If you are looking for a perfect fall treat, salted caramel apple pie cookies will hit all the right spots. This mini version of the classic has lots of flaky crust and a healthier homemade coconut caramel sauce all in one handheld pocket that is perfect for parties or lunches.
This recipe was originally published on September 22, 2014, and was republished in September 2020 to add better quality photos, re-test the recipe, and add more helpful tips. The original recipe was made entirely with all-purpose flour and here is how it looked like, if you’re curious.
As much as I love summer, there is something about the cozy comfort of fall desserts that is always so satisfying. Pears, apples, cinnamon, caramel, nuts, pastry – everything that loves long baking times and is perfect with a cup of tea or coffee on a chilly afternoon.
But is there anything better than a juicy apple pie? How about mini apple hand pies drenched in healthy salted (and dairy-free!) caramel? That sure sounds perfect to me. It’s the epitome of fall; crisp apple, whole wheat flaky pastry, and sweet coconut caramel, all in one handheld package.
Of course, I had to make it a little bit healthy with a 50/50 blend of whole grain flour and switching out the standard salted caramel for some coconut caramel that is completely vegan. Admittedly, you can’t call this that healthy of a dessert, but the nutritional value is certainly significantly better than it used to be. Now you get some extra fiber and proteins from the crust and the caramel sauce has no cholesterol – or regular sugar!
What type of apple should you use?
With so many varieties of apple that are available in fall, it might be hard to figure out the best choice for each recipe. There’s a good guide to apple varieties for baking with my apple enchiladas, but specifically for this recipe I recommend something tart. With so much caramel and the nutty flavor of whole wheat, you want something with a flavor that stand out.
The best apples choices would be the ever-popular Granny Smiths or Braeburns. Both varieties are tart, with lots of flavor, and a firm structure that holds up well. They are perfect to balance out the sweet and salty caramel and flaky whole grain pastry.
How to keep your pie dough flaky
Speaking of flaky pastry, if your favorite part of a pie is the crust, then apple pie cookies are exactly right for you. They have a very high crust to filling ratio. And because of that, you want to make sure your pastry is just right.
The best way to do that is keep your pastry cold! Chilling and limiting the amount you work with the dough are critical parts of a flaky pie crust. Here are some other tips for perfect pastry. They make working with my favorite whole wheat pie dough recipe even more successful. It’s perfectly flaky and tender, but just strong enough to hold in all that luscious filling.
Making a perfectly smooth healthy caramel sauce
When avoiding refined sugars and dairy products, it can be hard to get that same perfect gooey consistency that a typical caramel has. Heating up any kind of sweetener is risky business and very prone to unpleasant crunchy crystals forming. To prevent this, many standard caramel recipes include corn syrup.
But like with granulated sugar, it has been a recent goal to avoid such highly processed products. So, I’ve borrowed a healthy salted caramel sauce recipe from Lisa from Downshiftology that is still smooth and silky, but has no corn syrup, no granulated sugar, and no butter or cream. It is all in the technique of making the caramel.
Here are a few of my best caramel making tips for a successful dairy-free caramel:
- Use a pot with a really heavy bottom: This helps the heat distribute evenly so that no portion of the sauce starts burning before the rest caramelizes. An enamel or cast-iron pot is great for this.
- A medium to large pot is better: Also, use a larger pot than you think looks right for the volume of ingredients. The deeper your caramel is in the pan, the more likely the bottom portion is to get bitter before the sauce at the top gets to that perfect flavor. Stirring just a little bit every so often helps with this too.
- Stir gently, not vigorously: You want to stir just enough to keep the heat and dissolved coconut sugar evenly distributed. But too much and you will add air pockets where crystals will form.
- If crystals form on the sides of the pot, cover it: If a couple crystals are forming up the sides of the pot after the sugar melts, cover it with a lid for 15-30 seconds. The steam will condense and wash them back down the sides. Anytime crystals start forming, more and more will build on it.
- When in doubt, keep the heat low and don’t walk away: As your caramel cooks, you want it to be just at that point of simmering, no more. And while it does take a while for the caramelizing to happen, I advise against leaving the kitchen or becoming too distracted. Especially after that 20 minute point, you want to keep a close eye because caramel likes to burn.
But, if you are careful, you will have the best tasting, silkiest coconut caramel sauce you have ever eaten. It is completely worth it for such an amazing tasting healthy caramel apple pie cookie. With the whole wheat and fresh apples you could almost convince yourself that it is a good choice for breakfast.
Salted Caramel Apple Pie Cookies
For the dough:
- 1 1/2 cups (225g) whole wheat flour
- 1 1/2 cups (200g) all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter , cold, cut into cubes
- 2 eggs , whisked
- 1 tablespoon milk
For the caramel sauce:
- 1 13.5 oz. (400ml) can full-fat coconut milk
- 1/2 cup coconut sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the filling:
- 2 large apples , cored, peeled and small diced
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
- pinch of ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
For the egg wash:
- 1 egg , whisked with 1 teaspoon water
- sugar for sprinkling
- Add both flours, coconut sugar, and salt in a large bowl and mix until combined. Add the butter and use a pastry cutter or two forks to work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles crumbs. Pour whisked eggs and a tablespoon of milk into the butter/flour mixture and mix thoroughly. Alternatively, you can do the dough in a food processor.
- Gather the dough into a ball. If it doesn't stick together, add another tablespoon of milk until a ball can be formed. Knead the dough on a floured surface for a few minutes (add more all-purpose flour as you knead, if it's extremely sticky). Form the dough into 4 balls, wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill for around 30 minutes. A chilled dough is easier to handle.
- In a saucepan, over medium heat, combine together the coconut milk, coconut sugar, and sea salt. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a light simmer. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. During the last 5 minutes of cooking time, stir more frequently to mix in the darker caramel bits from the bottom into the sauce.
- The sauce is ready when it has turned dark amber in color and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut oil and vanilla extract. Set aside to cool.
- Toss the diced apples and lemon juice in a medium bowl. In a separate, small bowl, stir together the sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cornstarch. Pour this mixture over the apples and gently toss to combine. Set aside.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Assembling apple pie cookies:
- Work with one dough ball at a time (keep the others refrigerated till ready to use). On a floured surface roll out the dough into a thin sheet (about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick). Use a 2 1/2 to 3 inch round cookie cutter to cut as many rounds as possible from the dough. Transfer them to the prepared baking sheet and repeat the process with the second dough ball. When the baking sheet is full, put it in the refrigerator. Repeat the process with the remaining dough balls. Refrigerate the dough scraps if they become too stretchy and soft. I usually place it in the freezer, so it chills faster.
- Place about a heaping teaspoon or so of the apple filling in the center of the circle. Add a dollop of salted caramel on top (don’t add too much or it will leak out during baking). Layer a second round of dough on top and press the edges to seal. Repeat this process with the remaining circles and the filling. Refrigerate the cookies for about 30 minutes or until ready to bake.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- When all mini pies are chilled, crimp the edges of each pie with a fork. Lightly brush the tops of the cookies with the egg wash, then sprinkle them with the sugar. Use a paring knife to cut slits in the top of each pie.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed and golden brown (watch carefully as they can burn quickly). Remove from the oven and let sit for a minute or two before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Drizzle more caramel on top of each cookie. Enjoy!