I had promised him a pie that perfect day in the apple orchard. We collected a small basket’s worth of apples – a few varieties for snacking, but mostly for baking. The Honey had to cut me off; we already had two crisper bins full of colorful apples waiting for us at home. My eyes, as always, were too big.
Apple pie was one of the very first desserts that I learned to bake as a teenager, carefully following the classic recipe – the page always marked with that red ribbon – from our smudged and fading copy of the original Joy of Cooking. Over time I could recite the ingredients from memory, and learned to adapt, adding a little more or less of this and that as needed for each pie. The flavors ingrained.
When we got back from Asheville, it was clear that Fall had settled in for good. Cashmere socks and piping hot tea seem continuously in order. Dreary days are brightened by the intoxicating aroma of fall baking and slow-braised soups and stews. I’ve been adding apples to everything lately – baked into desserts, swirled into ice cream, tossed with cinnamon atop steamy oatmeal in the morning, roasted with butternut squash to create a savory soup… – the list goes on.
Instead of a traditional pie, I decided to make miniature hand pies; all the classic apple pie flavors – sweet apple, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves – in convenient hand-held form. I find individual desserts like these so much easier for just the two of us. I can split the recipe in half, for a special occasion, or we can freeze a few for later. It’s less commitment than a whole pie, but certainly no less indulgent.
The pie pastry that I used in this recipe is the Good For Almost Everything Pie Dough from Dorie Greenspan’s wonderful baking book – Baking: From my home to yours. It’s a great, all-around, flexible and easy to work with dough, and is lovely in this recipe (as well as any number of other pies and tarts). If you already have your own go-to pie dough, feel free to use that here, but if not, I highly recommend Ms. Greenspan’s recipe.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1-1/2 tsp fine sea salt
- 2-1/2 sticks (1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, very cold, cubed
- 1/3 cup all-vegetable shortening, very cold or frozen, cut into small pieces
- 6-7 tbsp ice water
- 5 cups apples, peeled, cored and diced
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/3-1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- demerara or sanding sugar
- In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse together the flour, sugar and salt until well-combined. Add the butter and shortening to the flour mixture and pulse a few times until the butter and shortening pieces are evenly dispersed, with the largest pieces about the size of peas. Be careful not to over-mix. Add the ice water, a tablespoon or two at a time, and pulse to combine, until the dough is evenly moistened. Pinch a bit of dough together between two fingers to test - the dough should stick together. If the dough seems dry, add a few more teaspoons of water and pulse again.
- Transfer the pastry to a clean, well-floured work surface, and divide the dough in half. Gather each half of dough into a ball, then flatten into a round, disk, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour before you begin to roll out the dough.
- Heat a skillet over medium-heat. Add the diced apples, butter, brown sugar and spices to the pan and stir to combine. Cook until the butter is melted and the apples are just soft, but not mushy, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and transfer the apple filling to a mixing bowl to cool. Set aside and let come to room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Remove one of the dough disks from the refrigerator. Roll the dough out on to a generously-floured piece of parchment paper, until it is about 1/8-inch thick. Using a 5-inch-diameter cookie cutter or saucer (my preferred method), cut out six circles. Re-roll the dough as necessary to achieve all six.
- Lay the pastry circles on one of the sheet pans and top with half of the apple mixture, being sure to reserve as much of the apple liquid as possible. Adding too much liquid to the pies will get messy, quickly. Fold the dough in half, and use your fingers to gently press the edges together. Using the back of a fork, gently press down to create a fluted seal along the edge.
- Lightly brush the top of each pastry with the cream, and sprinkle generously with the demerara sugar. Cut a small x-shaped slit in the top of each pie, and repeat these steps with the second dough disk, if using.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the pies are golden brown and cooked through. Let cool for 10 minutes on a baking rack. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.