Oh, mini pies. At first glance they seem to be the perfect holiday food—small enough to hoard without remorse, great for groups if you choose to share, and so adorable! Take an informal poll of baking enthusiasts, though, and you'll find that mini pies are a proverbial third rail topic of contemporary pie-making. Not since the butter/lard/shortening debate has there been such a divisive topic in the pie community.
You may be wondering what could be so offensive about mini pies. "They are so gosh-darn cute!" you are probably saying. This, we admit, is true. But as appealing as they may seem on someone else's Instagram feed, mini pies can be a one-way ticket to Pie-mageddon in your home kitchen. The tiny portions of dough required to form the shells can quickly become a sticky mess, and forget about trying to weave mini lattice. Furthermore, the miniscule volume of filling that goes into a mini pie goes from cold to scalding in the oven in minutes, boiling over, burning onto the edge of the tin and making these tiny treats impossible to remove in one piece. And for die-hard pie fans, perhaps the most upsetting thing about mini pies is the skewed proportion of crust to filling. (This is unavoidable—you can't roll the crust too thin or you'll end up with holes in your pie shells!)
Still, mini pies have their merits. They are convenient in group settings (slicing is rendered unnecessary) and they allow for a greater range of choice with a fraction of the work. How else can one make crumble pies, lattice pies, and single crust pies all at once, all with different kinds of fruit inside? There's something for everybody, really! And many pie lovers report that the crust is their favorite part, making mini pies ideal. Here at Three Babes, we still prefer a good-old-fashioned slice of pie, and while we don't make mini pies to sell, we our heads together and came up with the following tips to help you bake mini pies that are almost as good as the real deal.
Crust: Work with speed and confidence!
Butter your tin: One advantage to baking mini pies is that you can make several different kinds at once. There is one exception: you'll want to bake custard pies, such as pumpkin or pecan, separately from fruit pies, as fruit pies take longer to cook. All can be made using a standard muffin tin. It's essential, however, that you butter your muffin tin very generously. The tiny amount of filling inside of each mini pie will quickly heat up and will likely puff up or boil over. Baked-on filling can make it impossible to remove each pie from the tin, which will ruin your dreams of perfect presentation. The solution? Melt butter, and then use a brush to generously grease your muffin tin, including the top of the pan.
Roll your crust into a rectangle: When making a full-sized pie, we use a French (tapered) rolling pin to ensure that each roll-out stays perfectly circular. For mini pies, you'll want to end up with a number of evenly sized circles, and rolling your dough into a rectangular shape means that you can get more shells from each rollout. As with full-sized pies, keep your dough cold so that you can work with it more easily, and be sure to flour your surface well so that you'll be able to easily remove your circles of dough once they've been cut. Roll your dough to an even thickness of about 1/8th of an inch. To make a dozen mini pies, you'll need a double recipe of regular pie crust.
Use the lid of a takeout container to create a perfectly sized shell: If you have a large circular biscuit cutter, you can use it to cut out circles of dough, but the lid of a standard takeout container and a pizza slicer work just as well. Transfer your circles of dough to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and chill for at least 30 minutes before using them.
Keep your dough cold: The heat from your hands can quickly turn your mini roll-outs into a melty disaster! Working quickly, fit the circles of dough into the muffin tin, pressing the center down first, and then fitting the dough in so that it is in full contact with the corners and sides of the muffin cups. (No air bubbles!) Place in the refrigerator to chill while you mix your fillings.
Filling: Almost the same, just mini!
Custard filling for standard pies translates easily into the mini pie format, but fruit pies are another matter. Because mini pies are so tiny, you'll need to slice your fruit into smaller pieces so that it will fit more easily into the mini shells and will cook more quickly. For apple pies, we recommend pre-cooking the fruit, as there is nothing worse than an apple pie with an overdone crust and undercooked apples. For mini pecan pies, toast your pecans in advance for 12-15 minutes at 375°F.
Fill your shells up to the top! As we mentioned in tip #1 (butter your muffin tin!) the filling will puff up and then sink, so make sure you pour enough of it in there.
Toppings: Here's where it gets super duper adorable!
Lattice: It's nearly impossible to weave a mini lattice like you would on a normal pie because the strips are so thin that they warm and become impossible to work with almost immediately. But you can achieve the same result by cutting very thin strips with a sharp knife or pizza slicer, chilling well, and then laying them across the top off the mini pies, one way and then the other. Trim the edges off, and then press the ends of the strips into the edge of the bottom crust. If your lattice strips are difficult to work with, chill the whole tin of mini pies in the freezer for 5-10 minutes before completing this step. Brush with cream and sprinkle with sugar for a well-browned mini masterpiece!
Crumble: Crumble is the easiest topping to work with on mini pies. Just sprinkle it generously over the top of your fruit filling and you are good to go!
Custard: For pecan or pumpkin, simply pour in the filling until it comes close to about 1/8th of an inch from the top edge of the shell.
Baking: Mini pies take far less time to bake than standard pies. Bake them in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, then rotate and bake for 5-10 minutes, removing when they are very well browned.
After removing the mini pies from the oven, allow them to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing them with an offset spatula and placing them on a sheet pan to cool completely. (You'll want to remove them from the pan while still slightly warm to prevent the cooked sugar from hardening, which will make it impossible to get the mini pies without mangling the crust.)
Now that you've got the lowdown on perfecting your pies, check out these recipes for pecan, apple, and pear-cranberry crumble mini pies.
About the author: Lenore Estrada is the co-owner, along with Anna Derivi-Castellanos, of Three Babes Bakeshop, a pie business in San Francisco committed to promoting organic farming methods and encouraging people to create positive change in their own communities via their purchasing choices and their actions. You can follow Three Babes on Twitter @threebabesbake and on Instagram @threebabes.