Mini Pies Take Center Stage for the Holidays

ELIZABETH KARMEL
Associated Press
This Sept. 30, 2016 photo shows mini chocolate pecan pies at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. This dish is from a recipe by Elizabeth Karmel. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

When I have a lot of people coming over, I love to make mini pies, or "pie cups." I coined the name "pie cup" when I created a "pie program" for one of my restaurants and vowed to make pie the new cupcake in NYC.

Since then, the mini, hand-held pie has exploded in popularity. The beauty of the mini pies is that they are portable, easy to make and the perfect proportion size.

Most people I know don't make their own pie because they are afraid to make the pie dough from scratch. There is so much pressure on the cook for Thanksgiving that the holiday is not the time to learn how to make pie dough. This recipe offers the option of using pre-made graham-cracker crusts. If you already make your own pie dough, you can make this pie in mini pie shells or a muffin pan.

Once you the pie crust is taken care of, you will understand the meaning of "easy as pie": Assembling the filling requires just a bowl and a fork.

I add dark chocolate to a traditional pecan pie for all those chocolate lovers out there. I also add a touch of Kahlua to deepen the flavor of the chocolate, but you could stick with the traditional bourbon if you prefer. If you don't like pecans, this pie is also delicious made with walnuts.

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MINI CHOCOLATE PECAN PIE CUPS

Start to finish: 30 minutes

Servings: 12

12 individual Keebler graham cracker pie shells or homemade 3-inch pie shells

1 cup pecan halves plus more for decorating the tops (substitute walnuts if you prefer)

4 tablespoons butter, melted

2/3 cup granulated white sugar

1/2 cup dark corn syrup

2 large eggs, beaten

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

4 ounces 70 percent bittersweet chocolate, melted

1 heaping teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons of Kahlua

Whipped Cream or vanilla ice cream, for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Put two tablespoon of nuts into each unbaked pie shell. Set aside.

Combine butter, granulated sugar, corn syrup, eggs, salt, chocolate, vanilla and Kahlua and stir until well mixed.

Place the mini pie crusts on a half sheet pan. Pour the pie mixture on top of nuts just until the first line of the crust (if you made your own crust, this is about 1/4 inch from the top). Do not overfill as they will puff up as they bake. Decorate the tops of the pies with a few nuts.

Place the sheet pan in the center rack of the oven. Bake about 20 minutes or until cooked through, a little puffy and crusty on top. Let cool on a rack for at least 3 hours. Refrigerate leftover pie.

Serve warm with whipped cream or a small scoop of vanilla ice cream if you choose. The pies are also good cold the next day.

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Nutrition information per serving: 272 calories; 142 calories from fat; 16 g fat (6 g saturated; 1 g trans fats); 46 mg cholesterol; 84 mg sodium; 33 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 27 g sugar; 3 g protein.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pit master at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and the author of three books, including "Taming the Flame."