We know, that sounds like hyperbole but seriously pretty much any and everything is improved by their presence. Road trips are better, breakfast is sweeter, and holidays that much simpler.
Yes, these are essentially apple pies, which is as American as can be. But the addition of fresh thyme, cinnamon, and shredded cheese means they ride the line of sweet and savory. Translation: they'd be just as at home on a dunk and slather appetizer platter as they would as for afternoon coffee or dessert.
Before we go any farther we should talk for a sec about hand pies. While it's said the Greeks were the first ones to have the genius idea to wrap pastry around all sorts of fillings, the hand pie is a more recent creation.
You can take a look at pretty much any classic cookbook from Britain and you'll see a sort of hand pie (often called pasties) pop up in many a page. But the recipe we call a hand pie here in the States? That comes straight from the South.
A traditional Southern hand pie actually uses a twist on biscuit dough for the crust and the filling is historically something akin to dried fruit. These days you'll see all sorts of twists on that with many people simply making handheld forms of their favorite pie (like we've done here) and coining it a hand pie.
So, no, this recipe is a not an uber traditional hand pie because it's made with pie dough and the filling is a twist on classic Apple Pie.
In fact, the origin of this recipe is from a lot of different places yet simultaneously from nowhere. I like sauteéd apples with thyme on my pork chops, apples and aged Gouda as a snack, and classic apple pie in the fall, so I combined them all in these bitty hand pies.
Without a doubt the sweet-savory nature of these hand pies means that it's a bit more of a grown up dessert than one that kids would like. But you could take this recipe and tweak it to your liking. Here are a few twists we fully endorse:
divided, plus additional flour for rolling the dough
cut into small pieces, plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, for filling
(about 2 medium)
(about 3 ounces)
for wash, for garnish
Make The Pie Crust: In a large bowl, mix together the 3 cups of measured flour, 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt until well combined. Using clean hands, add the 16 tablespoons of diced cold unsalted butter and toss until the butter is just coated in the flour. Rub the butter between your thumb and forefingers to incorporate into flour mixture until the butter is in lima bean-sized and pea-size pieces. When the mixture is squeezed, it should hold together in fist-sized clumps.
Drizzle half of the ice water over the flour mixture and, holding your hand like a claw, rake through mixture with fingers until just starting to get evenly moistened. Drizzle in the remaining water 1 tablespoon at a time and comb through mixture with fingers to moisten. It will go from being a shaggy mess to coming together. The dough is moist enough when it is evenly hydrated but is not wet or sticky when pressed. (Do not overwork the dough or it will become tough.)
While rotating the bowl with one hand, push dough between the second hand's palm and side of bowl to gather into two balls. Turn the dough balls onto a piece of plastic wrap, press them into flat disks, then close it in the wrap. Place the disks of dough in coldest part of refrigerator (usually back bottom shelf) at least 30 minutes before rolling out and forming into a crust.
The dough can be made up to 1 month ahead and stored in the freezer in a resealable plastic bag. Just be sure to let it fully defrost before using.
Prepare The Filling: Peel the apples and cut into a small (1/4-inch) dice. Combine the apples with the remaining 2 tablespoons of the measured flour, all the shredded cheese, the remaining 5 tablespoons of the granulated sugar, the 1/4 teaspoon salt, all the thyme, all the lemon juice and zest, the vanilla, and the cinnamon in a large bowl and toss to combine. Set aside.
Assemble The Hand Pies: Divide the dough disk in half and return one half to the refrigerator. On a clean, flat, lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a circle with an 1/8-inch thickness. Use a 4-inch biscuit cutter to cut into rounds. Place rounds on a baking sheet and chill until ready to use. Chill remaining dough briefly (about 5 minutes) then reroll and cut dough as needed until you have 12 rounds. Repeat with remaining half of dough until you have another 10 rounds (20 total).
The dough can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Store covered in refrigerator or freezer until ready to use. This set of biscuit cutters is perfect for a number of recipes.
Place 1 scant tablespoon of the filling in each dough round and divide softened butter evenly among the dough rounds. Beat the egg whites until smooth, then brush the perimeter of each round with a bit of the egg whites. Fold the round over the filling so hand pie is in a half moon shape. Use your fingers to press down to seal the edge then, using a fork lightly dipped in flour, crimp the edge to make sure the pie is fully closed. Repeat to make all the hand pies. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and freeze at least 20 minutes to set up.
The pies can be filled up to 2 months ahead. Once frozen place in an airtight container and store until ready to use. You can bake them directly from the freezer though they'll need a few more minutes to be fully cooked.
Bake The Hand Pies: When ready to bake the hand pies, heat the oven to 400°F and arrange racks in upper and lower third. Meanwhile, combine remaining egg yolks and cream or milk (it can also be water) in a small bowl and beat with a fork until smooth. Use a sharp knife to slice three small vents in the top of the pies then brush tops with egg wash and sprinkle generously with sanding or turbinado sugar.
Bake, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until hand pies are crisp, set, and tops and bottoms of pies are golden brown and the filling is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Set aside for a few minutes to cool slightly before serving.
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