Mini Apple Pie(s)

How is it November already? Last I checked it was June and I was making mini cakes for two sweet little boys. Now it’s November and I’m making mini pies for Thanksgiving. Maybe I should change the title of this blog to Mini Baking with Rachel!

Yet, here we are, still at home and trying to make sense of a family holiday that requires social distancing. Hence the mini pies.

Are you spending Thanksgiving by yourself or know someone that is? Bake mini pies and take one to a loved one. Little acts of kindness go a long way during these trying times. By making four mini pies, you will have plenty for everyone!

If you are wondering what apples to use for pie, have no fear! I wrote a guide for Simply Recipes to help you decide. I prefer Honeycrisp or Pink Lady, but feel free to use whatever apples you have on hand. Ideally, you are looking for apples that hold their shape when baked and have a balanced flavor.

The apple pies can be wrapped and frozen unbaked or baked. Your choice! If unbaked, add 7 minutes to the baking time. If baked, thaw in the refrigerator overnight and warm in the oven at 350℉ for 10 minutes, until crisp and warmed all the way through.

Store baked pies at room temperature for up to two days or in the refrigerator for 4 days. Serve warm apple pie with a scoop of ice cream for a classic combination.

Directions:

Yield: 4 mini 5 inch double crust apple pies

Active time: 30 minutes

Chilling time: 2 hours & 20 minutes

Bake time: 25-30 minutes

Double All-Butter Pie Crust:

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 ½ teaspoons Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt (1 ¾  if using Morton)
  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks butter), cold and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • ½ cup cold water

Apple Filling:

  • 4 tart medium apples, such as Honeycrisp or Pink Lady
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

To Finish:

  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Sparkling sugar or raw sugar

Supplies:

Directions:

Add flour, sugar and salt to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a dough blade. Add cubed butter and pulse 5-8 times, until butter is the size of small peas. Drizzle in water and cider vinegar and pulse for a few seconds until the mixture starts to clump around the sides of the bowl. Dump onto a floured counter and knead for a few times to shape into a ball. The ball should be firm with butter visible. Divide dough into two equal pieces. Shape into balls and saran wrap. Press slightly to form disks and put in the refrigerator. It is usable after two hours. If frozen, pull and put in the refrigerator the night before making pie.

Peel, core, and slice apples. Cut the slices in half for shorter pieces. Put all the apples in a large bowl. Gently mix in sugar, flour, lemon juice, salt, cinnamon and cloves.

Take 1 pie dough disk out of the fridge and cut into 4 equal pieces. Sprinkle the counter with flour. Roll out one piece of dough into a 7 inch circle. Flour the dough and rolling pin as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Place the dough into one of the pie pans and press gently to form the dough to the bottom of the pan and allowing the excess to drape over the edge. Repeat with remaining 3 pieces of dough.

Heap equal amounts of filling into each pie, creating a slight dome shape.

Take the remaining disk out of the refrigerator. Flour the counter again and divide into 4 equal pieces. Roll one piece at a time into a 7 inch circle. Choose your own adventure for the top crust! It’s important to work quickly so that the dough stays cold. Feel free to keep the other pieces of dough in the refrigerator if you need more time to allow your creative, perfectionist self shine.

  • To make the lattice top crust, cut the circle into equal strips about ¼ inch thick. Place the center strip horizontally in the middle of the pie. Space the next strips to the left and right of the middle strip  ½ an inch apart. Continue adding horizontal strips until you reach the end of the crust (usually 5 strips total). Weave the remaining strips laterally, alternating to create a basket weave.
  • Alternately, use a small cookie cutter or donut hole cutter to cut circles out of the rolled out top crust. Shingle the circles around the top of the pie.
  • For a third option, place the rolled out dough on top of the apple filling and cut steam slits in the top.

Once the top crust is on the pie, use scissors to trim the excess dough to 1 inch overhang. Roll the excess up onto itself so that the dough is at the edge of the pan. Flute or crimp edges to secure the top crust to the bottom crust.

Refrigerate pies for 20 minutes, or until the dough is cold. Heat the oven to 375℉. In a small bowl, use a fork to mix the egg yolk and cream. Use a pastry brush to brush on to the top crust. Sprinkle with sparkling sugar or raw sugar, if desired.

Place pies on a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes . Check at 15 minutes and rotate pan for even browning. The pies are done when the crust is deeply golden brown and the filling is slightly bubbling.

