I make (and eat) a lot of apple pie. Sometimes, I make a smooth, almost apple butter-like filling. Other times, I like to use a crisp apple to give texture when the fork hits the fruit. Recently, I began mulling over what could combine everything I love about apple pie into one pie. I thought about how to make a pie with a bright, intensely apple flavor and no added sugar. I decided to make a cider caramel as the base, a recipe I first created to enter a Food52 contest many moons ago (to drizzle over an apple upside-down cake), and went nuts for the stuff.
This filling is tart, but with a rich creaminess to it, because it's finished with butter. It's sweet, but not overly so. I used Honeycrisp apples, which hold up very well in baking, resulting in a filling that's tender, but still has a little bite. In the end, I decided to add a little brown sugar to the mix (it balances things out in a really yummy way), but I can attest wholeheartedly that this recipe works without it -- if you like things a little less sweet, leave it out! The finished pie really has everything, a bright, intensely apple flavor, a hint of sweetness that has that characteristic caramel flavor, a little bit of salt to tie it all together, and (of course) a tender, flaky crust encasing the whole thing. In my mind, any pie is a good pie, but this...this is a really good pie. It's definitely going to be the official apple pie at my Thanksgiving table this year, and for many years to come. —Erin McDowell
one 9 inch pie
quart apple cider
hefty pinch salt
large Honeycrisp apples (or other good baking apples), peeled and thinly sliced
Place the cider in a large (wide) pot and bring to a boil. Boil until the liquid reduces and the mixture forms a caramel (the precise timing will depend on the size of your pot, but this process takes about 1 to 2 hours -- don't worry, you don't need to stir it, just keep an eye on it every 15 minutes or so, and a closer eye toward the end.)
Stir the butter, salt, and vanilla into the caramel, then pour the whole mixture into a heat-safe bowl to cool slightly, about 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425° F. Place the apples in a large bowl. In a small bowl, stir the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon together to combine. Add this to the apples and toss to coat. Add the cooled caramel, and toss well to combine.
Roll out half of the pie crust to about 1/8-inch thick. Transfer it to a pie plate, and trim the edge so there is only 1/2-inch of overhang all around. Chill the dough inside the pie plate for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Arrange the filling inside the pie plate. If you place the apples in concentric circles (almost like a rosette), there will be fewer air pockets between the fruit. This means that there's less chance of the pie collapsing after baking. Mound the filling slightly higher in the center for that traditional "rounded" look.
Roll out the remaining crust to 1/8-inch thick, and place over the filling. Press the top crust to the bottom crust gently to seal, then trim the excess top crust away, leaving just 1/2-inch overhang all around. Tuck the overhang under itself, making a thicker edge around the pie plate.
Use your fingers to crimp the edge to seal. Cut four vents into the top of the pie with a sharp knife. Egg wash the pie and sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar.
Bake until the crust is deeply golden and the filling is bubbly, 40 to 50 minutes. If the crust begins to brown too quickly, reduce the oven temperature to 375° F and/or tent the crust with foil. Cool at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving. (NOTE: The pie is delicious just 30 minutes out of the oven, but the filling won't be fully 'set' until it cools completely. If you don't want a runny apple pie, let it cool completely, then reheat it (or just reheat individual slices) gently before serving.
I always carry three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's pie. My first cookbook, The Fearless Baker, is out on October 24, 2017.