Autumn and winter are the only times of the year when you'll catch me baking. I've been known to over-bake, over-whisk and over-mix many a dessert, and I have little to no patience for exactly measuring out ingredients. But the chillier months surrounding the holidays always get me in the mood to bake cookies and pies utilizing the bounty of fruits and spices available at this time of year.
A self-proclaimed "anti-pastry chef," when I do take on the oven and create sweets I opt for simple baking recipes. I weaned myself off boxed mixes (it's just plain cheating), but I'm still a fan of pre-made pie crusts and dough found in the freezer aisle at the grocery store. They're very versatile, and defrosting them makes a smaller mess than making it from scratch — though more power to you if you're into that.
My newest baked concoction (created with the help of a friend) is a play on the traditional apple pie that many folks enjoy during the holidays. These mini apple-pecan hand pies are a cinch to throw together and a great (and easier) alternative to making one huge pie.
The hand pie recipe uses puff pastry dough — often used in turnover pastries, strudel and for covering Beef Wellington — which can be found in your grocer's freezer and creates a light, flaky crust when baked. The apple filling is sautéed in a pan first for a softer filling, but feel free to leave your apples raw if you want a crunchier texture. Just remember: If you don't cook your apple filling first, you can't pour bourbon in it and set it on fire (aka: flambéing), which is the best part about making these.
As for apples, take your pick and go with your taste preference. I love the sweet taste of Galas in the fall, so that's what I used in this recipe. For a tangier filling, opt for Granny Smiths.
Feel free to get creative with this recipe, and play with different spices, use an alternate filling — pears, chocolate, berries — or add mix-ins to your crust, like grated sharp cheddar, ground spices and nuts.
Apple-Pecan Hand Pies
Recipe by Jamie Stephens - Austin, TX
Makes about nine 3-inch pies
3 tablespoons butter
3 Gala apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks or slices
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup pecans, chopped and toasted
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup bourbon or whiskey (and a little extra for the chef)
1 sheet puff pastry, cut into 3" circles with a pastry or biscuit cutter
Buttermilk, as needed
Turbinado ("raw") sugar, as needed
1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss the apples and spices together in a bowl. Heat the butter over medium until it just begins to bubble, then add the apples mixture. Cook for a few minutes, until the apples just begin to soften.
2. Add bourbon and let it cook and reduce; the sauce turning into a caramel-like consistency. Remove from heat. (If you have a gas stove and want to flambé, remove the pan from the heat, add the bourbon, then quickly put it back on the burner and let it catch the flame, then quickly remove from heat until the flames in the pan subside.)
3. While the mixture is cooling, put a little flour on your counter, roll out the pastry sheet so it's a little larger and cut the puff pastry into circles with the cutter (or a knife). Brush the edges with buttermilk and add a teaspoon or two of filling to the center of each circle. Bring the edges together to close the pie and "crimp" the edges down with a fork. Cut a few lines into the tops of the pies, brush pies with buttermilk and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
4. Bake for about 20 minutes, until they turn golden-brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.