The other name for Thanksgiving at our house is Pie-a-pa-looza. I love baking pies and sharing them. Starting Saturday or Sunday I’ll begin making crusts and then filling and baking them on Monday and Tuesday, before I am called to Thanksgiving Dinner duty, and then Ginger and I “Preacher’s Wife it,” as she likes to say–we spend an evening or two taking the pies from our house to other places.
It is my favorite part of the holidays.
Before the baking begins, I type something like “creative pie recipes thanksgiving ” and the year to see what new twists people have found, or what new pies (at least new to me) are out there. Pages of posts by people who did share their recipes come up and I get lost for an hour or two clicking and thinking. This year, one that popped up was “apple butter pie.”
Bishop’s Orchards here in Guilford makes their own apple butter, so I knew I was off to a good start.
The post talked about an alternative to pumpkin pie using apple butter, which was intriguing. I like my pumpkin pie recipe, but I mostly make it because I feel like I’m supposed to. If I am choosing pie I really want to eat, it is not at the top of the list. Several different sites offered similar recipes, so I printed out four or five of them and compared ingredients and procedures, along with the stories that accompany recipes on food blogs. One of them used sweetened condensed milk in the mixture. That caught my attention because it reminded me of something my mother used to do.
When she needed caramel for something, she would take the label off a can of sweetened condensed milk, put it in a pot big enough to cover the can with water, and then boil it for three hours and let it cool in the water. When she opened the can, it was a beautiful, dark caramel sauce. I always thought of it as a cool shortcut until I worked with a seriously trained pastry chef who did the exact same thing.
The memory of mom made me think of caramelizing the condensed milk before I put it in the pie, thus making a caramel apple butter pie. The challenge was that the name made big promises. Since I had not made the pie before, I did a practice one last night–and I took pictures just in case it worked.
And it worked. Ginger, who doesn’t particularly like apple butter or caramel, has had two pieces. Rachel keeps coming back for more. And I like it, too.
Obviously, this recipe takes a bit of planning because you have to make the caramel, but you can do two or three cans at once and they will keep until you are ready to open them. Who knows what you will come up with if you know you have a can of ready-to-go caramel in the pantry.
Here’s the recipe.
caramel apple butter pie
1 pie crust (smitten kitchen has the best pie crust recipe; it’s worth making)
1 cup unsweetened apple butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 dark chili powder
1 can sweetened condensed milk, caramelized
Roll out the pie crust and put it into a 10-inch pie pan. Crimp the edges and put it in the freezer for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 375°.
Take the crust out of freezer and line it with parchment paper or aluminum foil and fill it with pie weights. (I use dried beans.) Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and set the pie weights aside. Return the crust to the oven for another ten minutes, or until the bottom of the crust has browned a bit.
While the crust is cooking, mix together the apple butter, brown sugar, and eggs in a stand mixer. Add the vanilla and mix again. Add the flour and the dry spices and mix until combined. Finally, add the caramelized sweetened condensed milk and mix it well.
When the crust comes out of the oven for the second time, raise the heat in the oven to 400°. Place the pie pan on a baking sheet and then pour the filling into the crust. Put it in the oven and cook for ten minutes, then–without opening the door–lower the temperature to 350° and let it cook for 30-40 minutes, or until the center is not jiggly.
Let the pie cool on a rack on the counter. Once it is completely cooled, cover it and put it in the refrigerator–if it lasts that long. It does need to be fully cooled before you cut into it.
This is not a last minute pie, obviously, but it is worth every minute.