I purposely don’t spend much time scouring the internet for recipes. I feel like they hinder my creativity by planting preconceived ideas in my head. That’s kind of the way I feel about toys for my kids – we don’t have many because I’d prefer that they figure out how to play with something by using their imagination rather than be handed a toy that does the work for them. I use recipes for inspiration once I’m already on to an idea; particularly if the recipe is unusual. I let my imagination dictate what my next endeavor is going to be, and this pie was probably the most fun I have had trying to make my crazy ideas come to fruition. This is a chronology of what happens when I wake up and decide I have a fixin’ for something…
Let me start by saying, this recipe was developed with A LOT of love and A LOT of dreams of what I wanted it to be. These pies were inspired by the influences of my favorite things starting with a reader of my blog. He told me about a recipe his grandmother used to make that was a minced mixture of apples, walnuts, raisins, spices – probably a version of a type of mincemeat pie.
With the reader’s grandmother igniting my interest, I began dreaming of the desserts and ingredients I love the most – Egyptian. Words cannot adequately express how much I love desserts influenced by Middle Eastern flavors. I have a standing date with our annual Egyptian festival hosted at our friend’s Coptic church and I have come to adore the women who work for days upon days preparing what to me are some of the best desserts I have ever had. The honey, apricot and almond, the generous use of pistachios and hazelnuts, the semolina soaked in simple syrup, and the dates and raisins adorning cookies and puddings…I dream of learning Arabic and going to live by the Red Sea with every bite.
With those things in mind, I knew what I ultimately wanted – warm, cozy, but DIFFERENT. Not the predictable apple/walnut/cinnamon dance. Like a DJ who produces killer mash-ups of songs, I like to attempt mash-ups of flavors so that the product is familiar yet surprisingly different. I was gravitating towards traditional mincemeat recipes but they were a little too Christmas-like with the heavy use of spices. My attention went to an Egyptian Khoshaf sauce which is almost like a version of mincemeat but lighter on the spices (I suspect because Egypt was under British rule for quite some time up until the 50’s). But the recipe inspiration I could not shake was yet another Egyptian dessert – Om Ali, the mother of all bread puddings. For real. We’re talking puff pastry, vanilla powder, cream, hazelnuts, raisins, pistachios – something you should only have once a year, and when you do you must eat every bite with NO regrets.
After days of dreaming, I came to a pie that was just a little left of center – one that used ingredients that I felt were highly underrated and produced the warm, spicy taste I was after. Pears, hazelnuts, cider-soaked raisins, cardamom – prepare for your world to be rocked.
What I don’t have is a name. This pie evolved from so many thoughts and influences that I have not yet found a name that fits! My husband suggested we call it the “Best F-ing Pie Ever” but as much as a like a good F-bomb, I do realize that is not blog-appropriate. I AM ASKING FOR YOUR HELP TO NAME THIS PIE. Leave a suggestion in the comments here or on Facebook by Friday, October 10th and the winner will receive my favorite Pie cookbook just in time for fall baking; Pie, by Ken Haedrich.
Without further adieu, here is the recipe, for my inspired pie of the season:
Ingredients (makes 20 hand pies)
2 recipes for a 9″ crust, or use Best of Both Worlds Pie Crust (each crust gets about 10 circles)
3 medium sized Bartlett pears, still a bit firm
2 Granny Smith apples
Zest of 1/2 of a lemon (about a teaspoon)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 1 Tablespoon
3/4 cup raisins
1 cup apple cider
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling on top
Make pie crust and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out pie crust and using a 5-inch round cookie cutter (glass, can…) cut 10-12 circles. Place circles back in refrigerator while you prepare filling and preheat oven to 375.
Place raisins in a small saucepan and cover with apple cider – approximately one cup. Bring mixture to a boil and then remove from heat and let sit for 20 minutes while you prepare the rest of the filling (this can be done ahead of time). You can also do this in the microwave if you want.
Peel and chop apples and pears, placing them into a large skillet or saucepan. You want them to be small, but not minced. Toss with lemon zest, lemon juice and 1/4 cup sugar. Place on stove over medium heat and cook for about 4-5 minutes until just starting to soften. While they are cooking, mix together the additional 1 Tablespoon of sugar, cornstarch, and spices. When the pears and apples are just starting to soften, add the cornstarch mixture and bring to high heat until it begins to thicken – about a minute. Remove from heat, add vanilla and place filling into a bowl to cool to room temperature. If you feel there is too much liquid, as I did in the picture below, strain some off.
While the filling is cooling, chop and toast the hazelnuts. I used a mini food chopper, but the hazelnuts get very fine, very fast. So mine were a mix of very fine and larger pieces, which worked well. A whack with a rolling pin or mallet might do the job too. When the pear/apple mixture is cool, fold in raisins and hazelnuts. The mixture is beautiful!
Remove circles from the refrigerator and assemble hand pies by placing about two tablespoons of filling on each one. Experiment with as much filling as you get get. Fold over each circle and press edges with a fork.
Don’t worry if you get a tear in the dough – the one above did and it worked out just fine.
Return the assembled pies to the freezer for about 5 minutes. Remove and cut a vent in each one with a knife, brush lightly with milk and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake at 375 on the middle rack for 35-40 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack.
Let these cool completely before eating – the flavors come through better. Cover lightly and they will keep for two days. These are destined to be your new fall favorites!