Apples are my favorite fruits ever. That might be another reason why I live for fall. I can’t get enough of apples- a cold apple right out of the refrigerator is awesome. Especially if it’s a juicy, crisp one. Macintosh, Red Delicious, Granny Smith, Empire, Golden Delicious, Pink Lady… I love ‘em all. I don’t care for other fruits as much as I care for the apple. And I live in (or close enough to) the Big Apple, so how appropriate is that? New York is famous for it’s apples, actually. We’re not only the second largest apple-producing state in the country, but we grow some of the best you can get!
And so therefore it wouldn’t be this time of year without apple desserts. Apple strudel, caramel apple syrup, baked apples with sweet ricotta, apple dumplings, caramel apples, apple turnovers, apple muffins, apple cupcakes, apple cider donuts and apple pie.
Apple pie is one of those classic desserts that, in my opinion, is best made by pie-people. You know who those people are, right? Pie-people? Tania is a pie-person. Her pies are always beautiful, with perfectly rolled, evenly baked crusts. I’m not a pie person (as is evidenced by my horrendous crust-rolling & uneven pies). I’m a cake-person. That’s not to say that pie-people can’t bake cakes or cake-people can’t bake pies… no, not at all. I can make a successful pie, and Tania can most certainly make a beautiful cake. It’s just for me personally, my specialty isn’t in the area of piedom. I can make ‘em, but they’re far from perfect. Yes, they taste delicious and most people don’t notice the imperfections I do. But are they going to win any prizes at a county fair?
Hell to the no. But my mini-apple pies? They just might.
I love that they look like little shrunken mini versions of apple pies!
See, I really, really wanted to make an apple pie this year, desperately. Despite my inherent lack of pie-making skills. I have this great vintage “apple pie” pie plate (above) that was my mom’s, and it’s super cute. It’s got a recipe for apple pie written right on the bottom! I’ve always loved it and wanted to use it, but I just felt like it wasn’t right to make anything but apple pie in it. So this year I decided I’d use it. And I bought a new pie bird (isn’t he adorable!?) just for that reason. I was going to get all old school and make a big ass apple pie with my little ceramic black bird in the middle in my vintage pie plate. But then I looked up some recipes, and I thought about it… and I decided no. I was going to go an alternate route. A more me route.
‘Cause, like I said, I’m not really a pie-person, you know?
But I am a hand-held pie person. I’m a Pop-Tart person. I like my desserts portable, easy to bring along with you. Cupcakes, brownies, cookies, you get my drift. So how about a mini pie? Better yet… how about a portable mini apple pie?
And while I’m sure the hand-pie has been done a thousand times before, so has the pie itself. How many times have you seen an apple pie recipe on a blog? And how many variations are there? And… how many of them proclaim themselves the BEST? Lots, I’m willing to bet. And I’m betting you, yourself, have a pie recipe that you boast as being the best. And everyone is probably correct: pie is such a comforting, familial thing. Our family pie recipes are always going to be the best. They’re never totally new or completely original, but that’s what makes them fantastic. Pie is a concept as old as the concept of food itself, and has been incarnated in hundreds if not thousands of ways since the beginning of pie-creation.
Pie has graced our kitchens for thousands of years, and not just as a holiday treat. Pie once offered cooks a practical way to bake and store all kinds of perishable ingredients. Meat, game, fish, fruits, vegetables, grains, and spices, along with more familiar fillings like berries, nuts, and custards, were mixed and matched in piecrusts that could be more than an inch thick. If fat was poured into a hole in the crust’s lid after baking, the contents could be preserved for months. Small, folded-over hand pies were given to travelers and field laborers, who kept them stashed safely in their pockets or rucksacks until mealtime—a messy-sounding practice, until you realize that the crusts were probably more like papier-mâché shells than the flaky delicacies we admire today.
America didn’t invent pie—ancient Egypt gets credit for that. We didn’t even come up with the most outrageous ones, a distinction that belongs to medieval Europe, where, for the delight of dinner guests, piecrusts were baked hollow in fanciful shapes, then filled with live birds or frogs that would burst out when the dish was cut into. “Four and 20 blackbirds…” isn’t just a nursery rhyme after all.
