I’m not the first to think of putting carmel in an apple pie. Those are the primary flavors of the famous French tarte tatin, but truth be told, I prefer a pie preparation. A certain beloved Brooklyn pie shop makes a salty carmel apple pie that is very good, but I somehow always wish it were more caramely and more salty, so I’ve made mine that way. And for good measure, I add some bourbon too.
There are almost no spices in this pie since I want to really taste the fruit. That said, you need to start with high quality ingredients. Tart, firm apples work best for this pie to balance the caramel’s sweetness. If you’re shopping in a grocery store, Granny Smith are a safe bet, but if you can get to the farmers market, ask an apple farmer what variety they recommend – there are all sorts of lesser known pie apples with wonderful and unique qualities!
As for the crust, I’d been hearing about adding vodka, which doesn’t activate the gluten in flour like water does. As a result, the dough stays tender and flaky, even if you overwork it. The bartender in me thought, if you’re going to use liquor, why not something that adds flavor? The result here is subtle and delicious. Simply substitute chilled bourbon for the liquid in any all-butter crust (I haven’t tried it with gluten-free flour, so if you do, please post a comment).
There’s bourbon in the filling too. No need to buy anything fancy: Four Roses Yellow Label, or Old Crow come in well under $20 a bottle and are good enough to make an old fashioned with after you’ve used what you need for baking (a recommended step when preparing for guests). Cheers to apple pie!
Salty caramel apple pie
Makes 1 pie
1 recipe bourbon pie crust (remember to substitute the chilled bourbon for the liquid in this recipe)
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup water
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons bourbon
6-8 medium apples (3 pounds)
3 dashes Angostura cocktail bitters
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Tablespoon tapioca starch
Sea salt flakes, for finishing
1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. If you have a baking stone or steel, place it on the bottom rack. Place a cookie sheet on top of that (or just use the cookie sheet if you don’t have a stone/steel). Roll out the bottom crust of the pie, and place it in the pie tin with the extra dough hanging over the edge; put it in the freezer. Roll out the top crust and place it on a parchment-lined cookie sheet before putting it in the refrigerator.
2. Peel and core the apples. Cut them into rough chunks, some large bite-sized pieces that will stay firm and some smaller bits to thicken the sauce part of the filling. Toss the chopped apples with the Angostura bitters, lemon juice and tapioca starch; set aside.
3. Put the sugar and 1/3 cup water in a large clean skillet, and set it over medium-high heat. Don’t touch it or stir it once it is heating, but gently swirl the pan now and then. When the mixture turns golden brown, turn off the heat. Immediately add the butter and stir it in with a wooden spoon; next, add the bourbon.
4. While it’s still hot, pour half the caramel into the frozen pie crust. Return the pie crust to the freezer. Put the caramel pan back on the stove. Add the apples to the pan, and turn the heat to high. Cook, stirring, until the caramel has melted and covered the apples. Put this mixture in the refrigerator or freezer to cool for at least a few minutes. It should be at least cool enough to comfortably touch.
5. Fill the frozen crust with the apple mixture, mounding the apples higher it in the middle. Take out the top crust, and cut a few decorative vents using a knife or cookie cutter (a 1.5–inch circle in the middle is fine if you’re not feeling crafty). Drape the top crust over the pie. Roll the overhang in onto itself, tucking and twisting it under as you work your way around. Shape the crust into a decorative zigzag, or simple press it down to make it stick together. Make sure it doesn’t hang over the edge of the pie tin or it will sag off in the oven. Pop the whole pie back to the freezer for a few minutes to firm it up. (At this point, you could wrap the pie and keep it frozen for days or weeks until you are ready to bake it).
6. Beat the egg with 1-2 teaspoons water to thin it enough to easily brush onto the pie. Brush the whole crust with the egg wash, then bake it for 45-60 minutes, until the crust is golden brown all over. Sprinkle it liberally with sea salt flakes while it is still hot. Allow the pie to set for a few hours before serving. This is best served the day it’s made, but will keep at room temperature for a couple of days, and a little longer in the refrigerator.
Photo credit: Allison Davis