I have a confession to make: I have eaten more than my fair share of cupcakes. Since enjoying my first one at a childhood birthday party – lemon icing, vanilla cake — I’ve (politely) gobbled enough of them to qualify as both connoisseur and addict.
However, my enthusiasm for the palm-sized pastries has waned dramatically over the last few years, due mostly to the dessert’s ridiculous rise in popularity. It seems like you can’t go two blocks in the District without running into a brick-and-mortar cupcakery or one on wheels, many of them shilling sub-par offerings. The painfully overproduced reality show was the final nail in the coffin. As much as I loved the handheld treats, I had to let cupcakes go.
Of course, I needed something to replace them, but nothing seemed to come close. For a hot minute, I thought macarons might be a worthy stand in, but they’re too small and too expensive. Then I saw a sign in Georgetown’s Baked & Wired advertising hand pies. I was intrigued. Just what is a hand pie?
It turns out that they can take a few different forms. At Baked & Wired, they are disc-shaped with a raised top and could only be called a handful by Andre the Giant. (The price is hefty, too: $5.25.) On the day I stopped by, blueberry-peach and cherry were the flavors on deck, though baker-owner Teresa Velazquez is always rotating the choices. Her version of the portable pastry completely encloses the fruity filling with a piecrust that sparkles with a dusting of crystalline sugar. It’s a delicious start to breaking my cupcake fetish.
The next hand pie comes courtesy of Harth in McLean, where executive chef Tom Elder has perfected this edible art form. (He sells them by the pair for $8.) Small circles of bubble-topped French pastry are packed with just-sweet-enough strawberry compote. It’s the perfect pastry-to-filling ratio, so that each bite contains equal amounts of jammy fruit and buttery crust. I think I hear angels singing. Suddenly, the absence of cupcakes in my life seems like no big deal.
Whisked!’s hand pies (available online for a minimum order of $10 or at the 14th & U Farmers Market) also use a croissant-like crust, but they are flat, resembling thick Linzer torte cookies. The rich, flaky pastry pairs well with the two flavors I sample — nectarine and peach — though both could use a little more of the fruity preserves at their centers. There is a savory offering as well — a tomato mozzarella — which makes for a nice break from my glucose overload. By this point, cupcakes are a distant memory, but I’m still not finished exploring my new fascination.
Last — but absolutely not least — are the “cuppies” made by the Pie Sisters, an online venture that’s working on a brick-and-mortar space in Georgetown. These marvelous mini-pies ($4 each) earn their name from the fact that they’re baked in cupcake molds. They’re not traditional hand pies, because the filling isn’t enclosed, but they’re too good to pass up. The silky-smooth coconut cream is laced with shredded coconut to add some texture then topped with a sweet whipped cream. It’s a winner! On the other hand, the bourbon chocolate pecan could use more chocolate and bourbon to moisten the nutty center, but the flavors are nonetheless worthy of going back for seconds. My last bite is of the apple caramel crunch, which is the perfect taste combination on a crisp autumn afternoon.
The fact-finding binge complete, I can truly say that cupcakes are dead to me. I’m a hand pie fanatic now and proud to admit it. It looks like I just traded one sweet addiction for another.