But America is the country that truly embraced pie. Over open hearths and in cast-iron stoves, New World cooks baked partridge pies, lobster pies, squirrel pies, macaroni pies, and quichelike fiddlehead-fern pies. They’d follow a meal of savory pie with a dessert of, say, buttermilk pie. Or raisin pie. Or gooey, molasses-rich shoofly pie. So ubiquitous was pie that a character in a 19th-century tale griped about sitting down to “pie 21 times a week.” And a British journalist visiting the United States in 1882 wrote, “Almost everything that I behold in this wonderful country bears traces of improvement and reform—everything except pie…. Men may come and men may go…but pie goes on forever.”
-Oprah.com: “The History of Pie”
So what’s one more hand-pie recipe out there, right?
MINI HAND-HELD APPLE PIES
- 1 batch of double pie-crust dough OR one box frozen pie crust (defrosted according to package)
- 3-4 apples, one kind or any combination you like, peeled, cored and cut into small pieces (about 1/2″- 1″)
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
- 1 1/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice OR
- 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 egg, beaten
- Prepare a baking sheet by covering it with parchment paper. Preheat your oven to 375° degrees.
- Mix apples & lemon juice in a medium bowl. Stir in the sugar, flour & spices until the apples are evenly covered. Set aside.
- Roll out the pastry crust and cut out your circles (or whatever shape you’re making), placing them on the baking sheet. Spoon a teaspoon or a teaspoon and a half of the mixture into the center of each circle.
- Cut out the same amount of circles from the dough, making an X in the middle of this batch. Brush the egg around the edges of the “bottom” circles (the ones on the baking sheet), and place the X circles on top. Gently press to seal the edges, then crimp them using a fork.
- Brush the tops of the pies with the egg, and then sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
- After removing from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes before moving to a wire rack. Pies are best when eaten warm or room temperature the day they’re made, but are quite decent the next day. Longer than that, I don’t know- mine were all gone!
This one isn’t particularly groundbreaking or unique, it’s just a simple, straightforward apple hand-pie. You can spice it up a bit by adding some spiced rum or gold rum or even bourbon to the filling if that tickles you. You can also add a cream cheese-y cheesecake type filling to them along with the apple. You can add an icing or “glaze” on top, you can even cut out bits of dough to look like apples and “glue” them on top with the egg wash before baking. Cut them into a square shape and then cut out a jack-o-lantern face on the top dough layer. Fill it with a jam filling, a fresh fruit filling, a Nutella filling, a Shoo-fly pie filling, a pecan pie filling, or a canned pie filling. Make them pumpkin hand pies! Do whatever you want. That’s all up to you.
I prefer to use the whole egg to do an egg wash; I find it creates a more attractive & shiny golden brown color. But if you’d rather skip using the yolk, then you can.
I’m just giving you the basic idea. Run with it.
Some people will be bossy about what kind of apples you should use. I won’t be. I’ve made this just as successfully with Red Delicious apples as well as Braeburn or Granny Smith. These aren’t real apple pies, they aren’t baked for an hour. So if you use a softer apple it won’t turn to mush like it would in a pie. The best pies are the ones made with things you enjoy eating… so if you like Fuji apples then use them! Don’t be concerned about how it’s going to turn out. Save the worries about whether or not the apples will be firm enough for the contestants on Master Chef. I guarantee no matter what you do, you’ll be fine with these. And yes- pears work well in this recipe too, with minimal adaptation.
Even Mr. Blackbird here enjoyed them… and his day off.
While I didn’t make an actual pie… I did make many pies, and I still got to use the pie plate!
Shortcut tip: like I said in the recipe above, you can use frozen pie crusts for the dough. Just use a good quality one. Let them defrost or come to room temperature (according to directions on the box) and roll them out as needed to 1/4″ thick, then cut your circles, or whatever shapes you’re using, and go from there. If you do this you’ll cut a lot of time out of the creation of the pies, so it might be worth it to you. I don’t know about using frozen puff pastry, but I don’t see why not. I’d love to hear about it if that’s what you decided to use.
Sources & credits: Royal China by Jeannette “apple pie” pie plate; vintage, Norpro black pie bird.