It's been way too long time since I've done a baking post, and I really wanted to show you guys how super easy it is to make miniature pies. But first, check out the previous Badass Baker installments: banana bread cupcakes with peanut butter and Nutella frosting, a vanilla pound cake with extra dark chocolate frosting shaped like Dean's Impala from Supernatural, buttermilk biscuit sandwiches prepared four ways, and beer-battered, deep fried cookie dough balls.
But today I present to you miniature pies. You can prepare these any way you want; I made mine in honor of Charlotte Charles, or Chuck, from Pushing Daisies.
Mini Pear-Gruyère-Apple Pies
Chuck actually made her pies with only pear and gruyère (and homeopathic mood stabilizers for her depressed aunts), and also her cheese was baked into the crust, but I just took the inspiration and ran with it.
But first things first! Beer and tunes. I opted for the Beatles' Rubber Soul and Saint Arnold's Homefront IPA. It's a new IPA made by the Houston brewery, the proceeds of which benefit military families. It's a crisp, drinkable India Pale Ale made with orange zest and - you guys - it was aged with Louisville Slugger baseball bats. That is rad.
Go ahead and pre-heat your oven to 375°F.
Now, a note on crusts. Something you could do to make your pies easier and prettier is to use store-bought crusts, like this baker. There's no shame in it, and these crusts turn out very attractive pies in much less time. So if you want to do this with a quickness and you want your pies to turn out looking like this:
instead of my messy business, have at it. However, I really like that from-scratch look and taste. It's not as pretty, but it feels a little cozier, you know?
Now, if you're deciding to make a full-sized pie with this recipe, which you totally can, I recommend using a different crust. However, I'm headed to Austin tonight and I don't like to hit up the Alamo offices without some sort of easily shareable baked goods, so I went with mini pies. If you're making a full-sized pie, this is the easiest and tastiest from-scratch pie crust on the market. It's from America's Test Kitchen, and it makes a fantastic pie crust. I've used it many times. However, since it's pat-in-place, it doesn't work for miniature pies, because there are so many different little pans to use.
This is a perfect crust recipe for mini pies (or normal-sized pies), however, I'd used that one before and wanted to try a new method. They both turned out equally well, I think, so it's up to you.
This is the pie crust recipe I used this time. It's a tried and true method from time out of mind, but I happened to find this version on a blog called Hillbilly Housewife, a combination of words I find particularly unpleasant, but she seems to know her stuff. Read her blog post start to finish sometime - she talks about different ways to prepare the same pie crust, which is a handy tool.
I doubled the recipe in order to make twelve miniature pies and four bigger (but still not full-sized) pies, so the below ingredients will make you two full-sized pies. Just halve the ingredients - and the filling ingredients below - if you only want to make one large pie or twelve mini pies.
Easy Pie Crust Ingredients:
5 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cup shortening
12-14 tablespoons of water
waxed paper or pastry cloths
Stir your flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the shortening 1/4 cup at a time.
Mix it together with your (clean!) hands until it's all crumbly. Don't overmix!
Use your hands to mix and make pie crust. It's messy, but it's the best way to do it. And besides, messy is fun.
Add your water a tablespoon at a time, using your hands to mix it all together until it makes a loose ball of dough. Use a little extra water if you have to, but not too much. It may not look like it's going to stay together, but it will.
Lay down a sheet of wax paper. Divide your dough ball in half, and put half on the wax paper. Put another sheet of wax paper on top, and start rolling it flat.
Once it reaches the thickness you want (up to you!), get a biscuit cutter and start cutting out circles.
Make sure the circles are comparable in size to your tart pan. Place the dough circle into the tart pan and crinkle or curve the edges if you like.
Hey - don't catch your house on fire! My husband was in the kitchen at the same time, canning our billions of garden tomatoes, and my wax paper caught on the burner. I DID THIS TWICE and panicked both times. You really shouldn't take any of my kitchen advice.
Once your tart pan is full, you can make your filling! This is the fun part. Baking doesn't generally allow for much improvisation because it's such a science. But once you have your pie crust done, you can be as creative as you like with the filling. I came up with the pear-apple-gruyère filling on the fly. You can use the same general ratio to make anything! The below measurements are estimations because I just sort of threw it all together.
Pear-Apple-Gruyère Pie Filling
Two medium-sized pears, peeled, cored and chopped
One large green apple, peeled, cored and chopped
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1.5 teaspoons corn starch
The zest and juice of one lemon
1/4 cup grated gruyère cheese
Peel, core and chop the pears and apples. Zest the lemon and then juice it onto the fruit mixture quickly so the pears and apples don't brown.
Zest the lemon before you juice it. The zest of a juiceless lemon is worth NOTHING, I tell you!
Add the corn starch, sugar and grated cheese. The corn starch helps sort of break down the fruit so it's more filling-like and less like hard chunks of solid fruit.
Mix it all together with your fingers until everything is coated with everything else.
This makes for a slightly more savory filling, because that's how I like my pies. If you want yours sweeter, add another tablespoon of sugar.
Another easy filling you could use is any sort of berry, lemon juice and zest, corn starch and sugar. Really any fruit used in these same basic proportions will work great.
(I forgot to take pictures of the following few steps.) Spoon the ingredients into the dough cups in your tart pan. Roll out the other half of your crust dough in the same way you rolled the first half, and use a slightly smaller biscuit cutter to cut out the tops of the pies.
If you don't have biscuit or cookie cutters, just trace a knife around a cup resting on the dough.
I used these adorable canape cutters I found at an estate sale to cut little shapes in the top of the pie crust. You can also just use a knife to cut little slits - something to help steam release as the pies bake.
I also used a knife to cut out thin strips of dough that I then picked up using a cookie spatula and placed in a lattice pattern on top of some of the pies. Once your pies are all stuffed and covered, sprinkle them with more sugar and pop them in the oven.
Here are the bigger mini pies I made, which came with a handy pie top-cutter.
Let them all bake for about 45 minutes. Start the timer at 30 minutes and then check every five minutes or so afterward until the tops are golden brown.
If the tops look like they're getting burned quickly (before the filling could possibly cook), make a little tent of aluminum foil over the pies to bear the brunt of the heat.
Once everything's all golden and pretty, take them out and let them cool completely before transferring them out of their pans. Although I always eat one when it's still hot and gooey, and I recommend you do the same.
Et voila! Tasty, easy, adorable. They're not as pretty as the ones made from store-bought dough, but they have a sort of wonky charm that I enjoy.