Once fast food chains, such as McDonald’s, began to serve apple hand pies in the late 1960s, apple pies were quickly in the hands of millions of Americans. (The phrase is, “As American as apple pie” after all!) Growing up, I was fond of this treat because it always brought instant gratification to me. After a long day of junior high school, I’d walk across the street to get my hands on one, spending a couple of dollars from my weekly allowance. The pies were often two for $4, so I couldn’t resist doubling down, occasionally saving one for later on or giving one to my most recent school crush. The delicious hand-held desserts were also staples of my parents’ childhoods, though the ones they enjoyed were fried instead of baked.
Apple hand pies always make me feel extremely nostalgic about the food that fed my younger self, because, ultimately, those dishes and flavors are what inspired my current love for cooking and writing recipes. Memories and moments like these have sparked personal joy and have motivated me to continuously chase new flavors. They’ve also led me to recreate family favorites, like these Fried Apple-Chai Hand Pies. When talking to my parents about treats from their childhood, including McDonald’s apple pies, they often reminisce about when they were deep-fried and the distinct flavor shift that came once fast food joints switched to baking their apple pies. This recipe captures the traditional flavors of the fried hand pies my parents knew and loved, while also considering shortcuts to sustain the convenience of this flavorsome dessert.
When creating my version, I kept in mind 3 main components that make this celebrated treat what it is: the apple filling, the crust and the sugar topping. I also wanted to create an elevated version of the dessert I loved as a kid. It was important to let my own memories inspire me when putting together these delicious treats. Here are some key takeaways to keep in mind, when you make a delicious batch of these apple hand pies for yourself.
Hand pies are often filled with some sort of fruit filling; for this recipe, apples were the clear choice. When you make these hand pies, I suggest using an apple that has a balance of tart and sweet flavors, and a firm texture. I tend to reach for Honey Crisp, Cosmic Crisp, Pink Lady, or Granny Smith, all apples which can be found at your local supermarket.
Pro Tip: Don’t overcook the apple filling. It can be tempting to cook the apples until they’re completely broken down and jammy; however, I find that cooking the apples until they are fork- tender is superior. It’s important to remember that the apples will continue cooking once you fry the hand pies.
Homemade pie crust reminds me of my childhood because I can recall spending hours blending, kneading, and rolling out pie dough in my family’s kitchen. These moments sparked joy; nevertheless, I’d be witless not to remember the level of labor that making homemade pie dough takes. To save time, I went for store-bought puff pastry here; however, feel free to use store-bought pie dough as well. I enjoy fried hand pies for their flaky and light texture, and I’ve found that using puff pastry provides me just that, with a fraction of the time and attention to detail.
Pro Tip: Don’t overcrowd the pot when frying your hand pies. To ensure the pies cook evenly, keep the hand pies about 2-inches apart. Allow the pies to drain adequately before serving. Hand pies can sometimes hold a greasy flavor, and that’s never delightful! Place the pies onto a wire rack to remove excess oil.
My favorite part of making these fried apple pies from scratch was generously sprinkling spiced sugar onto the piping hot pies. Traditionally, a blend of cinnamon and sugar is used to amplify the apple-y flavor. However, other personal memories of enjoying chai’s aromatic flavors inspired me to combine cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, and cloves in my sugar rub. As a result, you’re rewarded with a sweet and fragrant coating that takes this handheld dessert over-the-top.
Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to coat the pies generously. Once the pies are out of the oil, immediately coat them with the sugar blend to ensure that the coating sticks on thoroughly.
Will Coleman is a Chef, TV Personality, Food Writer, and Food Stylist that is inspired by connecting with people and adding a spark of diversity, adventure, and joyfulness on and off the screen. He focuses on infusing American cuisines with Southern and global avenues. Based in Brooklyn, NY, Will spends time experiencing and writing about all things food and culture. Besides being obsessed with Jeni’s Ice Cream, he’s an advocate for flaky salt and hot sauce on almost everything.