Easy but not Simple
Not gonna lie. This is not the simplest apple pie; not in terms of its elements and not in terms of its flavor. Yeah, it requires a pie dough from scratch, a homemade caramel sauce, and peeling and slicing three pounds of apples. In fact, making it was, frankly, dangerous. But look at it! Look. At. It. Not only is it gorgeous, it’s the only apple pie I ever thought was delicious. So, it may not be simple, but with some planning it can be easy. And it’s worth it.
So what do I mean by easy? Well, everything about this pie is make ahead. For example, I make the pie dough in a food processor in under ten minutes and freeze it for up to three months. Likewise, I make the caramel sauce and store it in the fridge for up to a month. Finally, the whole dang pie can be assembled and frozen up to three months ahead of time and go right from the freezer to the oven. In fact, that’s the only way I make it and closest thing to having the ability to stop time. Because the pie you see in the picture above was assembled in November at the height of apple season, but baked on a snowy day in February.
[Side note: I’ve been serving this apple pie on Thanksgiving for a few years now. I make it and freeze a couple weeks ahead and then bake it the day before. Nothing like being able to have a pie like this simply ready to go when I’m trying to get a million other things done]
Worth the Danger
The result is a burnished beauty of a pie possessing a gentle warmth and depth of flavor from the spices. Most importantly, however, is that it tastes like apples – juicy, sweet, and just firm enough apples nestled in one the flakiest, most tender and flavorful crusts I have ever had.
I’m going to toot my own horn and confess I was never a big fan of apple pie until I cobbled this one together from several trusted and beloved recipes (The dough recipe is by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt and the caramel sauce is by Stella Parks). It is so good it is worthy of bloodshed. I’m not writing in metaphors. I literally shed blood making this pie and had to make a pit stop at the emergency room. Let’s just say if you use a mandolin to slice the apples, just make sure you’ve got a firm grip on the handguard, m’kay?
How to Freeze
A quick note on how to freeze and bake this pie. You’ll notice in the ingredients that I use something called Instant Clearjel. Instant Clearjel is basically tapioca flour and is used as a thickener. The “instant” part means it can thicken without being cooked first. The reason I use it is because it does not need to cooked to thicken (like cornstarch) and it holds up in the freezer (for example, flour does not). It can be easily and inexpensively found on Amazon.
After assembling, put the pie in the freezer until it is completely frozen, about 24 hours. Now, at this point you could leave it there, in the pan you made it in, until you are ready to bake. However, a word of caution – if you’re going to leave the pie in the pan and then put that pan directly in the oven to bake, you MUST use a metal pie pan. If you use glass, pyrex, ceramic, etc. and take from the freezer to the oven, there is an excellent chance the pan will get all explode-y due to thermal shock.
However, the way I freeze this pie that isn’t an issue. After the pie has been frozen for 24 hours, I remove it from the freezer and dip the bottom of the pan in a bowl of warm water for just a few seconds. I am able to lift the completely frozen pie from the pan and then wrap it layers of plastic wrap, aluminum foil and finally in a large plastic zip-top bag. It’s worth the effort because: one, my pan isn’t stuck in the freezer unable to be used to make other delicious pies and two, the pie without the pan takes up less of the freezer’s valuable real estate.
When apple season comes around again, I hope you give this recipe a try. If you do, tell me all about it.
Dangerously Good Caramel Apple Pie
Special Equipment – 9″ pie plate (see note about using a metal pan), mandolin slicer, pastry brush
Caramel Sauce by Stella Parks
- 4 ounces water 1/2 cup; 115g
- 8 1/2 ounces sugar 1 1/4 cups; 240g
- 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt 4g; for table salt, use half as much by volume or use the same weight
- 1 empty vanilla pod reserved from another project (optional)
- 8 ounces heavy cream 1 cup; 225g
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 5g; optional if you use the pod
- Juice of 4 lemons strained to make sure there are no seeds
- 3 lbs. apples any combination of gala, honeycrisp, braeburn with a couple granny smiths for tartness
- 2.5 ounces raw sugar, plus more for sprinkling 1/3 cup; 73g
- 2 tablespoons Instant Clearjel
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground Chinese Five Spice Powder
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 egg yolk mixed with a teaspoon of water for an egg wash when ready to bake
1 Recipe for Foolproof Pie Dough – see below
Prepare the Pie Dough
Prepare the pie dough according to the recipe below. When ready to assemble the pie, roll the bottom crust to fit a 9-inch pan, and cut the top crust as a lattice, approximately 1-inch in width or as desired. Chill the rolled crust while you prepare the salted caramel and apple filling.
