Today, let’s talk about how to bust out of holiday pie monotony.
I think you know what I mean… The endless array of thin pumpkin pies with stale, bland crust. The pecan pies composed of soggy pieces of once-beautifully-crisp pecans. The apple pies that have succumbed to mush, only to be kind of rescued by the can of Ready Whip that will inevitably kill you.
Let’s change the pie game, shall we? Why not shake it up, and put the best of pie into a flaky, buttery cocoon of the thing everyone is really going for anyway when they reach for the dessert table: pie crust.
Yeah, let’s wrap a pie filling bursting with flavor into pie crust, bake it up, and nibble away until our waists reach their inevitable holiday size.
Even as I write this, I’m aware that I’ve been tasked with bringing the aforementioned pecan and pumpkin pie to our family’s Thanksgiving next week, although I’m going to make every effort not to make them as terrible as that introduction made them sound. Good pie is ultimate comfort food, right up there with buttery biscuits sopped in some form of creamy gravy, or mac and cheese drowning in a neverending cheese sauce. And I will savor every bite of traditional pie this holiday season, but that doesn’t mean we can’t play with tradition.
Set aside a Saturday morning of coffee and Netflix streaming on your computer (my fave – unless it’s evening, then switch coffee for wine) and enjoy making these adorable little nuggets of holiday goodness. I used my favorite recipe for pie crust, courtesy of Texas chef Rebecca Rather’s book, The Pastry Queen. They are a little more tedious to make than a regular pie, but the resulting cuteness and convenience of an adorable array of little hand pies afterward makes any instances of finding flour and dough pieces in your hair afterward worth it.
I made these apple hand pies a long time ago for a friend’s party, and they turned out okay. When working with the dough, I was too hesitant to add enough filling to give it a bonafide flavor, and I overbaked them to the point of dryness. But they were soooo cute, and therefore deserved another try. They delivered on this go-round, and I’m experiencing genuine remorse that I didn’t consume more of them before sending them off to work with the boy, out of my carb-loving hands…
The surprising element of this recipe is the caramel apple sauce. It’s completely optional, but since you’re going to be standing and working with dough, you might as well go ahead and make it, inviting your tastebuds to do a happy dance at the flavors.
Once the apple mixture cooks a bit on the stove and softens up, you reserve the remaining liquid – all of the remnants of crisp apple chunks, brown and white sugar, and spicy cinnamon. Let that simmer down for a good bit, then add the essential butter and heavy cream over high heat to get a syrupy, saucy, apple-y caramel sauce that beckons the hand pies. You could dip the hand pies in it like a cookie and milk, or drizzle it over the top and enjoy with a fork. You do you.
So there we have it. A pie revolution! A pie-lution. No no, that sounds terrible. Enjoy these little babies this holiday season, freeing up your hands for more hand-shaking and hugging with family. Or just stress-eat them on the car ride to Thanksgiving. They’re excellent for either.
Apple Hand Pies with Caramel Apple Sauce
For the Pie Crust
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 11 tablespoons butter chilled and cut into small cubes
- 4-5 tablespoons ice water
For the Filling
- 4-5 Jonagold apples (or similar) peeled, cored, and chopped into 1/2" pieces
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 egg
For the Caramel Sauce
- Leftover juices
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 stick butter (4 tablespoons)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- For the pie crust, mix together the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. With the paddle running, slowly add the butter cubes one by one, until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the tablespoons of water one at a time, or until the mixture comes together. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- To make the filling, heat the butter in a large pan (or even a large pot) over medium heat. Add the apples, sugars, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Let the mixture cook for about 5 minutes, or until the apples soften. Remove the apples with a slotted spoon to a separate bowl. Keep the leftover juices in the pan. *If you're making the caramel, at this point let the apple juices simmer in the pan on medium low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Take half of the dough and roll out onto a lightly floured surface, until about 1/4" thick. Use a circular object to cut rounds out (I used a large drinking glass). Whisk an egg in a separate bowl and have a pastry brush ready.
- Place a heaping tablespoon (or less, dependent on how big your dough circles are) of the filling in the center of a circle. Dip your pastry brush in the egg and brush it around the edges. This helps the top layer of dough stick. Take a second dough circle and place on top of the one with filling, stretching a bit to reach over the apples. Use your fingers and a fork to crimp and seal the edges.
- Repeat this process until you run out of dough and/or filling. Only re-roll the dough once. Place the pies on a cookie sheet, and brush the tops with the egg. With a small, sharp knife, cut two small slits in the center for steam to escape. Sprinkle with white sugar. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes, or until the edges are golden.
- For the caramel (optional), transfer the apple juice and sugar mixture that has been simmering to a sauce pan and add the butter. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes over high heat. Add the cream and boil for another minute, or until it reaches your desired consistency. Serve in a small bowl for dipping or drizzling over the top of the hand pies.