Les Price, the great sower of all things apple at Jones Creek Farm, observed that i had a penchant for English varieties. i peered into the bags of apples i had just gingerly picked from the orchard: Ellison’s Orange and Cox’s Orange Pippins and gave thought to the 40 pounds of Bramley’s i’d toted home just the weekend before.
i began to delve deeper into my mostly subconscious affinity for all things British : Winnie, the English bull terrier, Elroy, the Old English bulldog, Ralph Vaughn Williams, a recent, torrid love affair with a certain MINI-Cooper, Hidcote lavender, and of course, my beloved friend Alex. yes, an astute assessment on Les’s part and a startling revelation on mine.
bringing it back to the apples, i put up nearly 100 pounds of English varieties. and i knew when i was finally ready to bake, i’d want to dedicate the first pie of the season to Alex. this special pie could not be ordinary, although i venture to say few pies made with these varieties would be considered as such. it had to be spectacular.
a recent segment of Unique Eats on The Cooking Channel had featured Emily and Melissa Elsen of Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie shop in Brooklyn, New York. impressed by their creativity, originality, seasonal approach and commitment to local/organic ingredients, i decided to send them a note to request the recipe for their salted caramel apple pie. Emily and Melissa quickly and kindly responded with this perfectly extraordinary culinary tribute to Alex.
Four & Twenty Blackbirds’ Salted Caramel Apple Pie
a recipe generously shared by Emily and Melissa Elsen…heartfelt thanks
set aside about four hours to tackle the recipe—it will be time well-spent.
for the crust
1 recipe of your favorite (2-crust) all-butter pie crust
for the salted caramel
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup water
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter (i used salted and cut back slightly on the sea salt)
1/2 cup fresh heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (recommended: Maldon sea salt flakes)
for the filling
4 to 6 lemons
5 to 6 medium to large apples (recommend a mix of varieties, including some tart)
1/3 cup raw sugar (castor, unrefined, large granule sugar)
2 tablespoons flour (to me, it seems like the amount of flour depends upon how juicy your apples are, so increase accordingly. the Bramley’s exude a lot of juice.)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (i increased this to 1/2)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 to 3 dashes Angostura bitters (i didn’t have this ingredient, so i don’t know what i was missing. perhaps Emily or Melissa can comment, but the pie was wonderful nonetheless.)
for final assembly
1 egg beaten
raw sugar, for sprinkling
1 teaspoon sea salt (flake)
- prepare one 2-crust batch of your favorite all-butter pie crust.
- roll the bottom crust to fit a 9-inch pan, and cut the top crust as a lattice, approximately 1-inch in width or as desired.
- chill the rolled crust while you prepare the salted caramel and apple filling.
the salted caramel
- cook the sugar and water together over low heat until just dissolved.
- add the butter and bring to a slow boil; continue cooking at a low boil until the mixture turns a deep, golden brown color, almost copper. important note: this process takes awhile, depending on the heat source. keep an eye on it: if the caramel begins to smoke, you’ve burned it, and you’ll have to start over.
- when the mixture has turned a copper color, remove it from the heat, and immediately add the heavy cream – the mixture will bubble rapidly and steam, so be cautious as the sugar will be very hot.
- whisk the final mixture together well over low heat and sprinkle in the sea salt; set aside.
- juice the lemons into a large mixing bowl.
- core, peel, and thinly slice the whole apples.
- dredge all the apple slices in the freshly squeezed lemon juice to prevent browning and to add flavor; set the prepared apples aside.
- in a large measuring cup or small mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and Angostura bitters.
- sprinkle the mixture over the apples in the mixing bowl; use your hands to gently mix and coat the apple slices.
- preheat the oven to 375F to 400F, depending on your oven.
- gather your rolled pie crust, salted caramel and apple mixture.
- layer 1/3 of the apples in the bottom of the crust; gaps between apples should be minimal.
- pour 1/3 of the caramel over the apples.
- add 1/3 of the apples and caramel for a second layer, and then add a third layer of apples, and then a third layer of caramel. important note: save a small portion of the caramel to pour on top once the lattice is assembled.
- assemble the lattice crust, and flute the edges.
- pour the last bit of caramel on top of the pie.
- brush the crust with the beaten egg, then lightly sprinkle with raw sugar and sea salt.
- bake the pie on a baking sheet larger than the pie pan for 20 minutes (otherwise the caramel will bubble over and burn on the bottom of your oven, and that would be bad).
- reduce the oven temperature to 325F to 350F, again, depending on your oven, and bake for 25 to 35 minutes.
- test the apples with a long toothpick or small knife; the apples should be just soft.
let the pie cool, then slice and revel in the sweet, buttery, salty, tart contrast and deliciousness of this truly amazing pie. cheers!