Farmer Cheese Pie Recipe
Hand-held pies for the cheese fan on the move
This pie is a favorite from Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Brooklyn. Straightforward yet sophisticated, it is the perfect combination of hearty cheese, subtle herb and gentle honey. It makes a wonderful hors d’oeuvre or lunch pie and is especially good when paired with a cornmeal crust, as we have done here, though a butter or lard crust is an excellent choice, too. The filling puffs as it bakes and becomes a lovely light gold. If you cannot find farmer cheese, ricotta cheese or cottage cheese can be substituted. These pies can also be made in jars.
For the dough:
- Cut the butter into cubes and freeze them while you measure and mix the dry ingredients.
- To make the dough in a food processor: Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt in the processor and pulse three to four times to mix. Retrieve the buter cubes from the freezer, scatter them over the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture forms pea-size clumps.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of the ice water.
- Drizzle the yolk mixture into the flour mixture and pulse just until the dough holds together. If it does not come together add the last tablespoon of ice water and pulse.
- Turn the dough out onto a clean floured work surface. Gather the dough together in a mound and knead it a few times to smooth it out. Divide it in half and gently pat and press each half into a rough rectangle, circle or square about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic wrap or parchment paper and refrigerate for 2 hours up to 2 days.
- Roll out, cut, shape and fill the dough and bake the pies according to the instructions below.
For the crust:
- Have two 12-cup standard muffin tins ready. Remove your cornmeal crust dough from the refrigerator.
- Lightly flour a clean work surface. Unwrap the dough, place it on the floured work surface, and flour the top lightly. Roll out the dough into a large circle about ⅛-inch thick. Using a round biscuit or cookie cutter, cut out as many circles 4 to 5-inches in diameter as possible.
- Handling the dough circles gently, lift each circle and press it into a muffin cup, leaving a ⅛- to ¼-inch overhang and patching any tears by pinching them together or plugging them with a dough scrap. You can crimp the dough that extends beyond the edge of the cup with fork tines or your fingers so it adheres to the top of the tin and forms a rim, if you like.
- Gather the dough scraps, form into a ball, roll out, and cut out more circles. (Re-roll the dough only once or it will bake up tough.) You should have 12 to 16 circles total. If you don’t have enough dough circles to fill every cup in a muffin tin, stagger the crusts rather than clustering all of them at one end of the tin.
For the filling
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the cheese and eggs until smooth. Add the half-and-half, honey and salt and beat until thoroughly combined. (Or, use a large bowl and a handheld mixer or a wooden spoon.)
- Generously sprinkle in the thyme and stir to mix. (The filling can be made up to 24 hours in advance and refrigerated.) Remove the dough-lined cups from the refrigerator. Place 3 to 4 tbsp filling in each cup. Refrigerate the assembled pies for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F and bake the pies until the filling is slightly puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. The filling should jiggle slightly when a tin is gently shaken. Be careful not to overbake or the filling will crack. Let cool on a baking rack for 10 minutes.
- Run a sharp, thin knife around the edge of each pie to loosen it from the cup. Then, using the knife tip or a fork, gently pry each pie upward so you can grab it with your fingertips and lift it out of the tin. Serve warm or at room temperature.
The pies can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 2 months. Reheat in a 375°F for about 10 minutes before serving.
*Ricotta or cottage cheese variation: substitute ricotta or cottage cheese in the same amount for the farmer cheese. Scoop into a sieve placed over a bowl and drain in the refrigerator for 2 hours before using.