Recipe >> Strawberry Hand Pies


This was supposed to be a simple recipe. But let’s be real, when do I ever make things simple? Simple was supposed to be a quick recipe to use up some leftover pastry I had in the freezer. Leftover from July 4, of course. What, you don’t have pastry dough sitting in your freezer?

Plus I had some tiny succulent strawberries I picked up for the market – shipped over from South Africa, I’m sure, but sometimes a girl’s gotta live on the edge. There was the recipe right there! Fresh strawberries, sugar, easy-peasy pastry, boom.



But then, I thought, I’ll just add a bit of orange zest, because that always helps. And then I looked over at my kitchen shelves, which were supposed to be a temporary solution but now seems very much permanent (er, as permanent as two years can be) and I saw grapefruit bitters. Interesting. And then I saw a little vanilla bean leftover from this recipe, and shoot I couldn’t just leave that lil’bean there all by its lonesome, you know? Oh, the woes of open shelving, they lure me in to no end. There is a resason why the DiploMan exercises such caution when we near any kitchen goods store.


So before you know it, a simple recipe for hand pies was a kitchen experiment in full effect. Baking to me, is a lot like exercising. I put it off a lot, I’m always making excuses not to do it, but when I’m ultimately in it, I’m SO in the zone.




Makes 8 small pies


  • 1.5 lb strawberries, about 3-4 cups, hulled
  • 1/4 cup sugar, + 1/4 cup for sprinkling on top
  • Juice from one orange, approximately 1/4 cup
  • Zest from one orange, roughly 1 tsp.
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 tsp citrus bitters
  • Pastry Dough*
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 Tbsp. Butter, melted
  • *I’m not providing the recipe for pastry dough, but I suggest you check out Smitten Kitchen’s advice on how to make an awesomely flaky dough. Though, store-bought wouldn’t be terrible, nor would using filo dough.


  1. Heat oven to 425 F. Grease a large baking sheet with butter and set aside, in the fridge or freezer (you’ll put your pastries on this later).
  2. Clean and hull berries, cutting them in half or quarters if they are too big. Feel free to slice them down, but I like to keep them pretty chunky.
  3. Combine strawberries, 1/4 cup sugar, orange juice, and orange zest into a saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil.
  4. Turn heat to low and simmer. Cut vanilla bean in half, and using the back of a small paring knife, run the knife along both halves. The small inner seeds should slide off easily. Add vanilla seeds and bitters to strawberry liquid, simmer for an additional 10 minutes on low. Take off heat, strain through a sieve, and set aside to cool. Reserve strawberry syrup for another use (I used mine in a strawberry-chamomile tea, WOWZA).
  5. Working with cold pastry dough, roll dough out on a well-floured surface. Use LOTS of flour – I used to think using too much flour would dry out the dough, but pastry dough can take a lot of flour. Flouring liberally will prevent the dough from sticking to your counter. Every time I roll I throw a bit of flour under the dough, and onto the rolling pin.
  6. You’ll want your dough in the shape of a rectangle, approximately 15×20 inches, and as thin as you can, about 1/8 inch. Working quickly, use a knife or a pizza cutter to cut pastry into eight rectangles – four on top, four on bottom. I found another use for the pizza cutter, hooray!
  7. Brush edges of each rectangle with an egg wash.  Spoon a couple tablespoons of strawberry filling into the center of the bottom half of each rectangle, leaving about an half an inch to an inch from the sides.
  8. Fold pastries over and gently press edges together with your fingers. Using a large spatula, transfer to your greased baking sheet and place in the fridge (or freezer, if you have room!) for 10 minutes.
  9. After ten minutes, remove from fridge. Seal hand pies securely by crimping edges with a knife or other tool. Brush top with melted butter. Score a couple slits on each pie to allow for heat to escape (this will prevent your mini pies from bursting at the seams). I like to score an “x” in my pies, for no other reason than it looks pretty.
  10. Bake in center rack. After 10 minutes, take pies and sprinkle a good amount of sugar on top of each one. Bake for another 15 minutes, or until pastries are golden brown and juices are bubbling. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
These are best the day they are baked, or a couple days after. They’ll last for several days in an air-tight container, but will become rather soggy. But trust me, you’ll still eat them.


Cinnamon Rolls, and how not to make 3 dozen.

Nowadays breakfast is sometimes a slice of toast, yogurt with granola, or oatmeal, and more often than not just a cup of strong coffee. Growing up my family didn’t have very many elaborate breakfasts, and although we were required to have dinner together every night, breakfast was a come-as-you-awaken sort of deal. When I go home to visit my folks these days, it’s still the same deal. Living on my own, it’s the same deal.

Unlike many families my dad was the one in charge of breakfast in our household, also assuming the roles of lunch packer, sandwich maker, waker-upper, and school chauffeur when we were growing up. He was the only one in our house that was able to get out of bed at 6am each morning every day of the week. On the weekends when there was no school and no early morning piano lessons, if we were out of bagels or croissants he would flip open the Joy of Cooking and make a batch of pancakes, which is to this day one of my favorite olfactory memories growing up.

