Recently, I went off on a rant about cupcakes, and how they are so over and just eat a normal-sized piece of cake, okay? But then, in true fickle SoupAddict fashion, I turned around and immediately fell for other kinds of miniature desserts.
Like tiny pies.
They’re the kittens of the fruit pie world. So sweet and adorable, they make you go awww just at the mere sight of them.
And to be honest, tiny pies are also my fruit pie salvation for 2011.
I’ve spent the last several autumns competing in pie baking contests. Apple pies are my specialty, and I’ve taken home the blue ribbon in my fair share of contests ’round these parts. But people, creating a prize-winning pie is a lot of work. Accidental pies don’t win ribbons. Behind every charmingly rustic pie is a baker who slaved for hours rolling, draping, redraping, pinching and smoothing the dough just so, tweaking and tweaking until it was perfectly imperfect.
The blue-ribbon baker who coyly says, “why, I just threw that little ole thing together” is fibbing. (Lie-yah! [shakes fist] Lie-yah!).
To the right is a camera-phone shot of one my competition pies from 2010: caramel apple streusel pie. The top crust alone — made of individually cut and embossed leaves of dough — took an hour.
But, I made a promise to myself to not bake a single pie this year. Not one. I needed the break. Especially after last year’s final competition of the season, where the panel of aw-shucks, t-shirt-wearing, soccer-dad judges sampled only the centers of the pies, leaving all the crusts behind, like 5-year-olds with their PB&J’s.
Upon seeing the disaster-zone judging area, with a long row of hallowed-out pies (in some cases, the top crusts were flipped over like lids), there were gasps of shock, not only from the contestants but also the baking guru grannies in attendance. WTF, soccer-dads? Victory was hallow, as it’s the crust that makes a competition-worthy pie: it doesn’t matter how awesome your filling is if you don’t nail the crust.
But despite the pie PTSD, it was impossible to resist this year’s apple and pear harvests. Lovely beyond lovely, in spite of our erratic summer weather. And once I spied the muffin tin in the back of one of my cabinets, I knew I had a solution to my full-pie aversion. Meet the tiny pie.
A delicately sweet creme base bubbles around the lightly seasoned fruit as it cooks. No nit-picky fussing over the dough — it comes together easily. 20 minutes from to start to oven. Ahhh. Pie retirement is good.
Apple Pear Honey Creme Tiny Pies
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Bake time: 20 minutes
Yield: 12 mini pies
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup milk (whole or 2%)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 sweet-tart apples, peeled, cored, and sliced very thinly and then into small 1″ pieces
2 pears, peeled, cored, and sliced very thinly and then into small 1″ pieces
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground
1 recipe of your favorite homemade pie crust recipe divided equally and rolled into rounds (or, if desperate, one 15 ounce package pastry for double-crust pie)
1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, 1/2 cup milk, heavy cream, butter and honey. Heat until butter is melted, stirring occasionally. Whisk together the cornstarch, 2 tablespoons milk, and vanilla in a small bowl, then stir into the butter mixture. Cook until thickened, stirring constantly (should just take a few minutes after the cornstarch has been added). Remove from heat, and set aside to cool slightly.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) with rack in the center of the oven. In a medium bowl, combine the apple and pear slices, lemon juice flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix well.
3. Grease and flour a standard muffin tin (or use a non-stick version, greasing unnecessary). Use a 4″ round cookie cutter to cut 6 circles from each pie crust round (note: it may be necessary to gather up the scraps and reroll to make the 6th circle from each round). Optional: use small decorative cookie cutters to cut 12 shapes from leftover dough scraps. I used a leaf shape in this batch.
4. Fit one dough circle into each muffin compartment, pressing lightly so as not to rip the dough. It doesn’t need to be a snug up-against-the-walls fit, but the dough should form a round bowl.
5. Spoon the honey creme evenly into each of the pie dough cups. Then spoon the apple-pear filling on top of the creme. (If using, drape the small dough shapes on top of the fruit filling.)
6. Bake for 17 to 20 minutes, or until the edges of the crust are golden brown and fruit is tender. Allow pies to cool completely in the pan.
7. Lift out each pie one by one, taking care not to squeeze too hard (the crust should be firm, so they’ll lift right out). Serve at room temperature.