I have a lot of problems with pie. I like it, at least I think I do, but there's so rarely a decent pie these days. The store-bought crusts that have absolutely zero flavor and blacken at the edges long before the center cooks through? That's only the beginning. Then there's the canned fillings, gloppy and gluey and thick as tar, more suitable for cementing bricks together than making a dessert. (Although between you and me, I've been eying a certain apple bar recipe that calls for pie filling and I'm trying to figure a way to weasel out of it.) I'm not a huge fan of cream filled pies, except for a certain chocolate pudding pie that is light and creamy and perfect for a Sunday afternoon, but the banana cream? Coconut cream? A little iffy there.
I think I have it in my head that all coconut cream pies look like sponges because when I worked at Bob Evans we always had coconut cream pie on the menu and it was an obnoxious shade of yellow, flecked with tiny air pockets that made me want to scrub dishes with each slice. I'm still working through that. I once had a coconut cream pie that wasn't so bad, it had toasted coconut in the graham crust and a slick of white chocolate under the cream that made it close to magical.
Okay, maybe I'm okay with a certain white chocolate version of coconut cream pie. Let's move on.
This is really, really terrible, but I'm going to say it: I don't like apple pie. I know, I know! Are you thinking, "You don't like apple pie!? Do you also hate baseball? Babies? Your mother!?" I'm a rotten American. I'd argue that apple pies are actually an English dessert, but most people have stopped listening at that point. I just find it sooo...eh, boring. The cinnamon, the apples, the melty scoop of vanilla ice cream dripping over the crust, I get it. It's so overplayed, so tired. Every restaurant in the universe offers it and after one or two bites, I'm wishing I had something chocolate.
Unfortunately, I am outnumbered in my house when it comes to apple pie lovers and I cracked under the pressure. I figured if I had to make it, it had to be good. I had to have the recipe under my belt for future wifedom, because I cannot imagine the shame my grandchildren would feel if their matriarch couldn't crank out an apple pie worth bragging about.
My previous apple pies have not been worth bragging about, the apples always became too juicy while they cooked and the bottom crust would be gloppy and gummy. My mom would just pick the crunchy crust off the top despite my pleas to try and eat the whole pie, but really it was the only part worth having. Fortunately, it was also the easiest part to get to since the apples sank so much there was a two inch gap between the crust and the filling. After many a trial and error, my friend Susan came to the rescue. She gave me a recipe from an old cooking magazine that defied the logic of apple pie making - you cook the apples first in a slurry of brown sugar and butter and then cool them on a baking sheet before mixing in the flour and cinnamon. Doing it this way allows the apples to lose their volume before baking so it doesn't sink and their juices are now a luscious caramel sauce that stays sticky and still allows the bottom crust to crisp.
It's perfect, the apples swathed in caramel sauce, the slightest spicy edge from cinnamon and an all-butter, flaky crust topped with crunchy sugar. Mercy, even my mother ate the entire slice. And my Dad and Justin, who both swore off a second piece, were hovering back around the pan half an hour later. I love that.
A note about the apples: the original recipe called for Golden Delicious but I think they are too soft for pie. I used my stand-by Granny Smith apples because they hold their shape a little bit better, but you can use a mix of your favorite apples and I imagine it will work just as well.
Caramel Apple Pie
From my friend Susan
For the crust
1 cup ice water
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold butter, cubed
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the cubed butter and pulse until the butter is the size of peas. Add 1/4 cup of the cold water (no actual ice chips, please!) to the mixture and pulse for about 10 seconds. Add the remaining water, a tablespoon at a time, and pulse until the dough forms a ball. Turn the dough out onto a well floured counter and divide into two, working in any extra flour. Wrap the two discs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
For the filling
4 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cubed
1 stick unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Juice of one lemon
1 egg (for egg wash)
A palmful of white sugar, for dusting
In a large bowl, toss the cubed apples with the juice of the lemon and set aside.
In a 12 inch skillet (I used the cast iron skillet Justin gave me for Christmas, it's so big and heavy I never thought I'd use it but lo and behold, it has a purpose!), melt the butter and brown sugar together over low heat, it will look a little granular and oily, but it will all make sense soon. Add the apples and turn to coat (it will be a very full pan, just be careful). Increase the heat to high and cook, turning occasionally, until most of the wedges are tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes.
Immediately scoop the apples and their juices onto a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle the flour and cinnamon over the apples and toss them until the flour disappears. Allow the apple to cool to room temperature, about 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Roll out the pie crusts to a 12 inch round each and line a glass pie plate with the first crust. Scrape the apples and all the sticky juices into the crust and top with the second piece of dough. Crimp the edges together (or press together with a fork) and cut a few small slits into the top to allow steam to escape.
In a small bowl, scramble the egg with a few teaspoons of water or milk and brush over the entire top crust. Sprinkle with lots of granulated sugar (I like a sparkly, crunchy crust.)
Bake for 25 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Allow to cool for about two hours before serving, it will still be warm.
It's best served with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream and a cute boy who tells you how much he loves it.