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Catahoula Sweet-Dough Pies

We first learned about these Catahoula, Louisiana, pies in Marcelle Bienvenu's Who's Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make a Roux? (1991), published in the Cajun city of Lafayette. The crust intrigued us, being a cross between a French pâte sucrée and an American sugar cookie. We found Catahoula on a map, called around the area and finally located a delightful piemaster named Emma Lou Bourque, who calls herself Miss Emma Lou. She told us that sweet-dough pies, usually filled with blackberries, are a Good Friday tradition that goes back at least as far as her grandmother's day. Miss Emma Lou and other ladies of the local church bake some 350 large pies, providing a hefty slice for all their 1,700 neighbors. For herself, the spry octogenarian also makes a smaller turnover version, which we emulate here.

Ingredients:

For the sweet-dough crust:

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room
      temperature
  • 2 Tbs. vegetable shortening
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup milk or half-and-half
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the filling:

  • 3 cups blackberries, fresh or frozen
  • 2 to 3 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 1 to 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 to 2 Tbs. milk or half-and-half
  • Turbinado sugar or granulated sugar for sprinkling

Directions:

To make the dough, in a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter, shortening and granulated sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the egg, milk and vanilla, and then add about half of the flour mixture, beating it in before adding the rest. Stop the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Scrape the dough from the bowl and pat it out into a 1-inch-thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. (The dough can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to several days. Let it stand briefly at room temperature before proceeding.)

To make the filling, in a small heavy saucepan, combine 2 cups of the blackberries with the granulated sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook until the berries have broken down and become very thick and jamlike in consistency, 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the juiciness of the berries. Stir in the remaining 1 cup berries and remove from the heat. (The filling can be made up to several days ahead, covered and refrigerated.)

Preheat an oven to 350°F.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a generous 1/4-inch thickness. Cut the dough into squares or circles about 4 inches across. Spoon 1 Tbs. of the filling into the middle of each section of dough, then fold one side of the dough over the other and pinch to make a tight seal. (A few crackles in the dough's surface are common, but if it cracks badly when you are forming the turnovers, reroll the dough just a bit thicker.) Using your fingers or the tines of a fork, crimp neatly. To move the pies, use a dough scraper or spatula to avoid tearing the dough. Brush each turnover lightly across the top with milk, then sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

Arrange the turnovers at least 1/2 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake until set and just slightly colored, 13 to 15 minutes. Let the turnovers cool on the cookie sheet for several minutes, then transfer them to wire racks to finish cooling. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 12 to 14 individual turnovers.
Adapted from American Home Cooking, by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison (Broadway Books, 1999).