that hammy, cheesy, Paris-bistro treat. So it’s little wonder I created this galette, a sunny mash-up of the two. Country ham is deeply flavored, an American version of prosciutto, but baked ham will work as well. If substituting baked ham, increase the salt by ¼ teaspoon. Delicious warm or at room temperature and served with a salad, this is a satisfying supper.

1 recipe All-Butter Pie Dough, here, formed into a disk

1 pound (450 g) ripe tomatoes (3 or 4 medium)

½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons (1 ounce, 28 g) cream cheese, at room temperature

¾ cup (85 g) sliced, chopped, or shaved country ham (see headnote)

½ cup (50 g) sliced scallions, white and green parts (about 4)

½ teaspoon dry mustard, preferably Coleman’s

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

4 ounces (113 g) extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded on the largest holes of a box grater (about 1 cup)

¼ cup (56 g) mayonnaise

⅔ cup (28 g) fresh bread crumbs

Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon cool water and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt)

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to warm slightly. Roll out the disk to a 12-inch round and, wrapping the dough lightly around the rolling pin, lift and place it on the baking sheet. Cover and refrigerate while you make the filling.

Tomatoes are juicy and can contribute to a soggy pie. Cut them in half, scoop out and discard the gel and seeds, and roughly chop them. Place in a colander, combine with ½ teaspoon salt, and let the moisture drain from the tomatoes for 15 minutes.

In the bowl of the stand mixer, beat the eggs and cream cheese until combined. It will not be totally smooth. Stir in the ham, scallions, dry mustard, and pepper. Combine ½ cup of the cheese with the mayonnaise in a small bowl. Combine the chopped, thoroughly drained tomatoes with the bread crumbs.

Spread the mayonnaise/cheese mixture across the center of the dough round, leaving a 2-inch border. Layer on the tomato/bread crumbs and then the ham mixture. Top with the remaining ½ cup cheese.

Lift the outside edges of the dough and pull them up and slightly over the filling, leaving the center exposed. Work your way around the galette, folding the dough over on itself and forming a series of pleats (see photo, here) that make a snug little package. The center of the galette should be open, but there should also be a very distinct crusty edge holding in the filling. Brush the galette with the egg wash.


  • "Barrow encourages readers to be fearless and creative in their pie-making endeavors in this accessible and fun baking guide . . . Home cooks will delight."
    Publishers Weekly

On Sale
Sep 17, 2019
Page Count
304 pages

Cathy Barrow

About the Author

Cathy Barrow is a freelance food writer, cooking teacher, and food preservation expert. Barrow writes the “BRING IT” column in the Washington Post‘s food section. She is author of Pie Squared; her first cookbook, Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, won the prestigious IACP award for best single-subject cookbook in 2015. She has written for TheNew York Times, Garden and Gun, The Local Palate, Saveur, Southern Living, Food52, All Recipes Magazine, NPR, and National Geographic, among others. Cathy lives just outside Washington, D.C., with her husband and two rescued terriers.

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