As an undergrad at Loyola University in New Orleans, chef Rob Connoley vividly recalls forming an obsession with local favorite Hubig’s Pies. The fried fruit-filled hand pies were once available at “pretty much every gas station.”
“Being from St. Louis, which is more the northern end of the South, fried pies weren’t really part of my upbringing,” says Connoley. “But in New Orleans, they were everywhere, and I really became addicted to them, especially the lemon cream and some of the berry ones.”
Unfortunately, to the great sadness of Nola residents, a fire shut down Hubig’s Pies nearly a decade ago. So when Connoley opened his St. Louis restaurant Bulrush in early 2019, he decided to pay homage to this beloved fried snack by offering a variety of seasonal hand pies.
One of the biggest hits was the grape pie, which he added to the menu about a year-and-half ago. “We focus on early 19th-century Ozark foods, but we give it an extremely contemporary twist,” he says. While planning dishes for the restaurant, he began coming across grape pie recipes in his research. He knew the late-summer fruit, which has a long history in the region (Missouri was once a premier wine-producing region in the U.S.), was a perfect ingredient for fried pie.
Soon, a version of the handheld dessert was born, which called for a filling of seedless black grapes with a bit of the fortified Portuguese wine Madeira. Though it proved popular with guests, Connoley didn’t stop tinkering with the recipe. Recently, he decided to add a dollop of creamy peanut butter, effectively transforming the dessert into a decadent twist on the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“I thought about how much fun it would be to take that classic grape pie and slather a little peanut butter in there,” he says. “I just think it’s a classic, comforting combination.”
The best part? These fried PB&J pies are incredibly easy to whip up at home. Read on for Connoley’s recipe and tips for making the delicious treat.
Even though this pie calls for a homemade crust, don’t be intimidated. Connoley’s beginner-friendly crust recipe uses only flour, salt, butter and water. Use your fingers to mix all the ingredients.
“I’d love to have people get back to making their own pie crust,” says Connoley.
Connoley’s fried PB&J hand pie may be based on a childhood classic, but the inclusion of Madeira gives it a decidedly grown-up flavor. The fortified wine’s tartness, he says, balances the deep earthiness of the seedless black grapes in the filling.
The alcohol will quickly cook off, leaving only Madeira’s signature tanginess behind. But if you prefer, leave out the wine altogether. Either way, just add a dollop of creamy peanut butter to the pie crust circle (and even a spoonful of marshmallow fluff to take it to the “next level”) before topping it with the grape mixture and sealing it up.
Once your pies are assembled, you have a couple of options: Fry them up right away or throw them in the freezer for future enjoyment.
“You can easily make a batch of these, freeze them and then you can have them whenever you want,” he says. Just let them warm up for about a half hour before frying them. Also, make sure the pies are sealed thoroughly. If the dough isn’t sticking together, dab it with water and press it together with your fingers. Then press the edge, again, with a fork—this strengthens the seal, so the gooey filling doesn’t escape.
It only takes about three minutes to fry each pie. Then they’re topped with a simple glaze of powdered sugar, butter and a touch more Madeira. “I wanted to reinforce the Madeira flavor,” says Connoley.
For the Dough:
- 2 cups less 3 Tbsp Bread flour
- .5 tsp Salt
- 2 sticks, less 1 Tbsp Butter, unsalted, chilled and cubed
- .25 cup Water, ice cold (more as needed)
For the Filling:
- 2 cup Seedless black grapes
- .25 cup Sugar
- .5 tsp Salt
- .25 cup Madeira wine
- .5 tsp Cornstarch
- Creamy peanut butter
For the Glaze:
- 1 cup Powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 Tbsp Butter, melted
- 2 Tbsp Madeira wine
For the Crust:
- Whisk the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the butter cubes and toss to coat. Smear each cube of butter between your thumb and index fingers. Continue smearing the butter into the flour until no large chunks of butter remain. Transfer to the freezer for 30 minutes.
- On speed 2 of your stand mixer, with a paddle attachment, begin mixing the dry ingredients. Slowly drizzle the cold water into the bowl and mix until the dough just starts to clump. Be patient and don’t rush this step. Depending on your flour you may need additional water to get it to come together. The goal is not to create a smooth homogenous dough, rather a rough dough with butter chips throughout.
- Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and form into a circle that is 1-inch tall. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.
- On a generously floured surface, roll dough to an 1/8-inch thickness. Punch out 6-inch circles, layer with parchment or wax paper, and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
For the Filling:
- Preheat the oven to 450ºF/232ºC.
- In a mixing bowl, toss the grapes, sugar and salt until the grapes are coated with the granules. Place in a loaf pan and add the Madeira. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes or until the grapes begin to soften and release their juices. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Drain the liquids into a small saucepan. Whisk the cornstarch into the liquid and heat over medium-low flame until the liquid thickens, whisking constantly. Return thickened liquid to the softened grapes and toss to coat.
For the Assembly and Fry:
- Heat frying oil in a large Dutch oven to 325ºF/162ºC.
- Lay a dough disk on the counter and allow it to become pliable but not soft. Dip your finger in water and run it around the edge of the dough circle. Spread 1 tablespoon of creamy peanut butter on the center of the dough disk. Add a small spoonful of grape filling to the center and fold the dough in half. Using your fingertips, press the seam of the dough together ensuring that no gaps are missed. Finally, take a fork and crimp the seam that you just pressed.
- Fry in the oil for 3 minutes or until golden brown, turning as needed to cook all parts of the pie.
- Transfer to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet.
For the Glaze:
- In a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar, melted butter and remaining 2 tablespoons of Madeira. Mix until there are no lumps. Pour the glaze over the pies. Allow them to cool.