As soon as the apples come into season, I get a hankering for pie. There are a lot of pies – Shaker Lemon, Peach Melba, and Banoconut – that I count among my favorites, but I’m a sucker for nostalgia, and there’s really nothing more American than, well, apple pie. And with so many apples currently at the farmer’s markets, I feel the need to taste test them all. And, logic would have it that most apples are best taste tested in pie — right?
The only problem is that I’m a crust fanatic and I’ll always favor a buttery, crisp crust to any filling it could hold. So, I make hand pies. There’s a touch more involved than a single-crust pie (read: a few more minutes of rolling, folding, and crimping required) but the result is a handheld, transportable pie that’s just enough bites to keep me satisfied yet few enough that I don’t risk pie fatigue.
Lately I’ve been playing around with this apple hand pie that rides the line of sweet and savory. I like sauteed 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. And it works really nicely together. The nutty Gouda and the herbal thyme folds in with the sweet, spiced apples like they’ve long been the best of friends.
Spiced Apple-Thyme-Gouda Hand Pie Recipe
Makes: 22 to 24 hand pies
For the crust:
3 cups all-purpose flour (about 13 oz)
1 tablespoon unrefined cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces (16 tbsp) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water
For the filling:
1 pound (about 2 medium) Golden Delicious, Gala, or Pink Lady apples
1 cup shredded aged Gouda or Cheddar (about 3 oz)
1/3 cup unrefined cane sugar
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons heavy cream or milk, for wash
Turbinado or sanding sugar, for garnish
For the crust:
In a large bowl, mix together flour, salt, and sugar until well combined. Using clean hands, add butter and toss until just coated. Rub butter between thumb and forefingers to incorporate into flour mixture until butter is in lima bean-sized pieces and rub into flour mixture until mixture forms pea-size pieces (some big chunks should remain) and comes together in fist-sized clumps when squeezed, about 1 minute.
Drizzle in half ice water and rake through mixture with fingers until just moistened. Drizzle in 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. Dough is moist enough when it is moistened through but is not wet when pressed. (Do not overwork the dough or it will become tough.)
While rotating the bowl with 1 hand, push dough between other palm and side of bowl to gather into a ball. Turn dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, press it into a flat disk, then close in wrap. Place in coldest part of refrigerator (usually back bottom shelf) at least 30 minutes before rolling out and forming into a crust.
For the filling:
Peel the apples and cut into a small (1/4-inch) dice. Combine everything in a large bowl and toss to combine. Set aside.
Divide dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. On a clean, flat, lighlty floured surface, roll 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 dough as needed until you have 12 rounds. Repeat with remaining half of dough until you have another 12 rounds (24 total). (Can be done up to 2 days ahead. Store covered in refrigerator or freezer until ready to use.)
Place 1 tbs of the filling in each round and divide softened butter evenly among rounds. Beat the egg whites with until smooth then brush the perimeter of each round with a bit of the egg whites. Fold round over the filling so hand pie is in a half moon shape. Press to seal the edge then use a fork dipped in flour to crimp the edge. Repeat to make all the hand pies. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and freeze at least 20 minutes to set up. (Can be done up to 1 month ahead. Once frozen, place in an airtight container and store until ready to use.)
When ready to bake the hand pies, heat oven to 400°F and arrange racks in upper and lower third. Meanwhile, combine remaining egg yolks and cream or milk in a small bowl and beat with a fork until smooth. Slice three small slits in the top of the pies as vents then brush tops with egg wash and sprinkle generously with sanding sugar.
Bake, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until hand pies are crisp, set, and tops and bottoms of pies are golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Set aside for a few minutes to cool slightly before serving.