As the days adopt a chill and the pretty trees behind my apartment lazily lose their leaves, I'm embracing what's to come. I've already begun lighting my Balsam and Cedar candles, poking about for pumpkin recipes, and crunching happily down sidewalks strewn with crisp leaves. I'm trying to get in the autumn spirit, and it was with that mindset that I sat down this week to hunt for delicious recipes. My Sunday school class is having a potluck tomorrow, and I wanted something bite-sized and special to contribute.
Whenever I'm pondering what to bake, I struggle between two very disparate urges. On one hand, I love baked goods that are cute. You know, those cupcakes that look like burgers, cake balls shaped like random animals, cakes decorated to resemble inanimate objects. On the other hand, I grow more in tune with each passing week to the fact that I'm pinching salt, molding dough, tossing flour, and in short, creating things with my hands. In keeping with that, I love baked goods that are simple, rustic, and emphatically homemade. Marrying these two desires is sometimes difficult, but this weekend, I think I found the perfect solution (just in time for the Sunday school potluck): miniature pies. Itty bitty Pumpkin Pies, Peach Crisp Pies, and Sour Cream Apple Pies, to be precise.
These tiny pies are so sweet and cute and charming . . . that I'm almost suspicious. Remember diminutive, pigtailed Rhoda from the classic 1956 horror film The Bad Seed?
She was ostensibly the picture of perfection, but in actuality, she was going around killing neighborhood children, old ladies, and her family's dimwitted handyman. I can just see her roller skating down the sidewalk with a basket of these perfect pies. She used to ask her parents, "What will you give me for a basket of kisses?" and they'd respond nauseatingly, "A basket of hugs." But who wants a basket of hugs when you could have a basket of pies?
Murderous allusions notwithstanding, these particular perfect treats are not too good to be true. Unlike dear Rhoda, they are every bit as sweet and delectable as they appear.
The Mini Peach Crisp Pies were exact taste replicas of their full-size cousin. I chopped fresh, juicy peaches and mixed them with brown sugar, granulated sugar, and oats. This simple combination yields an unexpectedly bright fall flavor with a satisfying, gooey, oaty texture. I'm glad I have more of these waiting in my fridge. I don't know if my Sunday school class will get to sample these!
The Sour Cream Apple Pies had a nostalgic appeal. When I was little, my mom made a buttery, tangy dessert she called, simply, Apple Kuchen. It was easy to assemble -- a yellow cake mix base topped with apple pie filling and sour cream. I'll have to post that recipe sometime, since it was my first introduction to the apples and sour cream together. That combination is still a favorite of mine today. These mini-pies didn't quite live up to my expectations, though; the flavor was very mild and left me wishing for more spice. The recipe I used didn't call for a single bit of cinnamon or nutmeg, and though I snuck in a few shakes of the cinnamon jar, it still needed some work. I have to hand you a grain of salt to take with my criticism, though, since I'm devouring these little apple parcels lustily. The sweet apple flavor is certainly still appealing.
Last but not least, the Pumpkin Pies were my absolute favorite. Spicy, custardy pumpkin inside a buttery, flaky crust, all topped with either a pretty pecan or a dollop of homemade whipped cream (okay, or both!). Want to know the best part? They were by far the easiest mini-pie to assemble -- so easy that I'm making them one of my go-to desserts. Just like the Plum and Cream Mini Tortes Mike and I loved so much, these little pies pay out much more joy and deliciousness than they cost in labor.
I can't wait for you to try these miniature pies and share your thoughts with me! How else are you going to try three or four different flavors of pie all on one plate? If you'd rather not indulge your do-too-muchitis, though, why not choose just one flavor to bake? Pop a pan of the easy pumpkin pies in the oven all by themselves for a simple treat. Whether you bake one flavor or all of them, I hope you're thrilled with the sweet results.
Miniature Pies: Pumpkin, Sour Cream Apple, and Peach Crisp
Yields: About 48 mini-muffin sized pies, depending on proportions
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup cold butter flavored vegetable shortening*
3/4 cup cold butter, chopped
6-8 tablespoons cold water
*I tried shortening for this recipe, but prefer lard!
Pumpkin Pie Filling Ingredients:
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
6 oz. evaporated milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
*For half an egg - lightly beat one egg, then measure out 1 1/2 tablespoons.
Peach Crisp Filling Ingredients:
3 peaches, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1.5 tablespoons granulated sugar (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/8 cup oats
Sour Cream Apple Filling Ingredients:
2/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large eggs
1.5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 large Granny Smith apples
Egg Wash Ingredients:
a little water
Whipped Cream Ingredients:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
5 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (or flavoring of your choice)
Make the crust: Pulse flour and salt together to combine. Add chunks of shortening and pulse into the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Add in chunks of butter and pulse until butter pieces are no larger than small peas, about 10 pulses. Add minimum amount of water and pulse on low. If dough remains crumbly and doesn't come together, add another 2 tablespoons of water. Add as little as is required to enable the dough to be rolled into a ball. Form the dough into 2 disks, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes while preparing your filling.
Make desired fillings: While dough is chilling, make desired fillings.
- Pumpkin: Combine the sugars, cinnamon and ginger in a mixing bowl. Beat in the eggs and stir in the pumpkin; add the evaporated milk and mix well. Refrigerate if you aren't using it right away.
- Peach Crisp: Mix all ingredients together.
- Sour Cream Apple: Whisk together the sour cream, sugar, salt, vanilla, eggs, and flour until the mixture is smooth. Add the apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thin, and stir the filling until it is combined well. Note: I added a teaspoon of cinnamon and wish I'd added some nutmeg, too.
Prepare the bottom crust: Take one of the disks of dough and pinch off walnut-sized balls. Place a ball in each well of an ungreased mini-muffin pan. Using your fingers, work the dough up the sides of each well (and create a little lip of dough rising over the edge for fruit pies). Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
For fruit pies: Fill each well with desired fruit filling. Pinch off a piece of dough and flatten it or roll it out thin on a sheet of parchment paper. Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out a top crust. Place the top crust on one of the wells, folding the bottom crust lip over with the edge of the top crust and crimping the edges shut. You can use a toothpick to decorate the edges. Repeat for all of the mini-pies. Cut a crisscross vent in the center of each pie. Mix the egg and water in a small bowl and brush the tops of the pies. Bake pies at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, checking often. If the pies appear to be getting too brown, cover the whole pan with aluminum foil. Remove and let cool in pan for a few minutes before transferring mini-pies to a wire rack to cool completely.
For pumpkin pies: Pour pumpkin pie filling into each prepared well. Bake pies for 30-35 minutes, or until crust is golden and filling set. Remove and sprinkle chopped toasted pecans on top OR decorate with a pretty toasted pecan half. Let cool in pan for a few minutes before transferring mini-pies to a wire rack to cool completely.
Serve mini-pies with vanilla ice cream or homemade whipped cream. To make homemade whipped cream, mix all ingredients together until soft peaks are obtained.
Notes: The fruit pie filling portions above are most likely out of proportion. I made extra peach and apple to freeze. The pumpkin filling recipe above has been halved from the original, because I made the original amount and ended up with way too much.
To store Pumpkin and Sour Cream Apple Mini-Pies, refrigerate in an airtight container.
Preparing my apple pie filling and baking the pies.
Pumpkin pies baking and cooling off.
All packed up and ready to go to Sunday school!
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