Raise your hand if you love crab Rangoon — the mid-century crab and cream cheese filled fried wonton snacks popularized by Vic Begeron of Trader Vic’s tiki lounge in the Bay Area

These crab Rangoon pie poppers, a recipe by Cathy Barrow in her new book, When Pies Fly, are highly unusual. They’re not fried but baked in a delicately crisp, rich shell. The shape resembles a tiny pie. Cathy is from the Midwest and adores crab Rangoon, which is why she channeled their crabby goodness into these delicious 2 or 3-bite snacks. She even makes a tangy-spicy-goopy sauce as part of her crab Rangoon pie popper recipe.

I love crab Rangoon, though it’s not an Asian dish but it does show up on old school Chinese-American menus. I hadn’t seen it much on the West Coast lately but when I went to Minneapolis earlier this year, some version of crab Rangoon was on practically every Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai restaurant menu. When I asked Christine Nguyen, chef/owner of Hai Hai, she responded that Minnesotans love fried cheese. Ann Ahmed, chef/owner of Lat 14, said that some popular dishes on a menu can pay your rent! Midwesterners love crab Rangoon and various takes on it, which is why Cathy’s crab Rangoon pie poppers grabbed my attention.

Cathy is a pie and crust expert, which is another reason why I wanted to try this recipe. She writes recipes with incredible detail because crusty dishes require attention and a certain level of skill. But you can be a novice and master pie and crust. You just need Cathy by your side.

Yours truly, should have planned ahead because yours truly spent a good portion of a day playing with these crab Rangoon pie poppers. When my husband came home, I proclaimed the tiny little free-formed pies to be a pain in the butt to make. Then we tried some with a cold beer and decided that they are a worthwhile project. The miniature pies were super cute. The crust was crisp enough so I could hear my husband’s first bite. And the filling was nicely balanced with crab flavor. Delightfully delicious.

Yes, these crab Rangoon pie poppers are fussy to make, as Cathy writes, but they’re worth it. Below what I learned from her recipes and book — which is chock full of well-written, texted recipes so get yourself a copy of you love crafting pastries!
Weigh Ingredients and Advance Prep
Use a scale to weigh the flour in grams, and do as Cathy says to make the two batches of dough separately. It saves time and you’ll be accurate. The dough can be kept refrigerated for days or frozen. Make it in advance because you can then slide into filling, shaping and baking — the more fun parts. You can also make the sauce a week ahead so keep that in mind.
Keep things cold
The dough and filling are easiest to deal with when they’re both cold. Cathy has a pie popper primer to ready you so read that section of the book. You’ll pick up tips like chilling the stamped circles before filling and chilling the shaped raw pie poppers before baking.

I made the filling with refrigerated lump crab — there’s 8 ounces in each of these tubs. The flavor of that kind of crab is excellent and there’s little waste in terms of cooking liquid. It’s pricey but the alternative would be to pick your own crab, which I didn’t have time to do. If you’d like to pick the crab yourself, here are instructions.
Shape and crimp with your fingertips
Filling and shaping the poppers requires a delicate firm touch — work with the dough and filling in both hands. Use your finger tips to pinch and stretch the edge of the dough circles so they seal.

And as you work, use a chopstick to shove filling down and keep it in place. When done, you have a tiny flat pie. It’ll bake and stand up more but you have to crimp to ensure the seal. I used a dessert fork.

As Cathy suggest, back off the filling to ensure the poppers bake without busting out (see my boo boos below). So I used a bit less than her recipe called for and ended up making 34 crab Rangoon pie poppers by re-rolling the dough scraps.
Venting and Baking Tips
My initial test batch of baking all busted out a bit. Among Cathy’s troubleshooting tips was about venting. I realized that my vents made with the chopstick tip wasn’t fully enough. So I went back and used a frosting tip.

And, again, make sure to chill the shaped pie poppers for about 20 minutes. During that time, preheat the oven — with a baking steel or pizza stone in place. The steel and stone provided a super hot surface to create the crisp bottom of crab Rangoon pie popper.

Once shaped and brushed with egg, the pie poppers can be frozen and then once rock hard, transferred to a container and kept in the freezer. So yes, I spent a good amount of time, but I also have a bunch of pie poppers for future snacking and entertaining. They’re stunningly fun and tasty with bubbly.
Don’t fret boo boos
I had a number of pie poppers that popped out their crust. As the pastries cool, then settle down so they don’t look weird. Use the tip of a paring knife to push any oozed filling back into the shell. They all taste good no matter what they look like.

