It’s November. We’re officially in the holiday season. It’s cold outside (sometimes). And the fruits in season – apples, quinces, cranberries – are naturally drawn to pie. Nature, tradition, and expectation declare that it’s pie time.
So my November baking project will be focusing on pie. But not just any pie – festive pie. Holiday pie. Dare I even say it – party pie.
My first offering, caramel apple walnut pie, is a regular apple pie tarted up for the holiday season. I mixed roasted walnuts with the apple filling, added a layer of caramel on the bottom crust, and a drizzle of caramel over the top.
Because the caramel is so sweet, I decreased the sugar in the apple filling – giving the apples a nice tartness that contrasts with the sweet caramel. The crunchy walnuts give a textural contrast to the soft apples, and their slightly bitter flavor helps bring out the sweetness of the rest of the filling. Actually, if I were to make this again, I think I’d up the caramel content – make some more of it and drizzle it over the apples, not just keep it in a layer on the bottom of the pie.
Still, the pie crust was flaky and crisp, the apples were sweet and tart without being overpowering, and the caramel drizzled over the top looked rustic and inviting. Pretty good for my first pie attempt in quite some time.
Caramel Apple Walnut Pie
Adapted from Mastering The Art of French Cooking (crust) and The Pie and Pastry Bible (pie)
For the pie crust
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
6 oz (1 and 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
4 tbs shortening, chilled and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1/2 cup ice water, plus a little bit more (just in case you need it).
For the caramel
1 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup heavy cream
For the apple walnut filling
1 cup walnuts
2 and 1/2 pounds baking apples (around 6), such as granny smiths, peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices
1 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbs packed light brown sugar
2 tbs sugar
1 and 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbs and 1 tsp cornstarch
For the glaze:
1 egg white mixed with 1 tbs of water
Cinnamon and sugar, for sprinkling
For the crust: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Place the bowl in the freezer for 15 minutes to chill. Remove bowl from freezer and add the chilled shortening and butter; cut the fat into the flour mixture using your fingers or a pastry cutter, until the fat is the size of small peas. Slowly add the cold water and stir together using a wooden spoon or spatula, until the dough just comes together. Divide the dough in two equal balls, flatten each into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
Alternately, if you have a food processor: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Freeze the flour mixture, butter, shortening, and the processor blade for 1/2 hour before using. Fit the blade on the processor, and then add the flour mixture, butter, and shortening to the bowl. Pulse a couple of time, in five second bursts – until the butter and shortening are the size of small peas. Add the ice water through the feeder tube – and pulse until the dough just comes together. Divide the dough in two equal balls, flatten each into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
For the filling: Preheat oven to 325°F. Place walnuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast in oven for 10 minutes, until walnuts are a deep brown color. Let cool slightly, and then roughly chop. In a large bowl, mix together the walnuts with the rest of the filling ingredients, tossing until everything is evenly distributed and the cornstarch disappears.
Preheat oven to 425°F.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one disk of the dough until it is approximately 1/8 inches thick and 1.5 inches larger than your pie pan. Transfer to pie dish and trim off excess overhanging dough with a pair of kitchen shears – leaving almost no overhang. Place in the refrigerator while making the caramel.
For the caramel: in a heavy-bottomed, medium sized sauce pan, spread the sugar in an even layer and heat over moderate heat (I had the most success with medium-low heat). As the sugar begins to caramelize, use a heat-proof spatula or other utensil to push the sugar from the edges to the center of the pan. Continue heating until all the sugar is melted. Continue to cook, stirring infrequently, until the caramel is a deep brown – this will happen quickly. Remove from heat and sprinkle in salt, then pour in cream (be careful, because the mixture may spatter). If the caramel hardens, continue to stir over the heat until the sugar dissolves again.
Pour caramel into a heat proof, microwave-safe bowl, and let cool until warm (it should still be spreadable). Pour approximately 3/4 of the caramel over the bottom pie crust – spreading with a heat-proof spatula to fully cover the bottom of the crust as best you can. Cover caramel with the apple mixture, packing the apples tightly so that there are no gaps in the filling.
Roll out the second disk of pie dough until it is approximately 1/8 inches thick and 1.5 inches larger than the pie pan. Place the top crust over the apples; trim off the excess crust, leaving 1/2 inch overhang. Tuck the overhang under the bottom crust border. Crimp edges of the pie with a fork. With a sharp knife, make several decorative 2-inch slashes in the top crust. Brush the crust with the egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar as desired.
Place a piece of aluminum foil on a baking sheet; place pie on foil (this is to catch and juices that bubble over). Place in the oven and bake for approximately 45-50 minutes, until the filling is bubbling through the slashes. Remove from oven.
Warm the remaining caramel in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, until liquid (it will boil a little – but don’t worry). Drizzle remaining caramel over the crust.
Let the pie cool for at least 1 hour before serving.