These are much more fun to make than a large 9-inch (23 cm) pie crust.
They don’t take as long to bake, which is great if you are looking for a quick dessert. And it can be even quicker if you make the dough ahead of time and store it in the freezer!
‘‘Impress Your Grandma’’ Pie Crust
In my family, Grandma is the queen of pie crusts. Her pies are always flaky, never tough. What’s her secret? My sister and I called it “grandma hands,” because she is such a gentle person and always handles the dough so delicately.
I try to channel my grandmother’s approach when making this recipe, taking care to not overmix the dough. Although her recipe included canola oil, I prefer an all-butter crust for flavor, as well as the addition of some whole wheat flour for extra nutrients. For a flaky pie crust, make sure all the ingredients are very cold. This crust is very versatile, and can be used for sweet and savory applications, including the mini hand pies later in this chapter, quiches, and pot pies. Although I have never made this pie crust for my grandmother, I think she would be impressed.
Use Seasonal Fillings
The filling below is for spring and summer berries, but feel free to swap in diced apples or pears, or even some spiced pumpkin puree mixed with ricotta cheese for a warming fall treat. If you would like to use frozen fruit, allow it to thaw first and drain any excess liquid before proceeding with the recipe.
Mini Hand Pies
- 1 “Impress Your Grandma” Pie Crust chilled
- sugar for sprinkling
For Dough (“Impress Your Grandma” Pie Crust):
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons ice water, or as needed
- 1 cup strawberries or other berry, diced into 1/2-inch (1.3 cm) cubes
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon sugar
For Egg Wash:
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon water
For the Dough (“Impress Your Grandma” Pie Crust)
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flours and salt. Set aside.
- Using a bench scraper, cut the butter into pea-size pieces and place on a plate; chill in the freezer for 5 minutes. * Tips for smaller hands: This is a handy trick that I learned from a fellow cook while I was working in a restaurant. To avoid handling the butter and warming it, use your bench scraper to cut up the butter. Show children how to make the same size cubes by cutting the butter into 4 slices lengthwise. Then stack the slices on top of each other and make 4 more slices lengthwise, turning the slices into strips. Stack the sticks to make the shape of a stick of butter, and then slice across the stick to form cubes. It is more important that the pieces of butter are a consistent size, even if they are not quite the size of peas.
- Fill a liquid measuring cup with cold water and place an ice cube in it. Set aside.
- Once your butter is very cold, add it to your flour mixture and gently toss with a wooden spoon. If some butter pieces are still clinging together, gently break them up with your fingers as you sprinkle the butter into the flour. *Tips for smaller hands: There is no need to smash the butter into the flour at this point. Show your child how to toss the flour to make sure that each cube is coated before proceeding to the next step.
- Use a pastry cutter, 2 butter knives, or light fingertips to cut the butter into the flour until the mixture looks like wet sand with some visible pieces of butter scattered throughout. Do not overmix.
- Add the ice water to the flour mixture 1 tablespoon (15 ml) at a time, and stir with a spoon. Once you have added 2 tablespoons (30 ml), try to smash the dough into a ball. If the dough sticks together, then there is enough water. If the dough is still crumbly and doesn’t hold together, then add more water. Once the dough adheres together, spread a sheet of plastic wrap on your work surface. Turn the dough onto the plastic, wrap tightly, and chill for at least 1 hour or until ready to use. *Tips for smaller hands: Explain to children that you will not necessarily need all the water, but you place it in a cup to chill it with an ice cube. Having it in a cup makes it easier to measure 1 tablespoon (15 ml) at a time. Many times during my cooking classes I’ve had children dump in all the water in the cup, and it makes their dough goopy and hard to handle.
For the Pies:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C, or gas mark 4).
- For the filling, mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and macerate (soften) for 5 minutes. *Tips for smaller hands: Children can easily slice strawberries with a butter knife. Berries like blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries can be left whole. Make sure your child zests the lemon slowly to prevent accidents!
- For the egg wash, use a fork or whisk to mix together the egg wash ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
- Before rolling out your pie crust, generously flour your work surface. Wooden countertops or a large cutting board are great places to roll out your pie crust, but any clean and smooth work surface will do. Rub the rolling pin with a small amount of flour as well. *Tips for smaller hands: Show children how to flour the work surface. For this recipe you actually want a decent bit of flour spread evenly on the work surface. Demonstrate how to sprinkle a handful of flour and spread it around with your hands. Make sure that they aren’t just making a pile of flour.
- Using your rolling pin, flatten the dough until it is about 1⁄8 inch (3 mm) thick. Try to keep the dough in a circle by turning the dough a quarter turn each time you roll the rolling pin back and forth. If the dough starts to stick to the work surface, use a bench scraper to gently loosen it. Add a small amount of flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, place nearby, and begin to cut out your hand pies. Cut out the circles using a wide-mouth canning jar ring and place on the baking sheet. If the dough circles begin to get too warm, place them in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes. Gather up any scraps and reroll the dough. You should be able to make 8 to 10 circles with all the dough. Take half of the dough circles and gently roll out slightly thinner and wider than the other half of the circles, about 41⁄2 inches (11.5 cm) in diameter. You will use these as the tops of the pies. (Roll them out thinner to make sure the tops are large enough to cover the mound of filling.) *Tips for smaller hands: Cut the dough in half for children. It is easier to roll out smaller amounts of dough to start. To avoid overworking the dough, try this game. Children often start using cookie cutters in the smack dab middle of the dough and you end up only being able to fit in a few circles before you have to gather all the scraps and reroll it. Instead, try to see how many circles they can fit in the dough before they begin cutting. They can use the cutter to make small dents in the surface of the dough to show you how many they can fit. For really young children this is also a great opportunity to practice counting.
- Once you are ready to begin assembling the pies, gather your egg wash and filling. Use a pastry brush to apply a small amount of egg wash on the outside rim of the dough. Place 2 tablespoons (30 g) of filling in the center and top with the larger piece of dough. Gently press around the sides of the filling to allow any air to escape and press around the edges to seal. Press the edges with the tines of a fork to reinforce the seal and make a pretty pattern. Repeat with the remaining dough. *Tips for smaller hands: Have children spoon the filling and use the fork to seal the edges. Make sure they do not use too much force and press all the way through with the fork.
- Brush the tops of the pies with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Using a sharp paring knife, make 5 small air vents to allow the steam from the fruit to escape while baking. Chill the assembled pies in the fridge for 10 minutes before placing in the oven. *Tips for smaller hands: Have children brush the pies with egg wash. Make sure they allow the egg to drip off the brush into the bowl to avoid putting too much egg wash on the pies. Children can sprinkle the sugar, but make sure they are sprinkling from a few feet above the pies to distribute the sugar evenly.
- Bake the pies 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tops and bottom are an even golden brown. Because the fruit filling is saucy, be sure to cook until golden brown to ensure that the pie crust isn’t soggy. Serve warm with a dollop of whipped cream!