Do you pine for your primary school days, those when you carried your lunch to school each day in a brown paper sack or well-loved lunch box? When I really get to thinking about it, my own answer is both yes and no: yes, because elementary school was way fun with the coloring and picture books and recess and whatnot, and no, because although I dearly loved my red Flipper lunchbox (wonder where that is…), I did not love the all-too-frequent realization that my sandwich had been squashed into an unappealing pancake of mayonnaise, lunch meat, and cheese product. Ah, first grade problems, am I right?! But now, a mere fifteen years later, I think I may have found an acceptable grown up solution. This solution does not involve crush-resistant bread, which, if you come to think about it, would likely not be as fantastic as it initially sounds.
I propose the solution of the present recipe, that being the above-pictured ham and cheese buttons. After I finished putting them together, I realized that they bore some resemblance to the mysterious Uncrustables, you know, those peculiar frozen PB&Js without crusts that you can get in the freezer section? Their appeal and true practicality continues to befuddle me. Back to these here buttons, there isn’t actually any bread involved because… it’s made of pie crust! Ha! How delightful is that! It’s wee, savory pies for lunch! What could be more splendid in the middle of a busy workday than the promise of a flavor-filled pocket of pie for your midday meal? Very few things. Perhaps a truly free puppy (lifetime supply of food, toys, and poop bags included).
As an homage to the brown bag days of lore, these little treasures are actually made with lunch meat. Therefore, not only is it inexpensive, but the thinly sliced meat also makes these much more convenient in that there’s reduced risk of biting into your pie, making contact with a prized piece of ham, failing to bite completely through it, then dragging it out of the pie in front of your coworkers in the lunch room. Such actions are somewhat unappealing. In addition to the ham, I’ve added a healthy amount of Swiss cheese, along with generous portions of sauteed leeks and onions. With all of that going on in one petite pie button, additional seasoning is largely unnecessary. Easy as pie then, yes?
Ham and Cheese Buttons
Adapted from Cutie Pies
Makes roughly 18 3″-4″ pie buttons
6 oz. ham (Black Forest ham lunch meat is DYNAMITE for this), cut into 1/2″ cubes
8 oz. Swiss cheese, grated
1 medium onion, chopped into 1/2″ cubes
2 leeks, cut in half and into 1/2″-thick slices
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Pie Crust Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1/2 cup cold water
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 large mixing bowls
1 rolling pin
1 3″-4″ circular cookie cutter (I didn’t have one, so I used a glass)
1 cookie sheet
1 fork or pastry cutter
1 medium sauce pan
1 cutting board
1 brush or your fingers
parchment paper (optional)
First, make the pie crust. Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in the one large mixing bowl, and mix until well combined. Add the cold, cut butter. Using either a fork, a pastry cutter, or your hands, break the butter down into smaller pieces (roughly pea-sized) and mix into the flour. The idea is to get the butter well-coated in the flour mixture without breaking it down too much; it’s those chunks of cold butter that make the crust so flaky and delightful. Slowly, about 1 Tbsp. at a time, add the cold water and incorporate it into the dough. Add just enough water so that the dough stays together and there isn’t any loose flour in the bowl. Be careful not to overhandle the dough; like I said, those larger chunks of butter will make your pie crust the dreamy vision you’ve always had in mind. Pat the dough into a two balls, wrapping each in plastic wrap. Allow the dough to chill for at least an hour. If you’re making the dough ahead of time, it can be stored for about 3 days in the fridge or 2 weeks in the freezer.
While your dough chills, make the filling. Over medium heat, allow the olive oil to heat up in the saucepan. Add the chopped onions and leaks, stirring continuously to ensure that each piece gets a coating of olive oil. Continue to stir the onions and leeks every minute or so so that none of them burn. Saute for 8-10 minutes, or until the onions begin to become translucent. Immediately, in the second large mixing bowl, add the hot sauteed onions and leeks, the chopped ham, and the grated cheese. Mix all of these ingredients together until well combined. Allow the mixture to sit, undisturbed, for about 10 minutes, giving the cheese a chance to melt just a little bit.
Once the dough has completed its “chill” phase, on a lightly floured surface, roll out one roll of dough until it is about 1/8″ thick. Leave the other ball of dough in the fridge until you’ve finished working with the first. Once the dough has been rolled out, use the cookie cutter to cut out circles. Store the cut circles in the fridge, covered, until you are ready to assemble the buttons. Repeat this process with the second roll of dough.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Take one of the cut circles of pie dough, and, using your finger, gently spread a bit of water around the outside edge of the circle; this will help the top and bottom layers seal together well so that you won’t have pie guts oozing out over your cookie sheet. Place a small scoop, about 2 Tbsp., of the ham and cheese mixture, in the center of the dough circle. Take another dough circle, and very gently stretch it with your hands, making it slightly larger than the bottom circle. Lay it over the scoop of ham and cheese mixture, lining the edges up with the bottom circle. Using a fork, press the outside edges of the top and bottom layers together, sealing in the ham and cheese filling. Repeat until you’ve used all of your cut dough circles. Cut a small slice in the top of each completed button; this will serve as an escape hatch for any hot air or water that may become trapped in the button and help to prevent it from creating an unnecessary mess. Place the buttons on an oiled or buttered cookie sheet, or on parchment paper atop a cookie sheet. The buttons won’t really expand much, if at all, so you can pack them pretty closely, but not so much that they’re touching. Brush some of the beaten egg atop each button, and, should you wish, give each brushed button a light dusting of salt. Bake the buttons for 20-30 minutes, until the crust has reached a warm golden brown color. Allow the pies to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.
These pies are best served warm, soon after baking, but they can also be reheated by a short jaunt in the microwave. It only took me about 30 seconds on high heat to reheat one in the microwave for lunch. Should you wish, the baked buttons can also be frozen for about two weeks. However you wish to eat them, hot out of the oven or reheated for lunch, enjoy!