In a 3-quart stainless steel saucier, combine water, sugar, and salt over medium heat. If you like, add an empty vanilla pod, too. Stir with a fork until syrup comes to a boil, about 4 minutes, then simmer without stirring until syrup is honey-colored, roughly 6 minutes, shaking and swirling as needed to ensure even caramelization. Continue cooking until syrup is light to medium amber, a minute more. Immediately add cream and reduce heat to medium-low.
Stirring constantly with a heat-resistant spatula to knock back the foam, simmer until caramel registers 225°F (107°C) on a digital thermometer, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a heat-resistant container, stir in vanilla extract (if using), and cool to room temperature. (No need to discard the vanilla bean; it will continue to infuse the caramel over time.) Caramel will be runny while warm, but thicken as it cools, turning just a little chewy when cold. Refrigerate up to 1 month in an airtight container.
To Make the Apple Filling
Juice the lemons into a large mixing bowl. Core, peel, and thinly slice the whole apples. Dredge all the apple slices in the freshly squeezed lemon juice to prevent browning and to add flavor. In a large measuring cup or small mixing bowl, combine the sugar, Clearjel, cinnamon, Chinese Five Spice powder, and nutmeg. Sprinkle this mixture over the apples in the mixing bowl. Use your hands to gently mix and coat the apple slices.
To assemble the pie:
Gather your rolled pie crust, salted caramel, and apple mixture. Gently place the rolled crust in the pan. (Note: this recipe is written assuming you will be baking the pie from frozen. Below I’ve included instructions on how to remove the frozen pie from the pan but if you’re going to leave the pie in the pan in the freezer, you MUST USE A METAL PIE PAN) Next, layer 1/3 of the apples in the bottom of the crust so that there are minimal gaps. Pour 1/3 of the caramel over the apples. Add 1/3 of the apples and caramel for a second layer, and then add a third layer of apples, and then the caramel again.
Assemble the lattice crust and flute the edges of the crust. Put the assembled, unwrapped pie in the freezer until completely frozen, about 24 hours. After the pie is frozen, remove the pie from the pan by dipping the bottom of the pan into a bowl of hot water for a few seconds. The pie should release from the pan when pulled. The pie can then be wrapped for storage in tight layers of plastic wrap and aluminum foil and placed in a zip-top plastic bag. It can frozen for up to three months.
Bake the Pie
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees, set an oven rack to the lowest position, and place a parchment-lined baking sheet on it to warm up.
Remove the pie from the freezer and, if it isn’t in one already, place in a pie baking dish. Brush the crust with the beaten egg and lightly sprinkle with raw sugar and sea salt.
Bake the pie on a baking sheet for 90 minutes to 2 hour. The pie is ready when the crust deeply golden brown and you can see juices bubbling in the center of pie through the lattice. Check the pie around the 90 minute mark. If pie needs more time, but the edges are already quite brown, wrap a collar of aluminum foil around the edge.
Foolproof Pie Dough
This pie dough seems to do the impossible: it’s incredibly tender and flaky while only take about 10 minutes to prepare.
- 12.5 ounces all-purpose flour or 2 1/2 cups or 350 grams
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 10 ounces unsalted butter, cut into cubes or 2 1/2 sticks or 280 grams
- 6 tablespoons ice water
Combine two thirds of flour with sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse twice to incorporate.
Spread butter chunks evenly over surface. Pulse until no dry flour remains and dough just begins to collect in clumps, about 25 short pulses.
Use a rubber spatula to spread the dough evenly around the bowl of the food processor. Sprinkle with remaining flour and pulse until dough is just barely broken up, about 5 short pulses. Transfer dough to a large bowl.
Sprinkle with water then using a rubber spatula, fold and press dough until it comes together into a ball. At a certain point, it might be easier to use your hands to bring the dough together.
Divide ball in half. Form each half into a 4-inch disk. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling and baking.
Note: Dough can be stored in refrigerator for 3 days or for up to 3 months in the freezer. To use, if frozen, thaw first in the refrigerator. Afterward, allow dough to come to cool room temperature before rolling.