Every fall finds us picking apples! We love to visit the local orchard and load up boxes of them. The orchard contains a mix of crab apples, Macintosh (the only one we’ve accurately identified thus far), and other mysteries. We taste the apples until we find the perfect match for baking, they have to be firm (so they don’t turn to mush) and tart (to counter the sweetness of the desert). After the tasting/testing, we slice them and portion them in bags, and stash them in the freezer. So all year long we have a supply on hand to bake into pies, tarts and crisps. The apples we pick are amazingly fragrant and have flavor characteristics that stand out in comparison to the usual store-bought varieties. They are also very, very, very tart! The classic apple pie simply cannot balance this tartness so to counter we found that adding sweet caramel does the trick! The caramel lends that extra dose of richness and sweetness needed to bring everything into balance and it’s incredibly easy to make…always a bonus! There is a generous amount of spice in this pie, which I love, but feel free to play with the ratios to suit your own individual taste.
Pre-heat your oven to 400, set a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil on the lowest rack of your oven – this will catch any drips (and there will be some from the caramel!). Have a 9-inch pie pan ready. Prepare your filling, mixing together in a large bowl: 6 cups peeled and sliced tart apples (granny smith are always a good stand-by, but definitely have fun experimenting with some of the unique varieties available this time of year) 1 tsp. vanilla 1 tsp. dry white wine ¾ cup granulated sugar ¼ cup all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon cinnamon ¼ tsp. nutmeg Allow to set out and macerate while you make the crust. 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour 2 tablespoons granulated sugar ½ tsp. salt 16 tablespoons (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into chunks 6 tablespoons cold water In the bowl of a food processor or in a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt until combined. Add the cold butter chunks and either pulse in the food processor, or use a pastry cutter in your mixing bowl. Stop when you have pea-sized lumps. Add your water and pulse or mix in gently – you don’t want to lose your lumps of butter, since that is what gives you a flaky crust. You should be able to take a small portion of the dough, gently squeeze it in your hand and have it hold together. If it doesn’t, add just a little more water. Divide the crust into two equal halves. Roll out one half for the bottom of the pie, and transfer it into the pie pan. Pour in your filling, making sure the apples are spread out evenly. Cut 2 tablespoons of butter into small pieces and dot on top of the apples. Roll out remaining dough and top your filling, trim the edges and tuck under, making a fluted border if desired. Cut slits on top of the pie and place in your heated oven directly on top of the hot cookie sheet and bake for approximately one hour. After a half an hour you will want to cover your border with tin foil to keep it from burning. You know your pie is done when you see the filling bubbling up through the vents. While it’s baking, make your caramel sauce: ¼ cup butter ½ cup packed brown sugar generous pinch of salt 2 tablespoons cream 1 tsp. vanilla extract Place the butter, brown sugar, and salt in a small pan over medium high heat, whisking as the butter melts. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream and vanilla. When the pie is done baking, remove from the oven, keeping it on the cookie sheet. Slowly and carefully pour the hot caramel over the pie. It works best to keep most of your pouring in the center, which minimizes the caramel from overflowing out of the pan. Return to the oven for another 3 minutes until all the caramel is bubbling happily all over the top of the pie. Done! Remove and let cool. If you want your pie to hold that perfect shape when you slice into it you’ll want to let it sit at room temperature overnight. But you most certainly don’t have to wait that long…it will be delicious no matter what!