One of the many reasons why I love living in Brooklyn, specifically the beautiful neighborhood of Park Slope, is our apartment's proximity to the best pie shop in the city- Four and Twenty Blackbirds, in Gowanus. A cute little spot on an otherwise forlorn corner of Third Avenue, this place serves slices of amazing homemade pie, with an array of seasonal flavours. And let me tell you it is DELICIOUS. Four and Twenty is my first stop whenever anyone asks me to bring a dessert to a party, and last week I bought one to serve as a birthday cake for my darling friend Lu's 30th. So confident am I of this crowd pleasing pie, in fact, that I find any reason at all to push it onto friends, colleagues and lovers, and when I do, I always, always go for the salted caramel apple pie. Because it's the best and that's a fact.
Last summer, praise be, the rad entrepreneurial sisters behind Four and Twenty Blackbirds came out with a cookbook, which I squirelled away on a shelf ready for a pie-kinda day. I'm not really much of a baker, more of a throw-er in a saucepan-er, and the pesky exactitudes of pastry alchemy therefore has never entirely appealed. But this past Easter Sunday, with an impromptu evening grill out at our place organized for that night and a whole day to unwind in, I decided I'd take a stab at baking this Xanadu of pies. And it was predictably delicious. HOWEVER, like many divine and perfect things, it takes a frighteningly long time to bring together, and is certainly more complex a dish than it might seem. Let me be clear, this is no easy, mix it in a bowl and fuhget about it kind of endeavour. More a crank up your favourite playlist/podcast, don an apron and make yourself a Negroni half way through sortof mission. The end is so worth it though. Soft, sweet, salty, tangy. Robust but light. Comforting. Crowd pleasing. I recommend you break some of the work into steps (which I didn't do but will do going forward) by making and chilling your pie crust the day before. So crank up the radio, put your hair in a ponytail and enjoy a few hours of intimate acquaintance with flour and fat and elbow grease. I'm telling you, this recipe will change your life.
Salted Caramel Apple Pie (from the Four and Twenty Blackbirds Cookbook, with a few tweaks from me)
All-Butter Double Crust:
1 cup cold water
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup ice
2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
½ lb (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup water
¼ lb (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream
1 large lemon or two small ones
6-7 baking apples (about 2 ½ lbs)
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
⅓ cup raw sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (ground nutmeg is fine too)
One grind of 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
9″ pie pan
Pastry blender (I use this one. Hurrah, no mixer required)
STEP ONE: Make the dough (do this the day before if possible- it doesn't take too long)
1) Have all ingredients measured and ready. Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a large measuring cup or small bowl—and bring the butter out at the last minute (you want it to be super cold). At this point I actually also put my hands in the freezer for 30 seconds, so that my fingertips are super cold.
2) Stir flour, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add butter and cut it into the flour with a pastry blender or your hands. Work quickly, cutting it in until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain.
3) Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the ice-water mixture over the flour mixture, and cut it using a spatula, and/or your hands until it’s fully incorporated. Add more of the ice mixture, 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing each time. It should take 10 to 12 tablespoons total to get the dough to the point where it holds together (sprinkle dry bits with more small drops of water to combine if necessary). The dough should be more on the drier side than wet. Note that you'll have a whole bunch of liquid left over. Just chuck it once your crust is the right texture. Don’t overwork the mix and don’t knead it like bread dough, just pinch it. It should be marbled with thick streaks of butter.
4) Cut the dough into two, and shape each half into a flat disc. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour, preferably overnight, to give it time to mellow. Dough can be refrigerated for three days or frozen for one month.
STEP TWO: Baking day? Yay. Roll out and prep the crust
1) Take the dough out of the fridge 5 to 10 minutes before you roll, so it won’t crack.
2) Lightly flour your work surface and a rolling pin.
3) Begin rolling, starting from slightly below the center and rotating the dough as you go. Lightly sprinkle more flour on everything as you go. If cracks start, cut a piece of dough from the edge and pat it into the crack to patch it (maybe with a bit of water to seal it). Be careful not to let the center get too thin—it shouldn’t be less than ⅛ inch in thickness.
4) You want the dough to be 2 or 3 inches larger than the pan you are using—lay your pie pan facedown on the rolled dough to see if it’s rolled out enough.
5) Butter your pie pan.
6) Fold the dough disc in half, lay it across one side of your pan, and unfold. Make sure there are no gaps between the dough and the pan.
7) Trim the dough along the edges to allow 1 ½ inches of excess.
8) Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (you can also freeze it at this step for up to a month if it’s tightly wrapped).
9) Roll out the second disc—this will be for your top crust–the same way. Using a pizza cutter or a good sharp knife (I used the latter. I do not own a pizza cutter) cut the rolled-out dough into eight equal strips. Place those on a pan, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
STEP THREE: Make the caramel, the apple Mixture, and the spice Mixture
1) 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.
2) Add the butter and bring to a slow boil.
3) Continue cooking over medium heat until the sauce turns a deep golden brown, almost copper (you don’t have to be exact about the color; just don’t let it get so dark that it burns).
4) Remove from the heat and immediately but slowly add the heavy cream. Be careful: The mixture will bubble rapidly and steam. Whisk the mixture together well and set aside to cool. This is your caramel sauce. Note that this is too much sauce for your pie. With what's left, either bottle the sauce for future ice cream sundaes/a great hostess gift or dribble the caramel in dots onto some baking parchment, roll up when cooled a little, and sprinkle with a little Maldon salt. You just made homemade salted caramels. Give yourself a hell yeah.
5) Juice the lemon/lemons into a large mixing bowl, removing any seeds.
6) Core, peel, and thinly slice the apples.
7) Dredge the apple slices in the lemon juice.
8) Sprinkle lightly with the remaining 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar.
9) Set aside so the apples soften slightly and release some of the juices, 20 to 30 minutes.
In a large bowl, sprinkle the Angostura bitters over the raw sugar.
10) Add the cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, black pepper, kosher salt, and flour, and mix well.
STEP FOUR: Assemble and bake
1) Add the prepared apples to the sugar-spice mixture, leaving behind any excess liquid.
2) Spread the apples in the prepared pie shell so there are minimal gaps. Let the apples mound slightly higher in the center.
3) Pour a generous ½ cup to ¾ cup of the caramel sauce evenly over the apples.
4) Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of the flake sea salt.
5) Assemble the lattice on top of the pie (instructions here) and crimp the edges.
6) Chill the pie in the fridge 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 degrees F.
7) Brush the pastry with the egg wash, and sprinkle with demerara sugar and flake sea salt.
Place the pie on the rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven.
8) Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until the pastry is beginning to brown, then lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees F, move the pie to the center rack, and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling—about 30 to 35 minutes longer. Test the apples for done-ness with a knife; they should be tender and offer the slightest resistance.
9) Allow to cool completely for 2 to 3 hours. The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or at room temperature for 2 days.
10) Serve with vanilla ice cream. Cry with relief/joy that you have birthed this miraculous pie from your bare hands like the domestic bloody goddess that you are. You are the mother from The Waltons meets Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada when it comes to baking and you are goddam winning. Don't, under any circumstance, ruminate on any of the more tangible outcomes you could have achieved in your career/personal life in the five hours that you spent wondering if your pastry was marbled enough.