The Great Apple Butter Sensory Experiment

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Apple Butter Hand Pies

If you're curious how I came by the need to use up epic quantities of apple butter by fabricating hand pies, you can catch up with parts 1 and 2 of The Great Apple Butter Experiment.

If you just happen to have apple butter on hand and want to do something besides enjoying it on toast/pancakes/waffles/ham/pork chops/in pumpkin bread/with a spoon, read on...

Did somebody say sensory diet?
I stumbled across this application when searching for ideas on how to use up a few, um, dozen jars.  Preferably, I was looking for a kid friendly idea I could get Bear involved in.  I wasn't sure about this at first, but I figured if it's good enough for Martha, it's good enough for me. 

Recipe Sources
Though I openly worship at the shrine of Martha, I did not use her recipe on this particular project.  I already had the apple butter and I already had a preferred pie crust recipe.

Pie Crust versus Hand Pie Crust
When I decided to make apple butter hand pies I had recently fabricated nearly 200 mini pasties for a Halloween party (pumpkin pie, apple and a traditional vegetable beef. Yes, it was totally worth it.).
Tasty, tasty heavy work.

Thing is, I made them with a finicky delicate pain in the ass standard pie crust recipe, blissfully ignorant of what should have been this blindingly obvious fact: hand pies typically call for a sturdier, kneaded crust.

If you're confident working with typical pie crust then by all means, go for it.  I can personally attest that the tender, flaky results are worth the effort.

But if you are not either A) experienced with pie crust, or B) a certifiable foodie, then Imma recommend you check out Alton Brown's hand pie crust recipe

Step 1: Crust
Make a bunch of pie crust.  Hand pies are labor intensive, so I won't do less than a quadruple batch. I want plenty to freeze for later so I can experience the pleasure of eating one without hours of work.

I'm a big fan of the food processor for blitzing up pie crust.  My processor easily holds a double recipe, so I can have 4 to 6 crusts worth of dough (depending on how motivated I'm feeling that day) thrown together in under 15 minutes.

I recommend prepping all the dough rounds before you start filling.  I do this in batches, stacking the rounds between wax paper in the fridge.
Never again
The size of your round depends on how big you want your hand pies.  For mini (two or three bite) pies, you can use a big cookie cutter.  I was going for the "suck it, Hostess" size and found the lid to my smallest sauce pan worked perfectly.

Step 2: Filling and Shaping

Mixing egg wash for fine motor practice
Just follow the basic rules of filling hand pies and you'll be fine:

- use less filling than you think you need
- leave the edges clean so the pie will seal
- a little egg wash for glue
- gently press the air out as you fold over
- cut a steam hole

Why yes, this IS too much filling
I received these nifty hand pie presses as a gift, but they only work for one size.  It happens to be the perfect portion for an apple butter hand pie and it's easy for kids to use, so I went with it.

If you don't have one just do what I do the other 90% of the time I'm making variously sized hand pies - fold over and gently crimp with a fork.

Bake or freeze? Eat or save?
Line your pies up on a sheet pan.  Make a couple of steam holes either with a knife or scissors. Place pan in the freezer until the pies are rock hard.  I put them in a plastic food storage container, but a freezer bag will work as long as you don't bang it around too much (the edges will crack off).

Until you've had a lot of practice, you'll probably find the assembled pies start to get overly squishy waiting for the pan to fill.  When this happens I stash the pan in the freezer and simply move the newly assembled pies to it as I complete each one. And it probably goes without saying that I only bring a couple of dough rounds out of the fridge at a time.

Because the apple butter doesn't offer resistance like other fillings, it can be a pain to cut the steam holes without squishing the pie.  I like to let them firm up in the freezer just a bit before cutting the holes.  The trick, of course, is not forgetting to cut the steam holes before they freeze solid.

Step 3: Baking
So excited to eat it we forgot to take a picture first
Bake them off in a 400 degree oven. Times will depend on size and if you started from room temp, fridge temp or frozen.  Start checking on them around 20 minutes; if starting frozen will generally take around 30.  In this case the filling is already cooked, so it's all about browning the pastry.

I like to bake off about a half dozen and freeze the rest.  That way we don't eat ourselves silly and have hand pies at the drop of a hat for weeks.

I love to pop one on my small stoneware pan and stick it in the toaster oven.  Paired with some warm cider or hot chocolate, you have the perfect snack for kids getting off the bus on a cold day.  Or bake off several in the oven for the whole family to enjoy after a Saturday afternoon of sledding. 

Regarding Yield
I can't offer a reliable count on yield because it depends on how big you make your pies. I get roughly four 6" pies from each individual pie crust batch.  I used about 16 ounces of apple butter to make about 16 pies (which makes sense now that I think about it - 2 Tbsp is a reasonable filling quantity for a 6" pie).

If you are going to have the kids help build hand pies there's one last piece of advice I have to offer: make sure you've got more jars on hand than you think you need.  I used two jars to make the pies... and Bear simultaneously ate two jars.  Because all that sensory diet stuff works up an appetite.