When I bring home a harvest like this (and compared to the gardens of people who actually know what they’re doing, this is pretty puny), I get a little giddy. A sack full of...
The fact that I haven't yet posted a recipe for apple pie is somewhat scandalous. I realize this and have taken great pains to make it right. It is, after all, one of our quintessential American foodstuffs that also happens to be a hallmark of autumn.
I don't know why I waited so long to do this, really. I think it's because I always forget how unabashedly tasty apple pie is. It's a humble and gracious dessert that could almost double as a breakfast food as long as you leave off the vanilla ice cream. It is, you could say, a generous dessert, a symbol of hospitality and warmth and conviviality. It's the pie that always gets left to cool on the windowsill in movies. It is the pie.
But of course, I had to have my way with this pie. Traditional apple pie is nearly perfect, but I believe that there is always room for improvement. But rather than coming up with something gimmicky that you'll probably never make, I wanted to do something unique to highlight the typical warming flavors of apple pie. John suggested caramel, and it all came together in my mind--caramel apple pie.
I made the pie dough and caramel sauce a day in advance, but you could make both a week in advance if you like. If you've never made caramel sauce before, please give it a try. You'll be amazed at how good, simple, and useful it is. The key, in my mind, is to get the sugar very dark--almost burnt and starting to smoke a little--before adding the cream and butter. This makes for an exceptionally rich-flavored caramel sauce.
I love this pie in deep dish form. It is somehow more satisfying to see it stand tall and dark than slumped in a pie dish. That being said, you could modify the recipe to use a normal, 9-inch pie pan. Simply shape the crust accordingly and decrease the amount of apples used to 2 1/2 pounds. The baking time will probably also be less.
So although pumpkin and pecan pies are the symbolic pies of Thanksgiving, I think there's room on the table for this beauty. I hope you'll agree.
Make the caramel sauce first. You can do this up to a month ahead of time and keep refrigerated until ready to use. Combine in a small heavy saucepan:
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
Set over medium-high heat and stir gently until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is clear. Increase the heat to high and boil the syrup until it begins to darken around the edges. Gently stir until the syrup turns deep amber. Remove from the heat and add carefully (it will bubble up dramatically, so be cautious of the steam):
1/2 cup heavy cream
Whisk until the caramel stops bubbling. If the caramel seizes up, put it back on the heat and whisk until it is liquid again. Stir in:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
Allow the caramel to cool slightly.
1/2 recipe of My Basic All-Butter Crust or any pie dough of your choosing
Roll out the pie dough into a large circle. Drape it over a 9-inch springform pan and fit it gently into the corners of the pan. Trim any overhanging dough. Line the dough with parchment (I love using these for this application), and fill to the brim with pie weights or dried beans. Refrigerate the unbaked crust for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Place the springform pan on a baking sheet and bake until the top edges of the crust are dry to the touch and starting to brown slightly, about 12 to 15 minutes.
While the crust bakes, make the filling. Combine in a large mixing bowl:
3 pounds baking apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
Zest and juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons juice)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon mace or nutmeg
3 tablespoons cornstarch or flour
Remove the crust from the oven, remove the pie weights and parchment, and fill it with the apple mixture. Reduce the oven to 350˚F . Pour the caramel evenly over the top of the apples. Bake until the apples are completely tender and the filling looks deeply caramelized. This can take up to 2 hours--start checking for doneness at around one hour. If the apples start to brown too much on top (mine did at around 30 minutes), tent the pie with foil. Really, you want to go by sight--if the pie looks beautifully cooked and dark golden brown and the filling isn't watery, it's done.