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caramel apple pie

I've adored pie since I was a child. It would be fair to say I have an obsession with pies. I love the way the flaky, buttery golden crust shatters in my mouth as I take a bite. I long for the autumn and winter months with their abundance of apples, pears, pumpkin, and cranberries. It is as though my psyche needs the scent, the taste, the combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves permeating a pile of fresh fruit. A slice of cold apple pie drizzled with a generous pour of salted caramel sauce and topped with a big pouf of freshly whipped cream is so comforting to me.

This year, my 9-year old daughter - who is, in her own right, quite the inventive chef and baker - and I decided to create a caramel apple pie together. While the disc of pie dough was chilling, we peeled apples and tossed the slices of fruit with fresh lemon juice, flour and spices. My daughter spooned salted caramel sauce over the pile of apples filling the dough. After putting a simple lattice design and egg wash over the top, it was ready for the oven. I really believe that there's nothing that slows me down in the kitchen as much as baking with my kids. We're already planning our next pie creation.

Caramel Apple Pie
You can make the caramel sauce up to a week ahead, then just take it out of the refrigerator when you're ready to use it in the pie. You can make and chill the dough up to 3 days in advance, if you like; just let it sit on the counter for about 30 minutes before rolling it out.
Yields: 6 to 8 slices (using a deep 9" pie pan)

For the Caramel:
Yields: about 1 cup of caramel sauce

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, diced
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
A pinch of sea salt
A big splash of apple cider vinegar

Measure out the cream and butter; set aside.

Add the sugar and water to a 2-quart saucepan (don't use anything smaller than this) and swirl - don't stir - it around until all of the sugar is moistened and looks like wet sand. You can add a few more drops of water if necessary, to wet all of the sugar completely.

Heat the saucepan over medium heat and keep swirling the pan as the sugar mixture heats up and begins to melt and sputter and bubble. Don't walk away. Don't stir. Just keep swirling. It will take about 5-7 minutes to see the sugar beginning to change color. I like to push the color almost to the edge of burnt, to coax as much flavor as possible out of the caramel. You can take the color of your sugar as light or as dark as you prefer.

Once you've reached your desired caramel color, remove the pan from the heat and slowly - carefully - pour in the cream. Stand back for a moment; the hot mixture will bubble violently and then it will calm back down. Add the diced butter. Carefully whisk the mixture until smooth, then pour into a clean glass bowl. Let it cool completely.

Once the caramel has completely cooled, stir in the vanilla bean paste, salt, and vinegar. Stir well to combine, and store in the refrigerator for about one week. I like to keep my caramel in a recycled jam jar covered with plastic wrap. As the caramel chills, it will thicken a little more.

For the Pie Dough:
Note that this recipe makes a single crust pie. You will need to double the dough recipe if you want to lattice the top of your pie, as pictured.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/8 tsp coarse kosher salt
2 tsp sugar
7 tbsp cold unsalted butter, diced into small pieces
3 tbsp ice water*

With an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, stir the flour, salt, and sugar together on low speed. Add the diced butter and stir together on medium speed for a couple of minutes, until the mixture looks chunky and butter is the size of peas. With the mixer on low again, stream in the ice water and let the mixer run just until the dough begins to come together in a ball.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and gently but firmly form the dough into a smooth disc. Place in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes while you prepare the apples.

*You may need a tablespoon more or less of ice water, depending on the humidity in the air.

For the Apples:
The amount of apples may seem like a lot for one pie, but you'll want to really heap your apples into the pie dish - especially if you're going to lattice the top. As the pie bakes, the apples will shrink and settle down into the crust.

6 to 7 cups of apples** - peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
The zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
1/4 to 1/3 cup light brown sugar (depending on the tartness of your apples)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp coarse kosher salt

**Use two or three different varieties of apples, if you have them. I like to include at least one tart variety such as Granny Smith, and one sweet variety such as Gala or Jonathan. The combination of the different tastes and textures makes a wonderful pie.

In a large bowl, toss the apples together with the lemon zest and juice.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, spices and salt. Dump over the apples and gently mix everything together until the apples slices are evenly coated.

To Bake:
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place a 9" pie pan on a large rimmed sheet pan.

- Roll out one disc of chilled pie dough into a round that's a bit larger than your pie pan. Carefully transfer the dough to the pan and tuck and crimp the edges. If you're going to lattice the top of the pie, roll out the second disc of dough into a large rectangle and cut into long strips; set the strips aside.

- Heap the apples into the pie pan. Spoon caramel sauce over the apples - as much or as little as you like. Arrange the lattice strips over the top.

- Use a pastry brush to brush the egg white all over the edges of the crust and the entire lattice top.

- Bake the pie for 30 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes. Check the apples with a toothpick; if there's still any give, bake the pie for another 10 minutes and check the apples again. Check and rotate every 10 minutes or so. My oven took about 1 1/2 hours for this pie to be done. You'll know the pie is done when the apples feel completely soft (but not mushy) when pierced with a toothpick, and when the juices have been bubbling thick and slow for at least 10 minutes. The crust should be a deep golden brown at this point, but if you feel your crust is getting too dark, then tent it with foil while the pie finishes baking.

Serve with whipped cream, obviously! Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week.