During a recent weekend in Connecticut visiting friends and friend-babies, I enlisted my hosts to help me test out a pie recipe with Thanksgiving potential. Before selecting a recipe, my questions to them included: What pies do people eat on Thanksgiving? (It took many years for my Chinese family to get on the turkey bandwagon. They are just now working up to American desserts thanks to my baking-savvy cousins.)
Charming, well-designed, and beautifully photographed, The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book: Uncommon Recipes from the Celebrated Brooklyn Pie Shop (Grand Central Life & Style) by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen, will stoke your pie-making dreams. I’ve never baked a pie before. I’ve never watched anyone bake a pie. I didn’t know caramel was made with heavy cream. The closest I’ve come to this particular salted caramel apple pie is on Instagram.
For this recipe, one of the most popular at the Elsen’s shop, we stuck with recipe—chilling the dough, squeezing out the lemon juice myself, and other time-intensive steps. But then we deviated at a point—dough prepared in a stand mixer rather than by hand—where the authors would definitely object. Their ethos is completely authentic and DIY, and if we’d followed their instructions more closely, I suspect the dough would have produced a thicker, flakier, and prettier crust. The lattice, however, turned out very pretty thanks to my friend Jared’s technique (trace pie tin onto wax paper, cut dough into circle, cut circle into strips, weave lattice on wax paper, flip the lattice onto finished pie), which was simpler than the book’s technique of weaving the lattice strips directly onto the apples.
Still, despite not using apples from the farmer’s market, despite sprinkling too much sea salt onto the crust, despite rolling the dough too thin, adults ate pie, friend-babies ate pie, and the next day, after finishing the leftover pie for breakfast, we all wished there was more.
For your Thanksgiving pie, I suggest starting early in the morning, enlisting helpers, and yes, rolling the dough yourself. It will be worth it, and you too can enjoy the sight of friend-babies’ little bird mouths opening wide for another bite.
Salted Caramel Apple Pie
(Makes one 9-inch pie. Serves 8 to 10)
All-Butter Crust for a 9-inch double-crust pie
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup water
¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream
6 to 7 baking apples (about 2 ½ pounds)
2 to 3 dashes Angostura bitters
1/3 cup raw sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
One grind fresh black pepper
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon flake sea salt, plus more for finishing
Egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 1 teaspoon water and a pinch of salt)
Demerara sugar, for finishing
Have ready and refrigerated one pastry-lined 9-inch pie pan and lattice strips to top.
Whisk together 1 cup of the granulated sugar and the water in a medium saucepan, and cook over medium-low heat until the sugar is just dissolved. Add the butter and bring to a slow boil. Continue cooking over medium heat until the mixture turns a deep golden brown, almost copper. Remove from the heat and immediately but slowly add the heavy cream—be careful, the mixture will bubble rapidly and steam. Whisk the final mixture together well and set aside to cool while you prepare the apple filling.
Juice the lemons into a large mixing bowl, removing any seeds. Prepare the apples using an apple-peeling machine, or core, peel, and thinly slice them with a sharp knife or a mandoline. Dredge the apple slices in the lemon juice. Sprinkle lightly with the remaining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Set aside to soften slightly and release some of the juices, 20 to 30 minutes.
In a small bowl, sprinkle the Angostura bitters over the raw sugar. Add the cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, black pepper, kosher salt, and flour, and mix well. Add the prepared apples to the sugar-spice mixture, leaving behind any excess liquids. Gently turn the apples to evenly distribute the spice mix.
Tightly layer the apples in the prepared pie shell so that there are minimal gaps, mounding the apples slightly higher in the center. Pour a generous ½ cup to ¾ cup of the caramel sauce evenly over the apples (use the larger quantity of sauce if you’d like a sweeter pie). Sprinkle with ¼ tablespoon of the flake sea salt. Assemble the lattice on top of the pie and crimp the edges as desired.
Chill the pie in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes to set the pastry. Meanwhile, position the oven racks in the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack, and preheat the oven to 400° F.
Brush the pastry with the egg wash to coat, being careful not to drag the caramel onto the pastry (it will burn), and sprinkle with the desired amount of demerara sugar and flake sea salt. Place the pie on the rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is set and beginning to brown. Lower the oven temperature to 375°F, move the pie to the center oven rack, and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling, 30 to 35 minutes longer. Test the apples for doneness with a skewer or sharp knife; they should be tender and should offer just the slightest resistance.
Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or at room temperature for 2 days.