I've been making roughly the same apple pie recipe since I was in elementary school. It was always a special time of year when the good pie apples would start to arrive at the grocery store. There are a lot of choices out there but my favorite has to be Jonathan apples. My love for them might be nostalgic because that's the apple I made my first pie with, but I truly think Jonathan apples make the perfect pie. They're tart so they won't make your pie too sweet. They're crisp so they won't get too mushy when baked. They don't have a lot of moisture so they won't make your pie a soupy mess. Have I sold you on them yet? I love that Jonathan apples are only harvested in the fall. They're not your standard Granny Smith that you can buy all year long. They're somewhat of an elusive ingredient. I haven't even seen them in a grocery store for years. I'm lucky enough to be able to buy them at my local Farmer's Market this year. Keep your eye out for them and I promise you won't be disappointed!
Apple pie should always focus on the star, the apple, of course. But it's important to have a solid foundation as well. I have a pie crust recipe that I use for everything from antelope hand pies to chicken pot pie to this apple pie recipe. It's very versatile and always turns out perfectly for me. For sweet pies, I start with a good quality butter like Kerrygold Irish Butter.
When I started making pies years ago, Crisco was still a common ingredient in our house. It made the absolute best pie crust but it's full of things that I don't feel great about eating. Learning to make pie crust with butter presented some challenges and it has taken me years to perfect the method. I've found that using a food processor to blend the butter into the dry ingredients is the best way, for me, to produce a tender crust. I know there are purists out there that believe doing it by hand or with a pastry blender is the only way to go. But if you've had trouble with making pie crust the traditional way, I suggest you give the food processor method a go. It doesn't hurt to start with a good quality butter either. I hear rendered bear fat is the new best thing for baking but I don't have any (yet) so I like to use Kerrygold Irish Butter.
The biggest mistake I see people making with pie crust is that they're more worried about how it's going to look rather than how it will taste. I vote taste over appearance any day. I try not to overwork the dough and the appearance ends up being a little more rustic, and I'm ok with that. The tender, flaky, melt in your mouth crust more than makes up for the presentation.
This recipe tends to make a bit more dough than you need. Don't worry. You can roll out the excess dough, cut it into small rectangles, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes. You get the best of both worlds - no food waste and a bonus dessert!
When I think of apple pie, I think of the rich aroma from the baking spices that fills my house for days. I've gradually increased the amount of spices in this recipe over the years. Maybe my tastes have changed but I really enjoy the intense flavor of freshly ground nutmeg. Once you buy whole nutmeg, you'll never go back to the stuff that's been sitting on the grocery store shelf for who knows how long. You can even buy a special grater just for nutmeg!
Before I started making my own pies, I remember helping my mom make them. My favorite part was peeling and slicing the apples. It doesn't sound like much fun, but when you have this gadget it turns a mundane task into an activity that any kid would enjoy. I remember watching in awe as this machine turned an apple into perfectly peeled slices and left behind long strings of apple peel. Dangling the apple peels above my mouth like a big spaghetti noodle and watching with anticipation as more and more strings were made is one of my favorite kitchen memories. I love watching my little guy do the same thing now.
This pie makes too many apple peels to eat fresh, so I like to toss them in some cinnamon and dehydrate them into apple strings. Again, this is a win-win - you get a healthy snack and no food waste.
Apple pie is good on its own but the caramel walnut topping adds an extra layer of sticky sweet goodness that brings this pie to near perfection. It's a very simple step that makes it seem like you really went the extra mile. If you need a perfect fall dessert recipe to impress your guests, this is it. Make sure you get it started in the morning though because it takes a loooong time to cool. I'm pretty guilty of not being able to resist cutting into it too early even though I know it's not set up yet. Don't be like me. Wait for it to cool completely, and you won't be disappointed. Oh and don't forget to save the little crispy bit of caramel that inevitably spills off the pie and bakes into sweet, crispy goodness. It'll help tide you over while you wait for the pie to cool.
Caramel Apple Pie Recipe
- 2 ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt (less if using salted butter)
- 1 cup butter (Kerrygold Irish butter preferred) cut into small cubes
- ½ cup ice water (more if using regular butter)
- 9-10 Jonathan apples, small to medium-sized, peeled and thinly sliced
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- ¾ tsp nutmeg, freshly ground
- 1 ½ tsp cinnamon
- pinch of salt
- 2 tbsp butter, melted
- 4 tbsp butter
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp half and half
- ¾ cup walnuts, chopped
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a 9-inch pie pan with butter.
- Add dry ingredients for crust to food processor. Process until well-combined.
- Add butter cubes to processor. Process until butter is incorporated into dry ingredients. The mixture should look crumbly.
- Add in ¼ cup water and process until combined. Don't process it too long or the crust will become tough. Transfer to a large bowl. Add in another ¼ cup water and combine by hand. Knead until a dough forms but don't overdo it. You may need more or less water depending on the butter you use.
- Form the dough into 2 discs, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour before rolling.
- Combine flour, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl. Toss with apples until well-combined. Set aside.
- Roll larger disc of dough into a circle on a lightly floured surface. Place in bottom of pie pan and press into the edges of the pan.
- Add apple mixture to pie pan. Don't add the juice from the bottom of the bowl. The apples will create enough moisture for the filling during baking. Drizzle melted butter over apples.
- Roll smaller disc of dough into a circle on a lightly floured surface. Place on top of apples. Cut off any excess pie dough around the edges and crimp the edges down. You can use your hands or a fork to seal the edges. Cut slits in the top for venting. Wrap strips of foil around the edges of the pan so the crust doesn't burn.
- Bake for 50-55 minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling starts to bubble out of the vents. Remove foil.
- While pie is baking, combine butter, brown sugar, and walnuts in a small saucepan. Heat until butter and sugar is melted. Add in half and half and continue cooking until bubbly.
- Once the pie has finished baking, pour the caramel mixture over the pie. It helps to place the pie on a sheet pan to catch the excess caramel. Return to the oven and bake for 5 more minutes or until caramel is bubbly.
- Let pie cool completely before slicing. Cut into 8 slices. Refrigerate leftovers. Enjoy!