There were other things I wanted to tell you about today, but I have to get this pie out of my brain so I can move on with my life.
At the risk of sounding incredibly un-American, I'm not a huge fan of apple pie. Sure, it's got it's high points: everyone likes it, it imparts feelings of patriotism when we see it nestled next to a bowl of potato salad on a fourth of July picnic spread, and apples + cinnamon will always equal true love, but I find it to be a bit overplayed. And I feel like I can't get away from it - and not just the pie. You've got apple crumbles, apple crisp, apple turnovers, apple tarts, apple dumplings - all of which are still apple pie as far as I'm concerned, just with a different shape. Call me cynical, but I just don't believe the hype.
This past weekend, I had a rough spell in the kitchen. I blame it all on Justin - he started the ugly ball rolling when he asked me to make this particular pie, this salted caramel apple pie that we saw on the Cooking Channel a few months ago and he hasn't stopped talking about since. I was already in the middle of making pot roast for dinner, plus a second stew that contained last year's bounty (rabbits) that my carnivorous huntsman asked me to make and freeze. All was going well until I took the bunny brew out of the oven and saw bits of enamel flecked throughout and I dug down deep to the bottom to find the coating on my beloved cast iron pot had splintered and chipped. It was a sad day.
But there wasn't much time to mourn - there was a pie to be made. I didn't make it past the first apple before my peeler slipped off the apple and took half my thumbnail with it. But oh, that was nothing, really. Nothing compared to the slice my other thumb endured as I insisted on using my bare hand to wedge that last tiny piece of apple across the blade. Dear friends, do not do as I do.
About that time, my darling husband walked through the door, covered in dirt after demanding obedience from our disrespectful flower beds, and gave me a concerned speech about my kitchen safety habits while he bandaged up my bum thumb. But my apple pie troubles were still to come - oh yes. This recipe is a little different than my former apple pie experience - you layer thinly sliced apples between generous smears of warm, salted caramel sauce and package it all up in a flaky, all-butter crust topped with crunchy sugar and flakes of sea salt. And that sounds fine, but I refuse to believe the recipe was without error. In its instructions, it adds the butter to the melting sugar & water mixture before the sugar has a chance to caramelize (adding the butter only after the granules have dissolved but not cooked). It says to allow it to boil until it caramelizes - something it never, ever does. Do you know what happens when you boil butter and sugar, praying for it to darken? It crystallizes. It solidifies. It turns into one solid lump.
After two failed attempts and some words I have already asked forgiveness for, I chucked the caramel recipe and made my own - sans butter. With so much butter in the crust, this pie was hardly lacking in buttery flavor, quite the opposite. It was rich, plump with slices of juicy apples, with an oozy caramel sauce that is equal parts sweet and salty. I had some reservations about using uncooked apples in the pie, that method usually produces a soupy mess for me, but it wasn't any trouble at all this time.
Justin pronounced it the "best pie he's ever had," and I believe our dinner guests that night agreed, and after all the trouble this pie caused me, I didn't want to like it, but I did. I liked it very much. I've tweaked this recipe quite a bit - everything from the caramel sauce to the spices to the number of apples. The recipe also called for Angostura bitters as their secret ingredient, but after years working in a hotel restaurant next to the bar, the very sight of that white-papered bottle makes me cringe, so I skipped it. It wasn't missed.
A few notes before you get started:
Spend the few extra minutes to make your crust from scratch - it will be worth it. I used my absolute favorite all-butter pie crust.
Any variety of apples will work. I used a combination of Granny Smith, Cortland, and Gala apples.
If you go with the cookie-cutter route for the top crust, be sure you over lap the shapes just a bit. I didn't do this and when the pie baked, the shapes sagged down a little bit. It was perfectly delicious, but if you really want the most crust for your buck, nudge them in pretty close together with some apple filling still showing through.
The apple slices don't have to be layered in any particular pattern - just squeeze and nudge them in there.
Adapted, quite a bit, from 4 & 20 Blackbirds.