Pies, cut down to size, put pleasure at hand

Enthusiasm for mini pies -- including palm-sized versions of chocolate pecan pie and pumpkin pie...
Autumn Cruz/The Sacramento Bee/SHNS
Story by Chris Macias
(Sacramento Bee/SHNS)
Sat, Dec 31, 2011
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Move over, cupcakes, there’s another bite-size treat sweetening up a bakery near you. Call them hand pies, “cutie pies” or personalized pies -- they’re bites of home-style dessert that fit in your palm.

Home bakers can practice downsizing their pie recipes for batches of mini-treats. “Cutie Pies” (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $16.99, 160 pages) presents 40 recipes for mini pies, ranging from “petit-5s,” baked in a mini muffin pan, to “pie jars” which are baked in small Mason jars.

Who doesn’t love pie, no matter the size?

“Pie is one of those classic treats, a feel-good treat that you don’t have to think about or explain too much,” said Dani Cone, author of “Cutie Pies” and founder of Seattle’s High 5 Pie shop. “I love that people have their own memories attached to it, like the best pie they ever ate or their grandma’s pie. It’s not a fad item.”

Think of pie as the latest dessert to be scaled down.

“They say cupcakes are out and pie is in,” said Trey Luzzi, owner of "TreyBCakes” in Sacramento, Calif. “We usually sell out every night. A slice of pie looks sloppy and messy, but we consider these our slices and they’re perfect and individual.”

Mini versions of foods make up a kind of culinary movement across the country. The National Restaurant Association ranked “bite-size/mini desserts” as the second most popular dessert trend on its “What’s Hot in 2011” rankings. Small-plate foods have overall become so prominent during the past few years that they’ve become a staple of contemporary dining.

The trend in mini-desserts and small plates is “now moving toward perennial favorite territory,” said Annika Stensson, a spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association. “The bite-size dessert trend also plays in the nutrition trend to some extent. You can have your dessert and eat it too, without adding too many calories to your meal.”

No matter what size pie you’re baking, it all comes down to the crust. A national pie survey sponsored by Crisco found that 65 percent of surveyed Americans said that making crust is the hardest part of baking a pie from scratch.

Cone recommends keeping a keen sense of temperature when working with pie crust ingredients, and to show a little patience as well.

“I always keep reminding people to keep all your ingredients very cold, and even your equipment,” said Cone. “If you’re at home and have a KitchenAid mixer or a bowl, keep it in the fridge for an hour before you use it. We even freeze our butter to keep everything as cold as possible.

“Also, don’t over-handle it,” Cone added. “People always have a tendency to expect pie dough to look like cookie dough, but pie is not like that. It needs to rest for a while before it takes shape. Step off a little, and let it do its thing.”

Once you’ve got the crust ready to go, you can play with Cone’s pie recipes. Along with her take on pie lollipops, you can try creating other mini pies including High 5 Pie’s signature “cutie pies,” baked in a 12-cup muffin pan.

Cone’s “pie jars” can also be pulled off at home. For a gift or party favor, she likes to put the lid on the jar and wrap it with clear cellophane.

“These are my favorite ones to make,” said Cone. “We use the half-pint, wide-mouth Mason jar, and it’s so cute it’s ridiculous.”

This recipe makes one double-crust 9-inch pie, two single-crust 9-inch pies, 16 “cutie pies,” 36 “petit-5s,” 8 “piejars,” 10 “flipsides” or 50 “piepops.”

From “Cutie Pies” by Dani Cone.

Prep time: 30 minutes, plus at least 1 hour chill time

ALL-BUTTER PIE CRUST

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 3/4 cup ice water

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and sugar, and mix well.

Add the butter to the flour mixture, and mix gently with a pastry blender, a fork or your hands. The goal is to lightly incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients. The butter pieces should be well coated with the dry mixture and somewhat flattened.

Gradually add the water to the flour mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue mixing the dough until it comes together and forms pea-size or crouton-size crumbs. The dough should look like coarse individual pieces, not smooth and beaten together like cookie dough.

With your hands, gather the dough crumbs together to form 2 patties, gently molding the crumb-like mixture into a patty shape and being careful not to over handle the dough. Wrap each patty in plastic wrap.

Chill the dough for at least 1 hour, or up to 3 days. The dough can also be frozen for up to 2 weeks.

When you’re ready to use the dough, let it sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes to soften it and make it workable. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each of the 2 dough patties to about a 1/4-inch thickness, lightly dusting it with flour, if needed, to prevent sticking, and making sure to roll the dough evenly.

This recipe makes enough crumb topping for one 9-inch pie, 16 “cutie pies” or 36 “petit-5s.”

From “Cutie Pies” by Dani Cone.

CRUMB TOP

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats

In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, and cinnamon, and mix well.

Add the butter to the flour mixture, and mix thoroughly with a pastry blender, a fork, or your fingers until the texture is like small peas.

Add the rolled oats, and mix to create a crumbly consistency.

Sprinkle the crumb topping over a pie, pie jars or petit-5s before baking.

Makes 8 pie jars (or 1 single-crust 9-inch pie, 1 single-crust 7-inch deep-dish pie, 10 “flipsides,” 16 “cutie pies,” 36 “petit-5s,” or 50 “piepops”)

Recipe from “Cutie Pies” by Dani Cone.

Prep time: 45 minutes, plus time to make the crust  Cook time: 28 minutes

LEMON-BLUEBERRY PIE JARS

  • 4 1/2 cups fresh or thawed frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest, plus additional for garnish (optional)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt
  • All-butter crust (see recipe above)
  • Crumb top, optional (see recipe above)
  • Whipped cream (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place a rack in the center of the oven.

To make the filling, in a large bowl, toss the blueberries with the lemon juice and let soak for 15 minutes, then drain.

In a large bowl, mix together the lemon zest, sugar, cornstarch and salt.

Add the blueberries to the sugar mixture and toss to combine, making sure the blueberries are well coated.

To make the crust, follow the all-butter crust recipe and roll out the dough per the instructions. From the dough, cut eight 2 3/4-inch circles and eight 4-by-8-inch strips. Reroll the dough scraps to make all the circles and strips, being careful to avoid over handling the dough.

Press one circle firmly into the bottom of each mini Mason jar. Then line the sides of each jar with one strip of dough, pressing it into place, leaving about 1/2 inch overhang over the rim of the jar. Once all the jars have been lined, finish the edge of the crust with the fold-tuck-crimp method around the rim of the jar.

Spoon the blueberry filling into the pie jars to about 1/2 inch from the rim of the jar.

Make the crumb top, if desired and sprinkle it over the top of the pie jars.

Bake 25 to 28 minutes, until golden brown.

If not using the crumb top, serve with a dollop of whipped cream, if desired, and a few pieces of lemon zest.

Food, Pie, recipes
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