Last year around this time (at the urging of Shauna), LOTS of food bloggers took to their kitchens and made pie (I made this). That first annual Pie Party was a great success, so today we’re celebrating Pie Party 2012. Thank you Garret, Shauna, Justin, and Ashley for hosting ;)

I made “mini” cheese pies because I also wanted to submit these cuties to Abby Dodge’s BakeTogether. Abby featured berry pies and though I did something completely different, I’m so glad that I tried Abby’s method for baking pies in a muffin tin. This is such a fun way to bake pie, plus it keeps everything nice and neat for serving. Thank you Abby ;)

Now let’s talk about crust for a moment, shall we? I avoided making pies for years because I thought it was difficult to accomplish perfect pie crust at home. But it’s NOT difficult! To get a crust that’s both tender and flaky (which is what perfect pie crust is, right?!), all you need is your fingers and good technique. As I mentioned last week in my King Arthur Flour recap, you want to cut half of your COLD fat into small pieces (generally butter and/or lard, though Nikki told me she’s had success with coconut oil when it’s solid), then work into the flour with your hands until the mixture looks like cornmeal. Yes, this can be done in a food processor but in the time it takes to drag one out and set it up (not to mention the time you’ll spend cleaning it), you’d be long finished if you’d just trusted your fingers. The rest of the COLD butter (or other fat) should be cut into larger pieces, dropped into the flour, and flattened down between your thumb and forefinger. Don’t work it in too much- visible butter is a good thing!

I made a gluten free crust because not only did I want to test out my new pie crust making skills, I wanted to see if the above mentioned tips extend to gluten free pie dough. They do. To make this crust- which turned out to be fabulous- I used King Arthur Gluten-Free Whole Grain Flour blend. If you’ve got a favorite gluten-free flour blend, feel free to use it; you can also make this crust with all-purpose flour instead. Instead of rolling out the dough, I pressed it into each muffin cup and this worked well for me; I also pressed a piece of foil into each pie shell for par-baking purposes, so that the dough wouldn’t puff up too much.

The idea for the cheese filling and the inspiration to top these with jam came from the recipe for Cheese Tart with Apricot Preserves which appears in The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux. Ten Speed Press sent me this book to review and upon first glance, I thought it was too “cheffy” for me. I’ve formed a different opinion since studying it more carefully, however: it’s an exciting book filled with beautiful photos and ridiculously creative recipes. If you’re into preserving, I think you will love it.

Last thing before I get to the recipe: I must tip my hat to Domenica, whose plum jam inspired mine. I love the lemon peel in this jam…it gives it a wonderful flavor and keeps it from being too sweet. I did not can my jam for shelf stability but you certainly “can”, if you like…follow Domenica’s instructions if you plan to do that.

If you don’t want to make your own jam, go ahead and use any jam or fruit preserves that you have on hand to top these pies. The author of The Preservation Kitchen suggests sticking with stone fruits, but also mentions using a thin layer of lemon curd.

Happy Pie Party!!!

Recipe for Mini Cheese "Pies" with Roasted Plum Jam (Gluten-Free)

Yield: 8-10 mini pies

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 50 minutes, divided

Total Time: 70 minutes

If you already have a pie crust recipe you love, feel free to use it here...and if you'd rather bake this into a non-mini version, a tart pan with a removable bottom will work best.

This recipe is seriously delicious, and I think it would be fun to serve these at a cocktail party. Or be like me and eat one for breakfast, snack, or dessert on any old day: you'll feel all "fancy" when you do.

Ingredients:

For the roasted plum jam

*2 pounds red plums
*1/4 cup organic sugar, plus another 2 cups
*2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
*peel from 1 small lemon, coarsely chopped
*juice from 1 small lemon

For the pie crust:

*6 ounces King Arthur Gluten-Free Whole Grain Flour blend (or use a different gluten-free flour blend, or use all-purpose flour for a regular/"gluten-full" crust)
*1 tablespoon organic sugar- optional (I omitted it, thinking of these pies as more savory than sweet)
*1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if using all-purpose flour)
*1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
*6 tablespoons (3 ounces) cold unsalted butter, sliced into 6 equal pieces
*2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
*1-2 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed

For the cheese filling

*6 ounces cream cheese
*6 ounces creamy goat cheese
*1/2 cup organic sugar
*grated zest of 1 lemon, preferably organic
*1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
*1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
*2 eggs, preferably organic and free-range

Directions:

For the roasted plum jam:

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Slice the plums in half and remove the pits, then cut the plums into smaller chunks. Mix in a bowl with 1/4 cup sugar and vanilla extract, then spread out onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Roast for 25-30 minutes, until the plums are lying in a pool of bubbly juice and are quite fragrant.

2. Carefully transfer roasted plums and roasting juices to a large, heavy-bottomed non-reactive pot. Add the rest of the sugar, the lemon peel, and the lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low-medium, and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The jam will darken and thicken quite a bit during this time.

3. Ladle jam into jar(s) and refrigerate (leave about 1/2 cup out if using to spread over the pies sometime soon). The jam is easiest to spread when it's still warm, so if you've made it ahead of time, warm it in a pot on the stove (or in the microwave) before spreading it over the pies.

For the pie crust:

1. Whisk together the flour blend, sugar (if using) xanthan gum (if using), and salt.

2. Take half of the butter (3 slices) and cut these pieces in half once more. Work these small pieces into the flour mixture until it's crumbly "like cornmeal", with some larger, pea-sized chunks of butter remaining.

3. Take the remaining butter and work it into the flour with your fingers by flattening the butter pieces down between your thumb and forefinger. You should be able to see pieces of butter "about the size of dried cranberries" in the flour.

4. Sprinkle lemon juice over the flour/fat mixture and mix until dough begins to come together. Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, if necessary, to bring the dough mass together.

5. Dump dough out onto work surface and shape into a ball. Flatten into a round and wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then refrigerate for at least an hour, or as long as two days.

6. When you are ready to bake the pies, preheat the oven to 400°F and butter ten regular-sized (2 3/4- 3 inch diameter) muffin cups.

7. Remove chilled dough from the refrigerator, then allow to sit at room temperature until it's pliable (10-20 minutes). Unwrap the dough, then divide it into 8-10 equal pieces (I went with the 8, but I think I could have made the shells thinner if I wanted to make 10).

8. Press each piece of dough firmly and evenly into a muffin cup (you could roll the pieces out first, but I chose not to and it worked out just fine), then lightly prick the bottom of each shell with a fork. Cut small squares of foil so you can press a piece into each one, covering each mini pie shells.

9. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the dough is pale golden in color. Set the pie shells aside to cool while you make the filling, and decrease the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

For the cheese filling and baking the pies:

1. Place all filling ingredients in a blender and process until smooth (you could also use a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or a food processor to do this).

2. Pour filling into par-baked pie shells (don't overfill them). Bake the mini pies until the tops are set and a bit puffy, about 20 minutes. You will have some filling left over, especially if you only make 8 pies...you can bake the leftover filling in buttered muffin cups "crust-less", if you like.

3. Allow the pies to cool down before running a sharp knife all around the edges and gently removing from the muffin tins (if you do this too soon, the crusts may be too crumbly to remove in one piece). Spread with jam while the pies are still warm.