This weekend, I thought of my dad and his pancakes as I looked up a recipe for cinnamon buns. I was inspired…what was I inspired by? I think I saw something online about cinnamon rolls, and knew I had all the ingredients in the pantry [flour (check), sugar (check), yeast (check), cinnamon (check) Yes!] So I felt inspired (which in cooking terms, also means I had a craving…), but I didn’t have much after that. We never had these growing up- my dad never made them, we never asked for them. Not as if something this sweet and buttery would have made it to our kitchen table, anyway. As I was scouring the internet for the perfect recipe for cinnamon rolls, I desperately wished that I had a frame of reference- a smell, a secret ingredient, a method of preparation- to refer to, as I would with a recipe for pancakes. But I didn’t, and relying on my own kitchen gumption, I decided to mash-up two different recipes, roll up my sleeves, and see if I could make these cinnamon rolls work. Intending to make a mere dozen, I ended up producing a whopping three dozen cinnamon rolls. But don’t worry, two dozen were gone by Saturday evening thanks to sweet-loving friends (sweet, loving friends?).

So, here’s my take on cinnamon rolls. It’s the first time in awhile that I wasn’t completely sure I was going to have success with a recipe. Thankfully, it wasn’t the first time that I didn’t have success with a recipe.

In an effort to keep all my lovely readers and friends thin, here is my adapted recipe, halved, and adapted a little more.

Cinnamon Rolls

adapted from the Smitten Kitchen and Homesick Texan recipes


For the dough:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups All-Purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 pkg. Active Dry Yeast


  • 3/4 cup packed golden brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature


  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 Tbsp. Bailey’s liqeur
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh brewed coffee
  • 1/8 tsp. salt


  1. Mix the milk, butter and sugar in a pan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the butter and sugar melt. Turn off the range and allow the mixture to cool slightly, about 30 minutes.
  2. When the mixture is warm (you can stick your finger in to test it out), stir in the yeast. Let this sit for a minute.
  3. Add 4 cups of flour incrementally, stirring with a wooden spoon as you go along to make sure the liquid is incorporated nicely. Mix in one egg. Cover with a lid, and let this sit for 1 hour.
  4. After an hour, mix the remaining 1/2 flour with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Incorporate into the batter, turn onto a floured surface and knead a few times until dough is smooth but still slightly sticky. Cover with a tea towel and let this rest for another 20 minutes.
  5. While the dough sits, mix filling, incorporating the brown sugar and cinamon.
  6. Making sure the surface is still adaquately floured, roll out dough to about 11×16 inches, the dough should be at least 1/4-1/2 in thick. Spread the room temperature butter on the rectangular piece of dough, leaving about a 1/2-inch border on the three sides closest to you. Pour the cinnamon sugar mixture over the butter, creating a thin, even layer, if necessary spreading with your hands.
  7. Starting at the longer edge furthest from you, roll the dough inwards, towards your body, pressing and tucking with a bit of pressure to make sure the roll sticks to itself.With the seam side down, cut the rolled log into ~3/4 inch slices.
  8. Brush two baking dishes with butter, and arrange the rolls about 1 inch apart on the dishes. Let rolls rise for another 30 minutes (a lot of rising, I know!). Preheat oven to 375degrees
  9. Bake at 375 for 18-20 minutes, or until tops are golden. It’s best to bake these on the top rack, so the bottoms don’t get too browned and crisp.
  10. Remove from oven, and invert onto a rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Once relatively cool to handle, flip rolls up and glaze. (To make glaze: combine all ingredients, stir until smooth)

yield: between 12-16 cinnamon rolls

Yes, these looked as good as they tasted. They should have, with the amounts of butter and sugar. Like the pancakes my dad made, I hope one day I’ll perfect this recipe so my kids will have something to talk about.

Egg Tarts: A fresh start for eggs

I used to HATE eggs.  Wouldn’t touch them.

If I had known that eggs could take this form– a sweet eggy creme filled pastry of an egg….well, I think my views on eating eggs would have long ago changed.  The Egg Tart (蛋挞), as I have recently discovered, is straight out of Hong Kong.  It’s a food as equally East-meets-West as the city of its birth.I wrote about a traditional Chinese dessert the other day, and here we have, on the flip side, a neo-traditional Chinese dessert.

I still won’t eat eggs very often, and actually can’t quite stand scrambled or hard boiled eggs.  But the egg tart is certainly, more recently up my ally.  When I was younger, I found these egg tarts disgusting- bold hard discs of mealy butter filled with a stiff egg jelly, blegh.  But much to the wiles of my egg-loving little sister, we would always have a round of egg tarts at dim sum.  Vickie, I wish you could try these, because it’s nothing like you’ve ever tasted.

Walking around Hong Kong, we often passed this little bakery, with an not long, but never-ending line spewing out the sidewalk.  Like the Shake Shack of Chinese Egg Tarts. One egg tart was $5HKD, so about 65cents.  And the line wasn’t long, so I had to make the DiploMan wait as I hopped in line.

The egg tart came, in its own precious little foil cup, which the egg tart lady dropped into a clear plastic baggy, shoved into my arms, and from which I happily collected and practically ran out the door as if someone was going to steal it back from me.  Feeling the bottom of the bag, this egg tart was still warm.  And finally, I realized the egg tarts served cold in the states in no way resemble the egg tarts in Hong Kong.  Buttery,  oozy, only slightly eggy, just like a custard should be.  It’s like comparing those cold, Costco sized cold croissants to fresh warm-out-of-the-oven flaky Parisian croissants.  No. Comparison.  At all.

Tai Cheong Bakery
35 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, HK
中環擺花街 35 號地下