You could say the holidays are pie season, but we have yet to find a time of year when pies are not great to eat. The very best pies are homemade. These mini-pies are an excellent way to start your pie making journey, and if you are already experienced, they are just a fun variation your family will love. Pies come in all shapes and sizes but these hand pies deliver a great crust to filling ratio, you will want to give them a go!
Pies, like so much ‘old-timey’ cooking were used as a storage technique. A sturdy crust could protect cooked meats for months in cool storage. Yep, meat, especially fowl. That was the core ingredient for about the first two thousand years pies were around. Fruit pies, sweet pies as we know them, come very late in the game, just the last few hundred years.
Just to be clear, they’re not really an American invention, although we certainly adopted and adapted them well. We don’t know the first Thanksgiving dinner menu, but it likely included pies.
Again, pies pf that era were meat based and savory, often included dried fruits, with healthy dose of seasonings from pepper to cinnamon to nutmeg. We’re familiar with the most common savory pie of our day, Quiche, short Quiche Lorraine, a cheese custard pie with bits of bacon.
Mini Tarts for Beginners
You’d think folks could just enjoy a simple piece of pie in peace. But naturally, there is great division in the world of pie nomenclature. The strict definition of pie is a filling in a pastry crust topped with a layer of crust. An open top is considered a tart.
This makes our recipe here very confusing. We don’t put a top layer pf crust, but we are going for a rustic look, curling the dough toward the top, not quite enclosing it entirely. Lebel that if you dare. We’re sticking with mini pies.
Making Mini Pie Crusts
Interestingly, we don’t know the recipes for pie crusts in old Europe. The speculation is that they were so common everyone knew how to slap them out. They were often not made to be eaten (the storage thing again) even referred to as ‘cofyns’, meaning box, and were baked rock hard to endure and protect the filling.
Edible crusts are simply shortening, flour, salt and some liquid. Shortening can include lard or any rendered fat, or butter and vegetable based solid oils. Liquid is commonly water, we use milk because my Mumu, Finnish great grandma, said so. That being said, let the variations begin. From the flour choices, to sugars, to flavors like citrus or even vinegar; there are probably thousands of variations of crust.
An important step to getting the ever sought after flaky dough is the process of working the shortening into the flour. I learned the two-knife method, then learned a pastry cutter, and only recently learned using a food processor. In all methods, the goal is to get the shortening into small pieces in the flour. When you roll that out it creates the fine layering that cooks into the flakiness and delicate crust texture for your pie.
That means the steps of mixing dough, and what we call working the dough, rolling it out, should happen fairly quickly. If you over work the dough, it will lose the flaky characteristic and can become tougher. Cut in the shortening, just a couple pulses on the food processor, to get to the pea stage, where the shortening is in pea sized little lumps. Then mix in the liquid just enough to bind it as dough. I tend to work with a slightly moister dough and keep my surface well-floured while quickly rolling the dough out.
With fruit pies we love to hate the natural juices that come out of fruit when cooking. Which, when you think about it is the amazing part of pie. This incredibly juicy and moist filling surrounded by the crisp and flaky dry dough. But I digress. Nicely ripened fruits put out a lot of juice in general, how much will vary somewhat between varieties. Your filling needs a binder of some kind to trap that and make it into the thicker texture we associate with pies. One that won’t run all over and make your crust get soggy quickly.
The three most common thickeners for fruit pies are corn starch and flour, and tapioca. Flour creates a creaminess, somewhat opaque, that I associate with apple pie, although it is effective for any fruits. Cornstarch only needs half the volume as flour to be effective, and it gives a clearer more jelly like texture. That is what we used in this recipe. Tapioca will always be associated with my mom’s strawberry rhubarb pie in my mind. The tapioca will soften up and absorb liquid and flavor, while releasing some starches to thicken the filling around it. It creates a unique look with little translucent beads in your pie. It does not add flavor, your pie will not taste like tapioca pudding.
Tips and tricks for making tarts
We used local blueberries we picked and froze. Frozen berries will tend to give off more liquid right away. If you are using fresh berries feel free to stir the raw filling in a slightly aggressive manner. Crushing a few berries to release their juice will help disperse the cornstarch more evenly. Letting the filling sit for 15-20 minutes also allows both berries to juice out a bit for better filling.
This is a rustic looking pie. You can certainly roll the dough out from 12 rounds for a more precise look. But is quick and easy to get them roughly equal, shape them in the cups, then droop the edges to the middle
We are using what is called a Texas muffin pan which creates a great sized mini-pie. If you use a standard cupcake size the recipe will yield 24 as opposed to 12. Cooking times will only vary slightly. You need the filling to boil to set the thickener.
Speaking of boiling, homemade fruit pies are notorious for overflowing, these little guys are not an exception. It should easily stay contained within the cups however. That makes it important to get them out of the pan while warm but safe to touch. Immediately filling the pans in hot water made them clean up easily.
Mini Pies Recipe
- 1 Cup Strawberries
- 2 Cups Blueberries
- ½ Cup Sugar
- ¼ Cup Corn starch
- ½ Teaspoon Salt
- 3 Cups All-purpose flour
- 1 Cup Shortening
- ¾ Cup Cold milk
- 1-½ Teaspoons Salt
- Wash, hull and cut strawberries into bowl
- Add blueberries
- Add sugar, corn starch and salt, mix well
- In food processor add flour, shortening and salt
- Pulse until crumbly
- Add milk, pulse until just mixed
- Move dough to well-floured counter or board
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Divide dough in two and roll out to about 1/8” thick
- Cut into six roughly even pieces
- Put dough into ungreased cups
- Press to uniformly cover the sides and shape the edges to reach the top
- Add ¼ cup of filling to each cup
- Pull the upper edges of the dough from the sides toward the center of each cup
- Bake 20-25 minutes until the filling is bubbly
- Let cool until safe to touch, remove, serve and enjoy.