Cardamon-Apple Mini Pies


Cardamom Apple Mini Pies

Photo by Michelle Pemberton

Almost everyone asks about “The Pie.” As soon as someone hears I was on Oprah, then I know I had better take a seat, lean back a bit in my chair and tell them about the crazy adventure of one baker, a rented minivan, a metric ton of apple pie and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Twelve years ago I was the head pastry chef at an artsy little bakery and coffee house in Oxford, Mississippi, in the heart of hill country. I’d been working at the Bottletree Bakery eight or nine years, churning out croissants, brioche and desserts every day. Each morning I came in early, baked off the prep I’d done the day before and prepped for the next day, made daily desserts, soups and specialty cakes.

It was by far one of the best times in my life, doing what I loved and baking delicious, sweet things for people.

One day the bakery got a very important call. It was The Food Network. They wanted us, and specifically me, to appear on the now-defunct show, “The Best Of,” to showcase the bakery’s pies. We’d been scouted and were chosen to be in the top five pie joints in the country.

I went to work and diligently tested recipes, whittling down to three or four of my best pies. The show’s producer decided to feature my Apple Ruffle Tart in the how-to section of the show. This tart had been a one-off dessert I created to use up some leftover apple slices. It was a real looker of a pie and it tasted so, so good, but it was a total pain to make.

So, as the story goes, of course Oprah Winfrey was watching this very episode when she spotted the Apple Ruffle Tart. She had to have it on the annual Best of Everything episode of her talk show. According to her producer, apple pie was Stedman’s favorite dessert. Oprah made some calls, someone called us, dates were set, hotels were rented, and we all started freaking out, planning and baking.

Our little bakery quickly pulled together a team of folks and we cranked out enough pie to feed 300 people. The next day my sister and I carefully packed them in a rented van to head north to Chicago.

With lottery tickets, food wrappers and maps sprawled across the dashboard, we arrived bleary-eyed past midnight at Harpo Studios. It was February, so we’d opted to wrap up in some old vintage coats and don our warmest sweat suits to keep the pies at a cool temperature. Of course the camera crew met us in the parking garage when we arrived.

We dropped off the pies, after a quick interview in our “outfits,” and headed to our hotel to sleep and get ready to present the pies the next day. It was a whirlwind trip and a definite high point for me as baker.

That’s why it has always been a little awkward when family and friends ask why I never make the Oprah pie for gatherings. After the episode aired, our bakery was producing hundreds and hundreds of a smaller version for the swarms of people who wanted a bite of the infamous pie.  During a late night at the bakery, as a pulled hot pans from the oven, I thought I would turn into an apple pie.

Cardamom Apple Mini Pies

Photo by Michelle Pemberton

Now that time has passed, I’ve come to love it again, and for what the pie gave back to me. That’s funny to say about a pie, but it’s true. It was a huge building block in my life as a chef and helped set the stage for what I’d do later.

But it brings up a very important point about why I love to cook and how I love to cook. And specifically what I bring to the table when sharing recipes and stories I love so much. That’s very simple. I believe anyone can cook, given they follow the directions, take their time and that enjoy what they are doing.

So now everyone can have a slice of that pie now, with this simplified recipe. It’s a delicate, single serving open-faced hand pie with the flakiest of crusts. No need to create hundreds of thinly sliced apple rosettes or buy fancy tart pans.This pie can be made by anyone, even kids. The treasured recipe has now been passed on.

I’ll be sharing more recipes like easy week night suppers to fun, festive cocktails and hearty, seasonal meals.

Cardamom Apple Tarts


Makes approximately 12-14 4” circles


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon sugar

1 1/2 cup unsalted butter chilled or frozen (preferred,) chopped into small pieces

1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Blend your flour, salt and sugar with a whisk. Begin to slowly pinch in the pieces of butter evenly throughout your flour, working quickly with your fingers. The heat from your hands can melt the butter and you want as little of that as possible.

Once you’ve got the consistency of cornmeal, begin to slowly add a few drops of ice water. Add water, mix, add water mix. Repeat this movement until your dough just starts to come together and sticks to your fingers.

You do not want to overmix this or it will be stretchy and tough.

Toss onto a clean surface sprinkled with flour and press into a flat disc. Generously flour the top and bottom and roll out to 1/4” thick. Use a 4” circular cookie cutter to cut out your crusts.

Place these on a lightly floured sheet pan and chill for 30 minutes while you make your filling.

The Filling

Makes approximately six cups

2 Granny Smith apples

2 Honey Crisp or other sweet red apple

2 tablespoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon clove

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 tablespoon ground cardamom

1 cup heavy whipping cream

¼ cup honey

¼ cup brown sugar

2 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon vanilla

Rinse your apples, and slice into very thin half moons. Set aside.

For the filling, use a medium sized bowl and mix together the spices, sugar and flour with a whisk.

Pour in the cream and blend. Then add in the honey and let sit for five minutes.

In another bowl, place apple slices and pour in about ¼ cup of the filling. With your hands, gently coat each slice until all are evenly covered with the filling.

Take out your prepared crusts. Layer the apple slices close together on each of the crusts, approximately seven to eight slices per disc of dough. A fan shape works really well.

Brush the extra filling all over the apples with a pastry brush, making sure to get the filling down in between the slices.

Beat your egg white and use it to brush the sides of the crusts. Sprinkle sugar lightly over each tart.

Place your pan in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until the pies and pie crusts have turned to a golden brown.

Take out of the oven, cool and serve.