We made up these last Monday as a treat for our fellow volunteers at Meet Me At Maynards, a free weekly social fitness event that takes place in downtown Tucson. While the amount of work done as a volunteer is easy, we still think it’s nice to bring a little treat, just to keep up our strength, of course. And, it gives us more practice in the kitchen, allowing us to increase our skills in making bite-sized products (it would be really easy to make a whole apple pie, but really troublesome to share it behind the volunteer table).
We could have used a normal apple pie recipe, but, instead, we chose to change the Tarte Tatin recipe to fit the bill of hand pies. This allowed us to make both the filling and crust the day before, so we just had a bit of assembly on Monday afternoon. We also choose to modify the Tarte Tatin recipe because we think it’s some of the best- tasting apple pie filling around: not too sweet and loaded with complex flavors. You’ll swear there are spices like cinnamon and cloves in the filling, but, nay, nothing except apples, butter, sugar, and a pinch of salt.
We chose this particular tart crust because it’s easy to handle, which is important when you’re dealing with small pies. It holds up well to rolling and folding so you shouldn’t have a problem, but, if it does get sticky and difficult, pop it into the fridge for 15 minutes. For the apples, use a mix of varieties. We chose Gala, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, and Braeburn apples (not knowing how much filling to make, we used 6 apples and ended up using only about half the filling; the recipe above reflects that). Finally, sparkling white sugar is a large crystal sugar that holds up to heat, lending a nice look and crunch to pastries.
Procedure in detail:
Prepare apples. For mini apple pies you need mini pieces of apples — without the peel. You don’t want people biting into bits of peel as they eat your delicious pies. So, let’s peel the apples, cut them into quarters, remove the core, cut each quarter into about four slices, then cut the slices into pieces about 1/4 inch on a side. Try to work quickly so the apples don’t brown too much.
Make caramel. Place the butter, sugar, and salt in a small, heavy- bottomed skillet over medium heat. Stir as the butter and sugar melt, then cook, swirling once or twice, until the mixture is caramelized and dark brown, about 5 minutes. Don’t worry if a few crystals remain, they’ll go away with the addition of the apples.
Add apples. Place the apples pieces on top of the caramel and press down. Allow the apples to cook, stirring only a couple of times, until they’re very soft, browned and caramelized, about 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from heat. If you wish, you can make the tart dough and filling up to this point, then refrigerate, assemble, and bake the next day.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment.
Roll dough. Working with about 1/4 of the dough at a time, place a chunk between two pieces of parchment and roll it out to about 1/8 inch thick. Keep the remaining dough chilled in the refrigerator. It’ll be difficult to get it an even thickness, but don’t worry too much, as we’ll lightly roll each circle later.
Cut circles. Use a 2-inch round cutter to cut out about eight disks. We found that we could roll, cut, and prepare eight pies in the same amount of time as they take to bake, so we could bake a set of eight at the same time that we were preparing the next eight pies. Place the remaining dough scraps with the next batch of dough to be rolled.
Roll circles. Working with a disk of dough at a time, lightly roll each a bit thinner and bigger around, to a final size of about 3 inches in diameter. The exact size doesn’t matter, but thinner and slightly bigger makes the crust easier to handle.
Cut vent. Use a very small cutter, or a sharp knife, to cut a hole in the crust about 1/4 inch from the edge. This will be the vent on top of the mini pies, so you want it near the edge, but not too close, since you’ll need to crimp the edge closed. Transfer each disk to your prepared baking sheet.
Fill, fold, and crimp. Place about 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of filling in the center of each disk. Wet your finger and run it around the edge so the pie will seal better, then fold the side with the vent up and over the filling, making a half-moon shape. Using a fork, carefully crimp the edges.
Apply egg and sugar. Brush each pastry with beaten egg and sprinkle with the sparkling sugar. The egg will help the pastries brown nicely, and the sugar will give a sweet crunch in spots and a little sparkle to each pie.
Bake. Into the oven for 20 minutes, rotating the pies from front to back halfway through for even baking. Use this time to work on the next batch of pies.
Cool. Let the pastries cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
These were a great hit with everyone; no leftovers from the 48 that we made, which is exactly how it should be. We think that’s partly because they’re not an extremely sweet treat — we really don’t like treats that are super-sweet; you might as well just eat a spoonful of corn syrup — instead, the flavor of the apples and the crust are allowed to stand out, making for a savorier mini pie. The most amazing thing, though, is the nuanced flavors that the apples will pick up during cooking. They’ll taste as though you’d added cinnamon, cloves, and other spices to the filling, but nope. Just apples, butter, sugar, and a bit of salt is all that’s needed. Five stars, even though they’re a bit fussy to make.