Mini pies make for easy dinners

We seem to be in a pie mood here at the Tribune Chronicle, so the review copy I received of “175 Best Mini Pie Recipes” by Julie Anne Hession couldn’t have come at a better time.

This book caught my attention because it is not just full of mini pie recipes, both sweet and savory, but there also are more than 16 recipes for various doughs as well as a photo tutorial on making various pie shells, hand pies, tarts and pockets.

Some of these recipes include this pizza / calzone dough recipe as well as recipes for regular pie crust dough, whole wheat pie dough, dark chocolate pie dough, savory cheese dough, graham cracker pie dough and many others.

I love working with dough and have spent a considerable amount of time making pies and breads over the years. I like knowing where my food comes from as well as what ingredients are in the things I am eating, so making things from scratch rather than buying processed food is something I don’t mind taking extra time to do on the weekends. To make things even easier, I found that the recipes in this cookbook are easy to follow and the result was exactly what I expected.

My favorite part of this cookbook is that most of the mini pie and turnover recipes can be frozen prior to baking and popped into the oven later. Those nights when I get home from work tired and don’t feel like cooking, if there are pre-prepared mini pies in the freezer, I can simply toss a couple in the oven for dinner and serve with a small salad. I even can bake extra to take to work as lunch the following day.

Many of the mini pies are baked in muffin pans or are folded into turnovers, but I am particularly entertained by some of the recipes under the chapter titled “Pies for Kids of All Ages,” especially the recipes for Pie Pops. Like the trendy cake pops that are so popular now, pie pops are mini pies on a stick that look fun to make and to eat.

While most of the recipes in the book are for dessert pies, there are still plenty of savory pies as well, including a large chapter on meat and seafood pies.

The first recipe I chose from this cookbook used the pizza / calzone dough to make the sausage and pepper calzone. It reminded me of the sausage and pepper sandwiches often found at festivals and carnivals, but instead of a thick, soggy roll, the filling is folded into an easy to eat hand-held pie with firm, crispy crust.

I made the dough first and while it was rising, I made the filling. By the time the filling was cooked through, the dough was ready to roll and fill. Although the recipe calls for the filling to be completely cooled, I didn’t wait that long. As a result, the dough was somewhat softened by the warm filling while I worked with it and made it a little more difficult to handle. I probably would have had better looking calzones if I had made the filling first and let it cool while the dough was rising. Even so, they turned out quite well, and I was impressed with how the crust puffed up and turned golden brown while baking.

The cookbook calls for a six-inch round cutter for the calzones, which I don’t have in my kitchen. But what I do have is a bowl that is about six inches in diameter and a sharp knife. I put the bowl opening-side down on the rolled out dough and used the knife to cut around the circumference, making a perfectly circular pie crust.

Folding the round in half and double rolling the edges took a little practice, but after the first two or three, it became easier. I dipped the fork into flour to avoid sticking as I pressed it onto the folded edge giving the pie the crimped seam the recipe described. Even so, I worried about the pie popping open during baking and all the filling running out, but that didn’t happen.

Since I was only baking two calzones and was freezing the rest for another time, instead of using the stove’s oven, I used a tabletop toaster/oven. I set the timer for 35 minutes, but noticed the pies were already puffy and turning brown after 15 minutes of baking. To keep the crust from getting too dark before the filling was heated through, I covered the pies with aluminum foil and that did the trick.

The crust was nice and crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, just as I would expect from a good pizza crust. I’ve already decided to use this crust recipe again for regular homemade pizza since it was so easy and came out so well.