Cider Caramel Apple Pie by Erin McDowell

November  8, 2014
31 Ratings
Photo by Mark Weinberg
  • Prep time 2 hours
  • Cook time 1 minute
  • Makes one 9 inch pie
Author Notes

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 Jeanne McDowell

What You'll Need
  • 1 quart apple cider (906 g)
  • 4 tablespoons softened butter (57 g)
  • hefty pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (5 g)
  • 8 large Honeycrisp apples (or other good baking apples), peeled and thinly sliced (1,450 g)
  • 1 cup brown sugar (212 g)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour (40 g)
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • your favorite double-crust pie dough (my favorite is: https://food52.com/recipes...)
  • egg wash
  • turbinado sugar
  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

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I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, Savory Baking, came out in Fall of 2022 - is full of recipes to translate a love of baking into recipes for breakfast, dinner, and everything in between!

43 Reviews

voldemochi November 28, 2022
best apple pie recipe i've ever used! i made this two times, and the second time turned out better in terms of crust--accidentally added kerrygold salted butter instead of unsalted, about 1 tbsp sugar, and omitted salt everywhere else. it really brought out the flavors of the filling. i also mixed honeycrisp w/ granny smith for some tartness the first time i made it, and turned out really great! maybe i let the caramel cool for too long but it hardened within 5 minutes so it was difficult to incorporate. i ended up ripping pieces and distributing it as evenly as possible.
A&EsGotti November 24, 2022
Turned out great! Made it for our Thanksgiving feast this year and everyone loved it! Really flavorful and not overly sweet like many apple pies tend to be.
fishmaster21 October 9, 2021
This pie has an incredible bold apple flavour in contrast to the cinnamon flavour of other apple pies, it’s delicious! I’m lucky to have an apple press we use every fall for our own cider etc, so perhaps my success and love of this recipe is due to the fresh pressed cider I used for the caramel. This will be in my fall recipe rotation indefinitely! Thank you Erin!
Katie December 6, 2020
I've made this twice and while I want to love it, I've not had success with the insides. I made sure this second time to follow the recipe exactly, but we ended up with a juice filled slop of a pie. My caramel was nice and thick when I mixed it with the apples, but both times the caramel has completely disappeared and there's no evidence of it after the pie has baked. I did have at least 3/4 of caramel, so perhaps even though it was thick, I still need to cook it down further? I did a lattice top to allow for plenty of liquid to evaporate, but perhaps I needed to bake it for longer. I love Erin's recipes (that new Pumpkin Sugar pie is my new favorite pumpkin pie and I don't think I'll ever make another!) but I just can't get this one to work! Suggestions for what I can do differently are welcome.
voldemochi November 28, 2022
i also have the same problem with the liquid and i found that if it sits in the fridge after it's cooled (and uncut), it'll firm up. i'm going to try adding 1-3 tsp corn starch with the flour + brown sugar mixture to see if it holds up better post bake and cool w/o going into the fridge.
James S. November 27, 2020
It was great—the syrupy cider caramel shot the apple intensity (and sweetness) to great heights. I parbaked the crust, and so opted for a streusel topping instead of a double crust, and that added a bit of texture to the pie (and no soggy bottom! I sprinkled some crushed graham cracker crumbs on the bottom as well.
Bridget G. November 24, 2020
LOVE this recipe. I’ve made this pie for Thanksgiving every year since it was published, and it consistently impresses.
I do typically switch up the apples and use Granny Smith - I love the texture and tartness - but otherwise stick to the recipe.
And be sure to use *true* cider without any icky additives; it makes all the difference.
colello October 25, 2020
Totally worth making the caramel. It took me almost 2 hours to get a nice and thick caramel. I made the dough and the caramel the night before and left the caramel covered on the counter so I stays soft. The pie turned out delicious, but it spilled out a lot in the oven while cooking, causing my apartment to be full of smoke. I left the pie cool down for about an hour and it was not runny or soggy. My new go-to apple pie!
Stefanie F. November 24, 2020
Same experience!
Smalltowngirl October 14, 2020
SO I love the Author of this recipe and have learned much from her videos. I used her all-butter crust, which was easier to work with than I had predicted The colour of the crust was insanely inviting. Overall I found this a pretty simple pie to make. The cider came out lovely and took maybe 30 minutes. I did make the pie a full day ahead. The insides are lovely and delicious but quite wet, I'd likely sweat the apples in the sugar next time, and pour out the excess before filling. I also cut back the sugar. My apples weren't sweet, just prefer a more apple forward pie. I do have TWO major issues, the cook time is WAY off. Even before putting it in the oven I knew 40 minutes was never going to happen. I did have to cover and drop the temp as she indicates because my crust was browning fast and it took about 90 minutes to get the apples soft. The second is - the bottom was like dough, So soggy. No-one complained but I couldn't get a piece out with the crust intact. It is delicious, and I would attempt again, but blind bake for sure, and sweat the apples. Sure did look pretty though, and as I said, the filling and the top crust were super yummy.
Janice P. October 5, 2020
Well, I have high hopes for this pie. It was more labor intensive, considering cooking down the caramel sauce and I did decorate with a few leaves. However, that said, it smells fabulous. I put it in an all butter crust, brushed the bottom with egg wash, sprinkled with flour lightly the bottom and top of apples. Also added a few chopped pecans on top of apple filling. Covered top crust and cut out shapes with egg wash and raw sugar. Can’t wait to serve it after dinner.
Kim A. March 19, 2019
Could anyone tell me if filtered apple cide can be used in place of raw apple cider for this recipe. Isnt filtered just apple juice? Confused. Its hard to find raw apple cider this time of year. Does anyone know where i can order? Thank you
eileen February 5, 2019
I made this pie twice. The first time, in a 9" pie pan, it bubbled out most of the liquid and left a dry tastless filling. So, I gave it another try, with a deep dish pie pan....the filling overwhelmed the apples.
Way too much work for a less than satisfying dessert. Not saving this recipe.
Will January 24, 2019
I have an unnatural fear of runny pies and soggy crusts, so I usually pull out all the stops to prevent them, despite the substantial extra effort. For anyone who had a runny pie, here's what I did, and my pie came out amazing. Here's the test, after I cut out a few pieces, the half-cut pie sat out on my counter for another 24 hours, and there isn't a single drop of pie sauce that ran out into the pie dish.