To make your own crab rangoon pie poppers, here are the recipes from When Pies Fly, by Cathy Barrow. Enjoy them as much as I have and will.
More Crab Rangoon Recipes Sriracha and Crab Rangoon recipe Deviled Crab Rangoon Recipe Original and Upgraded Crab Rangoon Recipe (based on Trader Vic’s book) Print Crab Rangoon Pie Poppers From Andrea: Remember to make the pie dough and sauce in advance. Keep them chilled, as I write in the post above. Hold off on preheating the oven until the shaped pie popper are chilling. And these freeze beautifully! Enjoy. If there's extra filling and dough, gather and press the dough scraps together, chill then re-roll to make more! Servings 6 Equipment Baking stone or steel, rolling pin, 2-inch round cookie cutter Ingredients ¼ cup 25 g finely chopped scallions Juice of 1 lemon 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce 1 teaspoon tamari or low-sodium soy sauce ½ teaspoon grated garlic ½ teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce optional ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 8 tablespoons 4 ounces, 113 g cream cheese, cubed 8 ounces 225 g fresh crab meat, carefully picked over to remove any shell and cartilage 2 recipes Cream Cheese Pie Dough below, formed into 3- by 4-inch rectangular blocks Egg wash 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon cool water and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt Spicy Chile Caramel Sauce below, for serving Instructions Stir together the scallions, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, tamari, garlic, Sriracha (if using), and black pepper in a wide bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes to relax the sharpness of the scallion and garlic. Whisk in the cream cheese, one piece at a time, until the mixture is smooth-ish. Fold in the crab. Cover and refrigerate until ready to fill the poppers. Place a Baking Steel, baking stone, or inverted baking sheet on the center rack and heat the oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Remove one block of dough from the refrigerator. Roll out the dough to an approximate 9- by 13-inch rectangle, cut out 24 (2-inch) rounds, and vent half of them. Brush the edge of one round with egg wash. Add a scant, packed 1 tablespoon filling to one round and form a popper with a second (vented) round. Transfer to a baking sheet and firmly fork-crimp the edges. Continue to make 12 poppers. Brush the surface of each with egg wash. Refrigerate or freeze while repeating the process with the other block of pie dough to make a total of 24 poppers. Bake the poppers for 20 to 25 minutes, until deeply golden brown. I prefer to bake the pies one baking sheet at a time to take advantage of the Baking steel in my oven, but if you want to bake them at the same time, switch them top to bottom and front to back halfway through the bake. Serve warm. They are traditionally served (and are most delicious) with the Spicy Chile Caramel Sauce. Notes Recipe reprinted with permission from Cathy Barrow’s When Pies Fly (Grand Central, 2019) Print Spicy Chile Caramel Sauce This sauce packs a punch and dazzles with the rich, smooth crab rangoon poppers. Do not expect a dark, rich caramel. This is an opaque, milky sauce, lovely and incendiary. I like to serve it slightly warmed. [From Andrea: For a savory dimension, add 1 or 2 pinches of salt with the chiles and garlic, if you like.] Ingredients ¾ cup 150 g granulated sugar ¼ cup 60 ml rice vinegar ½ cup 120 ml water 2 small Thai chiles seeded and finely chopped, or 1½ teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes 2 garlic cloves finely chopped 2 tablespoons cornstarch Instructions Combine the sugar, vinegar, and ¼ cup of the water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stir well, and bring to a boil. Cook until the mixture begins to take on some caramel tones, just slightly golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the chiles and garlic. Cover and steep for 20 minutes. In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and remaining ¼ cup water until smooth. Add to the caramel sauce and return to medium-high heat. Stir without stopping until the mixture comes to a strong boil. Boil hard, continuing to stir, for exactly 1 minute. The mixture will thicken and turn opaque. Remove the pan from the heat and let the sauce thicken further as it cools slightly. Serve warm-ish. The sauce can be made ahead and stored in a covered dish or jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Reheat gently. Notes Recipe reprinted with permission from Cathy Barrow’s When Pies Fly (Grand Central, 2019) Print Cream Cheese Pie Dough This tender, slightly tangy crust snuggles up to both sweet and savory fillings. It’s sturdy enough to cut into shapes, loves a good crimp, stands tall on the sides, and shines under an egg wash. Use full-fat cream cheese in a block, not whipped. Ingredients 1⅓ cups 160 g all-purpose flour 4 tablespoons 56 g unsalted butter, cubed and frozen for 20 minutes 4 tablespoons 2 ounces, 56 g cream cheese, cubed and refrigerated for 20 minutes 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt ¼ cup 60 ml ice water Instructions Place the work bowl of the food processor on the scale, set the scale to zero, and weigh the flour into the bowl. Weigh in the butter and cream cheese and add the salt. Move the bowl to the food processor base, insert the metal blade, cover, and use the Pulse function to cut the flour, butter, and cream cheese into flour-covered pea-sized pieces, about 15 quick pulses. Add the ice water all at once and process until the dough almost comes together in a ball. All the flour will be dampened and the dough will clump. Spend time on this next step because the more compact and precise the dough, the easier it is to roll to the correct size and thickness. Form an X with two long pieces of overlapping plastic wrap and lightly flour the surface. Dump the dough onto the center of the plastic wrap, scraping the processor bowl clean. Wrap the sloppy gathering of dough in plastic and, at the same time, use a bench scraper (not your warm hands that might melt the fat clumps) to form the dough into a 4-inch disk or a 3½- by 3½-inch block. Once wrapped, use a rolling pin to gently press across the surface of the dough, then flip it over and do the same on the other side. Now let it rest: Refrigerate the dough for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight. Alternatively, slip the plastic-wrapped dough block into a ziptop bag and freeze it for up to 3 months. Defrost gently, overnight in the refrigerator. Notes Recipe reprinted with permission from Cathy Barrow’s When Pies Fly (Grand Central, 2019)
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