Why It Works
- Making each component separately and then assembling the finished pie simplifies the process while guaranteeing a crisp bottom crust.
- Partially peeling the apples gets more pectin into the filling to help thicken it, while ensuring that the filling isn't filled with large pieces of apple skin.
I love pecan pie. For about one bite. It's just a little too sweet and rich for me to finish a whole slice. And I love apple pie, but let's be honest, you can talk yourself into eating apple pie for breakfast and not feel too guilty about it—I mean, it's got to be at least two servings of fruit, right?
But what if they got together, and the super-sweet indulgence of the pecan pie gussied up that wholesome apple pie just a little bit? It might just be a dessert match made in heaven.
There's a hidden bonus here, too. Since you're topping your pie off with a delicious pecan-caramel lid instead of a piece of pastry, you can cook all three elements of the pie separately and get them just right, then assemble them afterward. It's (almost) foolproof, and actually takes a little less time.
Let's start with the pie crust. Anytime I can blind-bake my pie crust, as with custard-type pies like pumpkin pie, key lime pie, shaker lemon pie, etc., I do it. 'Blind baking' is just baker jargon for baking the crust naked, with no filling. One of the most insidious pitfalls of pie is the dreaded soggy bottom, and it's really hard to avoid when you are dumping lots of juicy fruit into a raw pastry shell and then baking them together. Inevitably the juices run before they gel, which risks soaking the pastry before it can bake up all nice and crispy.
Here are a couple of key blind-baking points:
- Make sure that the crust has completely chilled and relaxed before you bake it in order to avoid shrinkage and drooping (nobody wants that). Just roll the crust out, transfer it to a plate (rolling up the overhanging edge) and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours.
- When you're ready to blind bake, transfer the crust to a pie plate and line the pastry with aluminum foil. Then fill the crust not with the typical beans or pie weights, but instead jam-packed with good old granulated sugar; sugar, because of its fine grains, packs into the shell more fully and weighs every inch of it down more, ensuring the shell doesn't contract at all as it bakes. Even better, the baked sugar can be used repeatedly as a pie weight, but it can also be used as a flavorful, toasted alternative to plain granulated sugar.
The apple filling is really the soul of this pie. Use baking apples, such as Braeburns, Jonathans, Golden Delicious, or Jonagolds (the love child of Jonathans and Golden Delicious). The important thing is that they are crisp and tart: apples that are tart and have a fresh snap tend to have more acidity and more pectin, which means that they'll hold together better in a pie filling and taste more apple-y when mixed with sugar and spices.
Most apple pie recipes call for peeled apples. I can't bring myself to do it. The peel has lots of pectin and flavor, and once it's baked it becomes soft enough to be harmless in the filling. But I acknowledge that it does add a texture not everyone loves. I usually split the difference and partially peel my apples, dragging the peeler in a spiral around the apple from the stem to the blossom end, leaving a stripe of peel behind as I go. That way, when you slice the apples, you get striped pieces with little bits of peel, not enough to be a bother. Plus, the extra pectin helps along the texture of the pie.
There are other recipes on the internet for some variation of caramel apple pie, but by and large they call for store-bought caramel sauce. You could, if you wanted, just grab a jar of caramel sauce, pour it over your pie, and call it a day. I really wanted a caramel topping with some teeth to it, though. And I wanted bourbon (always). Caramel is actually really easy to make. The only thing you really need to guarantee success is a candy/frying thermometer. Paying attention to the temperature is critical: the difference between 256°F and 266°F is the difference between a sliceable, soft caramel topping and a serious hazard to your fillings (and I'm not talking about your pie fillings!). Once you have the thermometer, you just clip it to a pot, dump in all of the ingredients for the caramel, and heat it to the recipe's designated temperature. That's it. Done.
So there you have it, those are the components. To make the pie, it's as simple as cooking the apples on the stovetop while the crust is blind baking—that only takes about 20 minutes.
While the crust and apples are cooling, you can whip up the bourbon caramel, which is done in about seven minutes. Then you just put the apples in the crust, fold the pecans into the caramel, and spoon it all on top of the apples.