- I blind-baked the bottom of my pie crust at 400-deg F. Some people don't like that or think it's unnecessary for fruit pies, but I hate soggy bottoms. I made the bottom crust, baked for 10 minutes with pie beans and parchment, took out the parchment and beans, brushed the base with egg whites, covered the rim, and baked for another 6 minutes. Then I let it cool completely before assembling. It's ok that you don't blind bake the top crust - the top crust will have no problem baking completely and browning, especially after you see how long I left the pie in.

- I tossed my apples with the sugar, salt, and cinnamon, and them let them just sweat in a bowl for about an hour. After that hour, I got almost 3 cups of liquid that seeped out. I strained the liquid out, and then boiled that down to under a cup. For final assembly I took my now-sweated-out apples and tossed them with the boiled-down syrup, the previously made cider caramel, and double the recommended flour, and then arranged them into the pie crust. I also dusted my bottom pie crust with flour before assembling.

- I did a lattice crust, not the double crust with vents, to ensure lots of liquid can evaporate.

- Even with the blind baking and with my extra liquid-reduction techniques, I baked this pie for 75 minutes, and it came out great. The bottom crust was crisp, golden-brown, and not at all burned. The rim crust, obviously, had to be covered with one of those silicon pie savers after about 30 minutes. I tented the entire top crust with foil after 45 minutes and then it continue to bake, until the total of 75 minutes.

Pie was delicious.
Mimisfood November 17, 2019
I did everything you said it was perfect, thank you
Tarah T. November 24, 2021
What recipe of pie crust did you use?
Cat October 28, 2022
I haven't actually made it yet. Am planning on it. But, that aside, I know it would be enhanced with cranberries. They are out in the stores now. While you are at it, freeze some cranberries for other times when they aren't available.
tmsblum December 19, 2018
This is the best apple pie I have EVER made!! The caramel only took about 20 minutes to make (not an hour or two). Wow! What a taste!! Let it cool all the way. So so good!!!!
SCalabretta November 18, 2018
Really beautiful pie! I followed the recipe but next time would reduce the brown sugar to ~1/2 cup.
Heather November 11, 2018
Just made this for the first time for friends. They LOVED it! I used only Granny Smith apples, 2/3 cup of brown sugar, & didn't sugar the top. I used a 10" pie dish and it took about 45 min. After making the caramel, I was for sure I wouldn't make this again, but it was such a huge hit I know I'll make it again. Thank you so much!
Loreal November 24, 2017
An easy and incredibly impressive apple pie. I've made it twice in the last week, with pink lady and honey crisp apples and it was stellar both times. Helpful hints: using a wide pot and moderately high heat, I was able to reduce the apple cider to approximately 1/2 a cup in about 45 minutes. I made the apple cider caramel the night before and slightly reheated it (the butter solidified in the fridge) the next day when I completed the pie. I also did a lattice crust, but found the baking time to be a bit short--I had to bake it for about 70 minutes to fully cook the crust (in a 10" pie plate, it took about 90 minutes).
Angel R. November 20, 2018
what kind of cider works for you? I was thinking to try honey crisp apple cider, since I would use honeycrisp apples. Plus it has a rich flavor

Kelly November 23, 2016
Just finished this pie! It definitely gets the most out of every single ingredient, because the method to each step is complex and detailed. From making the crust 12 hours before to cooking up a caramel (which took 2 hours) to rolling out and chilling pie to filling the pie with a spiral apple presentation. It might look simple, but it's pretty labor intensive and I think it will be VERY worth it!
[email protected] November 29, 2015
I'm not much of a baker, and I've had a few apple pie fails. Not this time. This was the best apple pie I've ever tasted, and my guests thought so too! My thoughts on complaints of runny pie: perhaps you didn't cook the cider long enough to make the caramel or you didn't let the pie set for several hours. You really have to do both. I boiled my cider until the caramel was fairly thick-it almost seemed a bit scorched, but when I removed from heat it just firmed up perfectly. It did get too thick to truly stir into the cold apples, but I didn't worry about it because as the pie cooked it just melted in to create a deep and sophisticated flavor. The cider did foam a bit and did scorch the side of my pot a bit as well. Washed right off, no damage done. Thank you for a winner recipe!
sarah M. November 26, 2015
After 20 minutes of boiling the cider foamed and burnt on the edges. I used a stock pot as my large pot. Can you tell me what I did wrong and how I can correct this?
kmharris91 December 15, 2019
I did more of a simmer instead of a boil, and just when I thought nothing was happening and it was just evaporating, it started to thicken and carmelize.
Amy November 24, 2015
Do you think I could add a few shots of bourbon to the cider?