Serve warm or at room temperature for best flavor.

Strawberry Smash Cake

Anyone feeling like smashing things? The dirty dinner dishes? Your child’s phone? Racial injustice? I have just the cake for you. The Smash Cake.

Typically smash cakes are small cakes given to babies for the first birthday. This trend must have started sometime in the last decade because my children were unfortunate enough to have cupcakes for the first birthday. My friend’s twin boys hit the jackpot. The birthday boys each had his very own cake to smash. It was glorious! I made a three-layer version of this cake for each of them plus a regular size cake for the parents. The boys smashed and ate and then smashed and ate some more. I’m still smiling at the pictures. I can totally see why this is a thing.

Maybe you need a mini cake to celebrate or a fun baking project to tackle but I implore you to make this cake! I can can go on and on about its good qualities. Its the perfect size for two and uses a mere half cup of flour for those of us finding flour hard to stock. The cake is tender and sturdy and being butter-less, it pairs perfectly with rich cream cheese frosting. Also, the cake holds up quite well without drying out. The strawberry filling is literally pureed strawberries which I love this time of year.

Overhead view of vanilla cake for two with a slice on a plate.

A sponge cake gets its structure from whipped eggs and sugar. A dash of flour, baking soda and salt is all that is needed to finish. Though easy to make, a sponge cake differs from most American-style butter cakes. Butter cakes start with creaming sugar with butter, adding eggs and then altering the addition of dry ingredients and milk. The finished butter cake is heftier and denser than the light and springy sponge cake.

There are many different ways to make a sponge cake. Some recipes add melted butter to the batter, some warm the eggs and sugar before whipping, others separate the eggs. I love this one because of its pure simplicity.

Slice of layered strawberry mini cake on a plate.

If you are new to sponge cakes (or cake baking in general), here are a few tips to ensure success. Knowing when the eggs are whipped sufficiently and when the cake is completely cooked are essential.

  • Pull eggs, butter and cream cheese out of the refrigerator an hour before starting so that they have a chance to warm to room temperature.
  • Clean mixer bowl and whisk with soap and water and dry thoroughly before starting. This will help the eggs whip properly.
  • Check that the batter is fully whipped by letting it drip from the whisk into the bowl. If the drips don’t immediately incorporate into the rest of the batter, then you know its ready to add the flour.
  • When baking, test for doneness by gently pressing on the top of the cake. Your finger should not leave an impression when done. The cake will feel slightly “springy”.

I hope this mini layer cake brings a smile to your face and joy to your heart.

Mini Strawberry Vanilla Smash Cake

Makes one 4- layer (or two 2- layer) 5 inch cakes

Adapted from Natasha’s Kitchen

Cake Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (half if using table salt)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Frosting Ingredients:

  • 8 tablespoons cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Green food coloring

Strawberry Filling:

  • 1/2 pound strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, if desired

Cake Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees (or 325 for convection). Spray two 5×3 round pans with cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and spray the parchment.

Two mini cake pans on parchment.

Whisk flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, use the whisk attachment and whisk on medium to combine the eggs for one minute. Turn the mixer to high and add in the sugar and vanilla extract. Continue for a minute and then stop and scrape the bowl with a flexible spatula. Return mixer to high and continue for 8 minutes. The mixture will be very thick and look like stiff whipped cream. Stop the mixer and test to see if the batter is ready. Drip batter off the whisk and in the mixer bowl, look to see if the impression is visible on top of the batter for a couple of seconds or if it’s completely absorbed. If completely absorbed then mix for another minute and test again.

Take bowl off mixer and sift 1/3 flour mixture over whipped eggs. The salt may not fit through the mesh so just pour on top. Use a flexible spatula and gently stir in flour. I like to fold from the bottom of the bowl to the top. Once combined, sift another 1/3 flour over bowl and fold in again. Finish off with the rest of the flour and do a final fold to make sure all the flour is combined. I found this to take longer than I thought so be patient. It may take as much as 15 folds each time. The flour tends to hide so make sure to work your way around the bowl.

Scrape into pans and set in middle of oven. Shut door and don’t open again until the cakes are golden brown, about 20 minutes, check cakes. They are done once they gently spring back when pressed. Could take as long as 25 minutes. Remove pans from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Run a small spatula down and around the sides of the pan to release cake. Turn out cake onto cooling rack and let cool completely, about an hour.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

Add all ingredients to the stand mixer and mix on medium for about 5 minutes or until thick, fluffy and easily spreadable. To make the green leaf decoration on the top of the cake, scoop 1 tablespoon of frosting into a small bowl and add a few drops of green food coloring to achieve the desired green.

