I’ve been fond of miniatures since I was a girl, and at one point built my own dollhouse (from a kit), decorated and furnished it. The collecting of tiny, to-scale household items, particularly for the kitchen (to which I even made tiny baked goods), was a large part of my creative world as a youngster, and I still dabble in all things tiny.
[T]hat includes dessert. Another childhood obsession was a page from my mother’s 1950s “Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book,” which featured a tiered selection of miniature pies in an array of flavors, from chocolate cream to latticed cherry. My mom said she’d find me studying that page of pies often, and we laughed after I got myself a reprinted version of the cookbook and still found myself drawn to those little pies, under their spell as an adult.
[L]ast year for Thanksgiving, instead of sinking my whole pie-making investment into one or two finished desserts, I returned to my roots and down-sized. I would take my crusts and fillings and put them together in smaller dimensions for multiple pies.
[P]art of my impetus was from my mother, gone since 2019. Years earlier, she had gifted me some tiny pie pans — perfectly proportioned versions of large pie tins. The set of four she gave me, sad to mention, had gone unused…I had always been meaning to make pies in them, but had let my aims at full-sized pies get in my way. Deciding to expand on my tiny pie production, I ordered four more of the four-inch pie pans, so that I could do four of each of the two kinds of pies I wanted to make.
[I] made a double batch of basic never-fail pie crust recipe (part butter/part shortening), enough for two two-crust pies (recipe below), which would be more than enough for eight mini pies, with some left over for decorations or whatever. I used an 8-inch cutter for the bottom crust of the pies (so there would be enough to come up the sides as well as leave a little for the trim).
[M]y newer set of mini pie pans came with plastic cutters that would imprint a lattice top or a top with tiny apples cut for decorative vents. I would use these top crusts (cut from 6-inch cutters) for an apple-cranberry filling, using a recipe for filing for a single pie and dividing it among the four mini pans.
[T]he single crust mini pies were filled with my version pumpkin pie, which would be sweet potato. I used a very basic recipe for the filling (which would fill one pie) and divided it over four miniature single-crusts.
[I] used a little sparkling sugar to top the crusts of the apple-cranberry pies. I put all the mini pies on large baking sheets to bake. In about 1/3 the usual baking time for a large pie, they baked up beautifully, and the house smelled wonderful.
[I] couldn’t have asked for a more delightful Thanksgiving treat, those mini pies paying tribute to my childhood cookbook dreams and miniature aspirations, as well as making use of my mother’s long-ago gift. The beauty of the mini pie, outside of their knack to get adequately done versus some large pies that don’t and the fact that these, though simple, were downright delicious, was the fact that I didn’t need to slice the pies or find room to store them. One pie (pick your flavor) was an ample serving. The leftover miniatures were covered in foil and stashed easily here or there in the refrigerator.
[I] was so excited about mini pies, I disclosed to my longtime collaborator and companion that I might never make a full-sized pie again. I made good on those words at Christmas, when my pies got even smaller in the diminutive muffin-pan-sized proportion, filled with an all-fruit mince filling (another of my mom’s favorite), and topped with tiny pie pastry stars.
[I] used 4-inch cutters to make the circles of pie pastry to fill each cup, then added a few tablespoonfuls of the easy mince filling (recipe below), then decorated. These, too, baked up to a beautiful golden brown in even less time. The briefer baking time worked out, as the filling was cooked beforehand. The pies, just a couple of bites full of lush, fruity, spicy apples and dried fruits and almond with a hint of orange, were a rich, but not overwhelming Christmas dessert.
Tips for Mini Pies:
[P]ans: You can find 4- to 5-inch mini aluminum pans where bakeware is sold, including Amazon
You can also use mini disposable aluminum pie or tart pans available at grocery stores and where baking supplies are sold..
Or, for smaller pies, you can use standard-sized muffin pans.
[D]ough: Use your favorite purchased pie dough or recipe for a two-crust pie recipe to yield 4 mini (4- to 5-inch pies), and about 8 to 12 crusts for a muffin tin. Cut circles for the bottom crust of whatever size mini pie your are making, keeping in mind you need 2 to 3 inches outside of the diameter of the pie pan (or muffin cup) to make sure you have enough to come up the sides and leave a little extra for the edge.
[F]illing: Your favorite pie filling recipe will fill 4 4- to 5-inch mini pans and about 8 to 12 mini pies made in muffin tins. For apple or mince pies with apple, it might be a good idea to pre-cook the filling, as the pies will bake in less time..anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes depending on the size of the pie and your oven’s tendencies.
[D]ecoration: You don’t necessarily need a top crust for a mini pie. Use cookie cutters in leaf or holiday designs and cut shapes from extra pie dough to place on the top of the little pies. Brush with egg yolk or egg white or cream for a little sheen and sprinkle with sparkling sugar.
One of my favorite pie pastry recipes uses the best of both fats — shortening and butter:
Half-Butter Never-Fail Pie Crust
Makes one 9-inch double-crust pie or two 9-inch single-crust pies or 6 to 8 5-inch pies or 8 to 12 muffin-pan-sized pies
- 3 cups of all-purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 cup shortening, chilled and cut into cubes
- 1/2 cup butter, chilled and cut into cubes
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup ice cold water
Combine flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut in the shortening and butter with a pastry blender until it resembles coarse crumbs with some of the butter in larger pieces (this all can also be done by pulsing in a food processor). Beat the egg and vinegar with the cold water. Slowly add liquid to the flour mixture, blending lightly with a fork, just until everything is evenly distributed and moist. Gather the dough together on a lightly floured board or a sheet of parchment and divide the dough in half. Make each half into a flat disk about 6 or 7 inches in diameter, making sure the edges are smooth. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Chill for at least one hour or up to two days.
Note: This recipe can be made with all shortening (1 cup), leaving out the butter, if desired.
[W]hether you are looking for a luscious pie filling for Thanksgiving or for the holidays ahead, this all-fruit mince filling,I adapted from Donna Hay’s “Christmas Feasts and Treats” (HarperCollins: 2018), will not disappoint, and makes a perfect number of bite-sized mini mince pies:
- All-Fruit Mini Mince Pie Filling
- Fills 24 (muffin-cup-sized) mini pies
- 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated
- 2/3 cup dried currants
- 3/4 cup sultanas
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds
- 2/3 cup grated mixed peel
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chopped
- 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
- 1 pinch each cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.
Place the apples, currants, sultanas, almonds, mixed peel, brown sugar, syrup, butter, orange juice and spices in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until the fruit is softened and the liquid is absorbed. Set aside to cool completely before using.
Here’s a link to a recipe for mini pumpkin pies from Southern Living: https://www.southernliving.com/recipes/mini-pumpkin-pies
King Arthur Flour also offers a mini pie guide at https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/blog/2020/11/04/how-to-downsize-your-pies