For Thanksgiving this year, I decided to take my first stab at making a salted caramel apple pie. It was only the second pie ever that I've ever made - ever. Over the summer, I made my first pie - which was a simple blueberry pie. I figured I would write a blog post about my pie-baking experience thus far, as it's definitely one of my newer food experiments that I've recently tackled (and a skill that I'm determined to hone). I used Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book for a reference / recipe for both the crust and the pie filling. If you don't own the book, and are interested in baking pie - I highly recommend their book! It's filled with everything from tools to technique to seasonal recipes - and great for beginners. This post is going to cover some of the problems / successes I had, but for full baking instructions - I would refer to the book. Four & Twenty Blackbirds is a sweet little pie shop based in Gowanus (Brooklyn, NY) and they were a place I frequented during my Pratt days. They also have a little shop set up at the Brooklyn Public Library. Their pie is literally to die for - so if you are in the area / in NY, I highly recommend giving them a visit!
When I made the blueberry pie over the summer, my main problem was that the filling was too wet / watery - and thus the bottom of the pie didn't bake properly. Instead of the bottom having a crunch, it was chewy. The chewiness didn't ruin it for me, but I did wish that it was crunchy / flaky - as opposed to borderline soggy. I wasn't sure how much juice would come out of the apples, but didn't think it'd be as much as blueberries. With that in mind, I still took extra care to make sure my apple pie filling wasn't too wet.
I follow many food accounts on Instagram - and have become a fan of @thejudylab - because her pies are beyond beautiful. I hope to some day have pie skills like she does, haha. I left a comment on one of her photos telling her I was a fan and was thinking of baking a pie for Thanksgiving - and she recommended added 4 tbsp of corn starch to the filling to help keep the filling from being too wet. Her leaf details also inspired me to add a couple leaf cut-outs of my own.
I think I spent a good 7-8 hours baking the pie. Pie-baking is no joke, my friends. If you want to bake a pie from scratch - you have to really be determined / motivated to do it and be willing to put in the work. I made the pie pastry dough the night before and stored it in the fridge wrapped tightly in plastic wrap - which is something I highly recommend.
WHAT YOU NEED FOR A DOUBLE ALL-BUTTER CRUST:
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 cup cold water
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 1 cup ice
One of the mistakes I made with the blueberry pie was that I didn't cut the butter into small enough pieces. I also used the butter straight from the fridge, which I found to be problematic when blending the dough because the butter was stiff and harder to incorporate. I also don't own a handheld "bench scraper"… which is the tool that the book recommends. For the blueberry pie I ended up using a flat-edged plastic tool that is used to clean / scrape our small grill… that could be why I had a little bit of a struggle initially lol. For the apple pie, this time around, I took the butter out 5-10 minutes before I started to let it thaw a little so that it wasn't so hard. It was much easier to work with!
I also used a large metal flat-edged spoon this time - which was much easier to use in terms of combining the ingredients (although ultimately - still not a bench scraper). I still had a few small chunks of butter in the end, but it was much better than the first time. Practice makes perfect, right? Some day I'll buy a bench scraper… and maybe then, I'll be able to achieve the "marbled butter" effect that I'm supposed to. ;)
I made the caramel sauce / pie filling and finished assembling / baking the pie the following day. I also highly recommend making the caramel the night before and storing it in the fridge too, but I didn't have heavy cream in the house - so had to put it off until the next day. I had never made caramel sauce before - and didn't realize how time consuming it was for the water / sugar / butter mixture to start "browning." I had it on a slow boil while I cut and cored the apples. We don't own an apple corer / peeler either, so I had to do this the old fashioned way with a small knife. It wasn't a huge deal, but definitely was more time-consuming.
WHAT YOU NEED FOR CARAMEL SAUCE:
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 stick butter
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
WHAT YOU NEED FOR FILLING:
- 2 lemons (juiced)
- 5 apples (2 red delicious / 3 granny smith)
- 1/3 cup raw sugar
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 pinch nutmeg
- 1 pinch black pepper
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
- 4 tbsp corn starch
- egg wash (1 large egg whisked w/ 1 tsp water and a pinch of salt)
- demerara sugar, for finishing
For the most part, I stuck to the recipe(s) the book provided. A few changes I made - one intentional, one by trial and error, and one by accident (lol). I didn't include "Angostura bitters" because I actually have no idea what those are or where to obtain them. I looked for them in my local supermarket, but had no luck. I probably need to look in a Whole Foods or something...
The book's recipe called for "6-7 baking apples." I'm actually not sure what the difference is between a "baking" apple and a "regular…?" apple - lol. I am assuming that baking apples are smaller based on my trial and error. Originally I cut up 3 apples (1 red delicious, 2 granny smith) - which looked like more than enough. However, when I started mounding the apple slices into the pie dish - I realized it wasn't enough and so I added one more of each. I decided to go heavier on the sour apples so that it would counter the sweetness of the caramel sauce. Ultimately, I ended up using 2 red delicious and 3 granny smith (5 apples total).
I also left out "1/4 tsp ground allspice" - completely by accident. I bought it, but ended up forgetting to measure it and add it to the spice mixture (whoops). I also added 4 tbsp of corn starch - which as I mentioned was a suggestion from @thejudylab - in hopes that it would help the mixture from being too wet. It seemed to help, although the bottom of the pie was still not crunchy. (If anyone has tips on how to get that crunchy pie bottom, I'd love you forever!)
I rolled out leftover dough from the lattice trimmings and used a leaf cookie cutter to cut out three maple leaves, which I planned to place at the center of the pie as a decoration. I used a toothpick to freehand some vein details on the leaves. I think this is a great way to recycle the trimmings - so that they don't go to waste. It also adds a nice little festive touch, so I thought to myself - why not? :)
One problem I encountered with the apple pie that I didn't have with the blueberry pie - was that my crimped edges completely melted / fell apart when it went in the oven. :( I'm not completely sure why this happened - but my hunch is that I didn't let the pastry settle long enough (after crimping) before putting it in the oven. I was too anxious / excited to finally be at the oven stage after all those hours, lol. Lesson learned: you can't rush pie!
In conclusion, the salted caramel apple pie turned out really great (despite a couple mishaps - it tasted amazing) and I will definitely be making it again (hopefully with a crunchy bottom, a successful crimped edge, and a 1/4 tsp allspice next time haha). Baking has always been something I've enjoyed - to me it's like edible art, so what could be better? ;) Despite not having a bench scraper, not knowing what Angostura bitters are, and not being able to achieve the oh-so-desirable crunchy bottom -- I thoroughly enjoy and embrace baking pie. There's something so satisfying about pie particularly when it's been baked completely from scratch, and it's a very fulfilling feeling when 7-8 hours of baking is a yummy success!
I hope that this has maybe inspired you to do some pie experiments / baking experiments in general of your own! If you have any pie tips or suggestions / favorite pie recipes or want to share some of your own pie struggles - I'd love to hear them in the comments below!