Matcha frosting with blue food coloring added.

Strawberry Filling:

Look through strawberries and pick out the prettiest one and set aside. Hull the rest of the strawberries and cut large ones in half. Process in a food processor until the consistency of thick applesauce. Mix in a tablespoon of sugar to taste.

Cake Assembly:

Once the cakes are completely cool, use a bread knife to cut each cake into equal rounds. On a small plate or cake board, set one cake layer with the cut side up. Use a slotted spoon to spoon strawberry mixture to the edges. Take a second layer and spread cream cheese frosting on cut side. Lay cream cheese side down on top of strawberry filling. Continue by adding strawberry filling to the top of the second round and cream cheese to the bottom of a third round. Add strawberry filling to the cut side of the third round and cream cheese to the cut side of the fourth round. The top of the cake should be the bottom of the fourth round.

Get on eye level with the cake and adjust until straight and center it on the plate. Using an offset spatula, scoop frosting on the top and spread to the edges. Scrape off spatula to remove crumbs and continue adding frosting to the sides, scraping off crumbs as you go until the whole cake is coated to desired thickness.

Use a spoon to make a swoop of green frosting in the center of the cake and set the prettiest strawberry on top.

Serve or cover loosely in saran wrap and refrigerate. Let cake come to room temperature before serving for best flavor and texture. Refrigerate leftovers in an air-tight container for up to 3 days.

Salted Caramel Sauce

How’s everyone doing? Staying sane? I keep forgetting to brush my teeth so I’m working on that. The good news is I finally read the cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking and it drastically improved my cooking. I still have a lot to digest but the chapter on salt made the biggest impact.

According to Samin (author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking) the type of salt used determines the amount needed in a recipe. I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt and it turns out that I need about double the amount usually called for to properly season even the simplest of muffins. Check out this chart on how much salt is needed per 1 cup of flour for batters and doughs: Fine Sea Salt – 3/4 teaspoon, Table Salt – 2/3 teaspoon, Morton’s Kosher Salt – 3/4 teaspoon, Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt – 1 1/8 teaspoon. Is your mind blown?? I was shocked at the differences. Yet my math skills are paying off because I do think my food has never tasted better.

After reading the book (this is how I refer to it now: The Book and Mike knows what book I’m talking about), I knew I had to try one of the recipes. I decided on the salted caramel sauce for multiple reasons. 1. I actually had the ingredients in my house. 2. I’ve dabbled in caramel over the years but never found a recipe that was so perfect it needed to be made more than once. I’ve made caramel for apples that was too runny and took too long. I’ve made caramel candy so soft that I used it as a sauce. These problems most likely stem from not being to accurately read my ancient candy thermometer. 3. Recipe didn’t require a candy thermometer.

Needless to say, I’m completely smitten. I’ve made it four times in the last couple weeks. The dark amber sauce coats the back of a spoon and adds a layer of decadence to any dessert. I pour it over brownies, drizzle it on top of ice cream or dip apples for a wholesome quarantine snack. Take a spoonful and let it melt on your tongue and enjoy the indulgence that comes from such simple ingredients as butter, sugar and cream.

I can’t recommend this cookbook enough. Or the caramel sauce for that matter. I hope you are all finding inspiration and joy in the midst of all that is going on in the world. Stay healthy everyone!

Salted Caramel Sauce

Makes 8 ounces

Slightly adapted from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking

Who knew caramel was so simple! No candy thermometer or special ingredients. It moves fast so don’t walk away from the stove. If the sauce separates during cooking just whisk in a splash of hot water to bring it all back together.

Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt (half if using table salt)

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, melt butter on medium and then whisk in sugar and increase heat to medium-high. Stir until the mixture comes to a boil and then stop stirring. Brown spots will be visible in the pan. Give it one gentle swish so the caramel browns evenly. Continue cooking until deep amber in color and starts to smoke, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully whisk in heavy cream. Cool the caramel for 30 minutes and then add the vanilla and salt. Depending on the type of salt you use, you may need less so taste and adjust. The sauce will thicken as it cools.

To serve: Let caramel cool to room temperature and pour over ice cream or use as a dip for apples. Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to a month. Warm leftovers in the microwave for 10-15 seconds and stir before serving.