Brown Sugar Apple Pie
Photo and recipe by Tami Weiser
Prep Time: 45 minutes Chilling Time: 1 hour 20 minutes Cook Time: 1 hour
This is my current favorite version of “classic” apple pie. I use all brown sugar, plenty of warm spices, and a little bit of sorghum, molasses, or cane syrup to give it depth. I don’t see this as a dainty, delicate pie, and I don’t treat it that way. Instead I fill it with bold flavors that make those apples sing.
The key to success in making the filling in this pie is to par-cook the apples and to let the sugars cook together and thicken before they hit the crust, so you have time to make it thicker or thinner with a little more starch. The apples won’t sink and slump in the pie as it bakes, so you end up with a crust snuggled on top of the filling, without empty lumps and bumps between filling and crust.
As to the crust, it’s a great place to have a little fun with spices (just don’t get carried away—spices count in the ingredient proportions and may alter the texture, because even though they are used in small quantities, spices still have volume and weight when the recipe calls for more than a teaspoon or so). Although folks put some booze in the filling (which is fine), I actually love to add a flavor-filled booze right into the crust. I suggest Bourbon or Scotch, which go so well with brown sugar and apples, but you can break out some Cognac (oh-so sophisticated!) or the elusive absinthe (which has no sugar and is a lovely anise flavor). As long as the booze has no sugar (read: you cannot use liqueurs) you will create a secret flavor layer and also make a flaky, crispy and delicate crust.
2 cups (260 grams) unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus 3 to 4 tablespoons for dusting
2 teaspoons ground roasted cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves or mace
1 teaspoon salt
Seeds of 1 vanilla bean (see Kitchen Tips)
½ cup (114 grams) unsalted European-style or cultured butter, cut into ½-inch pieces and chilled
½ cup (114 grams) nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening, cut into ½-inch pieces and chilled
2 to 5 teaspoons Bourbon or Scotch whisky, well chilled
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon water
2 to 4 tablespoons turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw)
3 pounds firm, tart apples such as Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Jonathan, Jonagold, Honeycrisp, Fuji, Braeburn or a combination, peeled, cored, and cut into ¾-inch to 1-inch cubes (about 8 cups)
⅔ cup (137 grams) dark brown sugar
2½ teaspoons ground roasted cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¾ teaspoon ground white or green cardamom
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (see Kitchen Tips)
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 large lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
- Make the pie crust: In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the flour, cinnamon, cloves, and salt, and vanilla seeds and pulse once for 2 seconds. Add the butter chunks and vegetable shortening and pulse just until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Do not overmix. Add the booze through the feed tube, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse just until the dough looks like wet sand. Watch carefully and turn the machine off at the first sign that it is done (please try not to let it become a ball).
- Spread out a large sheet of plastic wrap, about 16 inches long or more, on a work surface. Transfer half of the dough mixture out onto it. Cover with a piece of parchment paper about 12 inches long. Gently flatten and pat it into a thick disk, 4 to 6 inches in diameter. Tuck in the parchment paper around and under the dough and wrap with the plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Repeat with the remaining dough and some more parchment and plastic wrap.
- Make the filling: Combine the apples, brown sugar, syrup, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, salt, lemon juice, and vanilla in a large saucepan, cover, and set over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring every 2 to 3 minutes for 15 minutes, until the apples have released some of their juices and are tender-crisp.
- Using a large spoon or a ladle, scoop about half to two-thirds of the accumulated apple cooking liquid into a heat-tolerant mixing bowl. Whisk in the tapioca starch, cornstarch, or arrowroot and mix until completely smooth and incorporated.
- Add the starch mixture to the apples in a slow stream, mixing continuously as you go. Continue mixing, increase the heat to medium, and as soon as bubbles appear around the edges of the pan, turn the heat off, remove the pot from the hot burner, and set aside.
- Spray a 9-inch pie plate with nonstick baking spray. Dust your work surface and rolling pin liberally with flour. When the dough is chilled, remove it from the fridge, unwrap it, and place on the work surface. Working from the middle of the dough outward, roll the dough into a circle roughly 15 to 16 inches in diameter. Use firm strokes and work the dough as little as possible.
- Sprinkle the dough and your rolling pin with a little flour. Place your rolling pin on one edge of the dough and gently roll it up around the rolling pin. Then, center the rolling pin over the prepared pan and rest it on the edge. Gently unroll the dough into the pan, being careful not to tear it, easing it into the corners and up the side of the pan and tucking it in, making sure not to stretch the dough. Allow any excess dough to hang over the side. Transfer to the fridge, and chill, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F. (If you are using a glass pie dish, preheat to 350°F). Dust your work surface and rolling pin again with flour.
- To prepare the top crust, remove the second piece of dough from the refrigerator, place it on the work surface and roll it into a round, as you did in step 6.
- Remove the chilled crust, still in the pan, from the refrigerator. Scoop the filling into it and spread it evenly across the bottom.
- Place your rolling pin on one edge of the top crust, and gently roll it up around the rolling pin. Center the rolling pin over the filled pie and unroll the top crust to cover it. Using a fork, your (chilly) fingers, or a crimper, press or crimp the edges of the 2 crusts around the top of the pie. Trim any excess crust that hangs over the side of the pan. Using a small, sharp knife, cut a small circle out of the center of the top crust and discard it.
- Make an egg wash by mixing the egg and water in a small bowl or cup with a fork until well combined. With a pastry brush, coat the crust with the egg wash. Sprinkle liberally with the turbinado sugar.
- Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet and place the whole thing on the middle oven rack. Bake for 30 minutes and then turn from front to back, to ensure even baking. Bake for 10 to 25 minutes longer, until the crust is crisp and a warm medium brown on top, and the edges are not burned or excessively dark. If you use a glass pie dish, you can see the bottom crust’s color to check for doneness as well.
- When the pie is done, remove it from the oven and let it come to room temperature (or warm, but not hot, if you can’t wait) before serving. It will keep for 2 days, at room temperature, lightly covered with plastic wrap, but the crust, particularly the bottom, will get softer as the days progress.
- To remove the seeds from a vanilla bean pod, slit it lengthwise with a sharp knife, and simply scrape out the seeds. The seeds can be added to baked goods, ice creams and many other recipes. The pod can be added to a container of granulated sugar to make vanilla-scented sugar (aka vanilla sugar) or added to liquid infusions.
- Nutmeg is available ground, but if you buy the whole nutmeg and grate it or scrape it with a sharp knife yourself, the flavor and fragrance will be much stronger. Look for it in specialty spice stores, well-stocked supermarket spice sections, or online.
- Here are some awesome pie-crust tips in this wonderful piece at thekitchn.com. (Full disclosure: I do write and develop recipes for them often, and I think their baking school program is extremely helpful and chock full of great tips for any baker.)