Easy as pie.
This recipe was re-tested in 2022 and updated to use Stella Parks' impeccable pie crust recipe and blind baking technique. The apple filling was also altered to ensure more liquid is driven off during the maceration and cooking steps, and enough thickener is added to gel any juices that are left. The lemon juice was also reduced significantly.
For the Crust:
1 recipe buttery, flaky pie crust, prepared following recipe directions as a single-crusted pie in a 9-inch pie plate
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon (15ml) heavy cream
Granulated sugar, for filling pie shell to blind bake
Demerara sugar, for sprinkling
For the Apple Filling:
3 1/2 pounds (1.6kg) tart baking apples, such as Braeburn, Golden Delicious, Jonathan, or Jonagold
2 tablespoons (30ml) fresh juice from 1 lemon
4 teaspoons (11g) cornstarch
1/3 cup dark brown sugar (2 1/4 ounces; 64g)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar (1 ounce; 28g)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume
Pinch ground allspice
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter
For the Pecan Bourbon-Caramel:
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces; 100g)
1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick; 2 ounces; 113g)
1/3 cup (79ml) heavy cream
2 tablespoons (30ml) light corn syrup
1 tablespoon (15ml) maple syrup or sorghum syrup
1 tablespoon (15ml) bourbon whiskey
1/2 tablespoon (8ml) blackstrap molasses
1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume
2 cups whole pecans (1/2 pound; 227g), toasted
For the Crust: Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Whisk egg with cream, set aside. Using a large sheet of aluminum foil, press into the pie crust so it conforms to curves of plate. (A second sheet of foil may be needed for full coverage.) Fill to brim with granulated sugar (see note), transfer to a half sheet pan, and bake until fully set and golden around the edges, 60 to 75 minutes, brushing crimped edge with egg wash and sprinkle with demerara sugar after 40 minutes. Fold long sides of foil toward middle, gather short sides, and use both hands to carefully transfer sugar to heat-safe bowl. Let sugar cool to room temperature. If needed, continue baking crust a few minutes more to brown along the bottom. Let cool for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, for the Apple Filling: Peel apples partially in a spiral pattern, starting at the stem and proceeding towards the bottom, removing about half the skin while leaving a stripe of skin on each apple. Core apples and cut into 1/4-inch slices. In a large mixing bowl, toss together apple slices, lemon juice, cornstarch, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, ginger, salt, allspice, and nutmeg until well combined. Let stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes (liquids will be released during this time, preventing a wet pie filling later).
Melt butter in a large, wide-bottomed pot and heat over medium heat; add apple mixture and any juices in the bottom of the bowl. Cook, stirring often, until apples are soft but not falling apart, about 20 minutes. Allow apples to cool for 30 minutes, then scrape into pre-baked pie crust.
For the Pecan Bourbon-Caramel: While apples are cooling, place granulated sugar, butter, heavy cream, corn syrup, maple syrup, bourbon, molasses, and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until ingredients are fully combined, about 2 minutes. Stop stirring, turn heat to medium-high, and cook until mixture reaches 236°F (113°C) on a candy thermometer, about 5 minutes. Off heat, allow caramel to cool to 190°F (88°C), about 3 minutes. Mix in toasted pecans, then spoon the caramel-pecan mixture over apples, patting and shaping to form an even coating. Let pie cool to room temperature, at least 30 minutes, then slice and serve.
It's very important to use sugar to weigh down the pie crust as directed in this recipe and not pie weights or beans; this is because this crust can retract if not fully weighed down, and sugar accomplishes this better than the other options. Also make sure to fill the pie shell all the way to the very, very top with sugar, lest the crimped edge retract. Bonus: The baked sugar is a versatile ingredient that can be saved to act as a weight for future pies and/or used in any recipe calling for granulated sugar, even if it darkens.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 8 to 10|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 29g||37%|
|Saturated Fat 11g||55%|
|Total Carbohydrate 73g||27%|
|Dietary Fiber 6g||21%|
|Total Sugars 44g|
|Vitamin C 26mg||132%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|