Once fast food chains like McDonald’s began serving apple pie in the late 1960s, apple pie was quickly in the hands of millions of Americans. (The phrase was “as American as apple pie” after all!) Growing up, I loved this treat because it always gave me instant gratification. After a full day of junior high, I’d spend a few bucks out of my weekly allowance and cross the street to buy one. Pies are usually $4 for two, so I can’t resist doubling down and occasionally saving one for later, or one for my nearest school crush. Delicious handheld desserts were also a staple of my parents’ childhood, although they preferred fried rather than baked.
Apple Hand Pie has always made me so nostalgic about feeding my younger self because ultimately, these dishes and flavors inspired my current love of cooking and writing recipes. Memories and moments like these inspire personal joy and inspire me to keep on pursuing new flavors. They also let me recreate family favorites like these Deep Fried Apple Chai Hand Pies. When talking to my parents about their childhood snacks, including McDonald’s apple pies, they often recall the unique flavor shift that occurs when they’re deep fried, and when fast food restaurants switch to baking their apple pies. This recipe captures the traditional flavors of the deep fried hand pie my parents knew and loved, while also considering shortcuts for keeping this delicious dessert handy.
When creating my version, I kept 3 main ingredients in mind to make this famous treat what it is: apple filling, crust and sugar topping. I also wanted to make an upgraded 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 points to keep in mind as you make yourself a batch of delicious apple hand pies.
Hand pies are usually filled with some kind of fruit filling. For this recipe, apples were the clear choice. When you make these hand pies, I recommend using an apple with a balanced tart and sweet taste and firm texture. I tend to buy Honey Crisp, Cosmic Crisp, Pink Lady or Granny Smith, all of which can be found in the local supermarket.
Pro tip: Do not overcook the apple filling. It’s tempting to cook apples until they completely break down and turn into jam. However, I find it better to cook the apples until fork tender. It’s important to remember that once you fry the pie, the apples will continue to cook.
Homemade pie crust reminds me of my childhood as I remember spending hours mixing, kneading and rolling pie dough in my home kitchen. These moments inspire joy; though, I’d be foolish if I didn’t remember the level of labor required to make homemade pie dough. To save time, I went for store-bought puff pastry; however, feel free to use store-bought pie dough. I love deep fried hand pies because they are crunchy and light in texture, and I find that using puff pastry allows me to do this with very little time and attention to detail.
Pro tip: Don’t overcrowd the pan when pan-frying. To make sure the pies cook evenly, hand pies about 2 inches apart. Allow the pie to drain well before serving. Hand pies sometimes have a greasy taste, which is never pleasant! Place pie on wire rack to remove excess oil.
My favorite part about making these deep fried apple pies from scratch is the piping hot pie being generously sprinkled with spiced sugar. Traditionally, a mixture of cinnamon and sugar is used to enhance the apple flavor. However, other personal memories of enjoying the aromatic flavor of chai inspired me to mix cinnamon, allspice, cardamom and cloves into my sugar rub. So you get a sweet and savory coating that makes this handheld dessert otherworldly.
Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to spread the pie generously. Once the patties are removed from the oil, coat them with the sugar mixture immediately to ensure the coating sticks thoroughly.
Will Coleman is a chef, TV personality, food writer and food designer inspired by the spark of connecting people and adding variety, adventure and joy on and off screen. He focuses on combining American cuisine with Southern and global approaches. Will lives in Brooklyn, New York, spending time experiencing and writing about all things food and culture. In addition to indulging in Jeni’s Ice Cream, he advocates using flaky salt and hot sauce on just about everything.