I invented a pie! This is, I believe, the first time I’ve done this. (I’ve invented several savory pies, but ‘pie’ to me means sweet — sorry, I am an American that way.)

A few days ago, I made an Oregon Hazelnut Caramel Pie for Ryan (the decoration makes sense if you consider he rescued me from a dead car battery situation earlier in the week.) Since I habitually make pie crust in batches of two, this left me with a single crust to fill. I thought I’d make something I could actually eat. Hazelnuts smell like heaven, but could actually transport me to an anaphylactic afterlife.

I’ve been thinking about coming up with a salted caramel apple pie for a while. I adore salted caramel with a ridiculous, crooning love, apple pie is my favorite food, and “caramel apple” is a time-tested taste combo. However, I don’t so much…make caramel. Well, I tried once to make caramel sauce, as a spur of the moment thing. I made hard candy — very, very hard. This hazelnut pie I’d just made, however, gets to call itself caramel without any crazy candymaking step — and the science backs it up, since it’s baked at 350 degrees.

So I bought a few tart apples and got crazy. Sure, I could have looked up an actual caramel apple pie recipe — there’s one with pecans I could have modified to hypoallergenic in my adored pie cookbook, not too many pages from the hazelnut recipe! But I was feeling wild and reckless and gripped by the urge to create.

This pie uses a modified version of the custard from the Oregon Caramel-Coffee Hazelnut pie in Haedrich’s book, but uses apples instead of nuts and has a salt/sugar topping of my own creation.

Pie experiment: Sea salt caramel apple custard

Sea Salt Caramel Apple Custard Pie

Ingredients:
One single crust pie pastry in a 9 inch standard pie plate (partially prebaked if you’re fussy.)

Filling:
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, melted
3 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2-3 Granny Smith Apples

Topping:
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2.5 tsp coarse-grained sea salt*
2 Tbsp salted butter, at room temperature (or melted)

*If you want it a little less salty, I’d try 2 tsp. Also, I don’t know how coarse sea salt gets — mine is La Baleine ‘coarse’, and it’s medium-sized flakes, not rock salt or anything.)

Instructions:
Do this first: Put out butter and eggs to warm. Prebake pie shell if desired. Reduce oven temp to 350°.

1. Whisk together brown sugar, butter, eggs, corn syrup, cinnamon and vanilla in a large bowl.

2. Peel and slice apples into wedges (I aimed for 3/4 inch wide — wouldn’t want to go under half-inch, since they get pretty soft as it is). 2 large Granny Smiths was plenty for me, even being a little picky about shapes of slices, but if you aren’t trying for a rosette, you could fit more!

3. Arrange apple slices in cooled pie shell. Pour custard mixture over. (“Standard” pie pans vary, so you may have a little left over.)

4. Bake 25 minutes at 350°. Turn pie 180 degrees and bake 15 minutes more.

5. Meanwhile, mix sugar, salt and cinnamon by hand in a small bowl, eliminating sugar clumps for even mixture. Add butter and rub together.

6. Remove pie from oven. By now, the apple-custard surface should be mostly gelatinous, if not solid in parts. Sprinkle your topping mixture over the top of the pie, concentrating on the apple slices.

7. Bake another 10-20 minutes or until center of custard no longer moves in waves when you poke the edge of the pan with your mitt (in my oven, another ten minutes on top of what I’ve suggested.)

8. Cool thoroughly — I ate mine refrigerated the next day, but some people like custard pie at room temperature!

Test piece of sea salt caramel apple custard pie

I found it very sweet, but complicated, with the apple very well cooked so it matched the custard texture. There is quite a bit of salt, but I like that to counteract the sweetness — and I would not use any apple sweeter than a Granny Smith!

If I do any more variations, I’ll add the results here!

NB: I’m calling it “sea salt” because that’s what I used, and because if there’s a phrase that causes me to Pavlovianly buy ice cream faster than “salted caramel”, it’s “sea salt caramel”. If I’ve abused the phrase, I’m sorry — it started it.

Comments

This looks fantastic! I think I might want to try a crustless version (or figure out a gluten-free-sugar-cookie type crust) but it sounds amazing! Glenn is actually a really good caramel maker – he even makes coconut milk caramels for people who can’t tolerate the cream in regular caramels! But I think his training as a chemist makes him abnormally good at candy making. The one time I tried it, I got hard sticky stuff stuck the bottom of the pan – not encouraging!

Jeannine —

I have accidentally had some incredible scones that were vegan and gluten-free, from Petunia’s Pastries in Portland — and from their website they use a lot of millet flour and flax seed and stuff? (No hives, so it can’t have been almond flour ;) I bet those could make a decent pie crust! (They make pies too, but I haven’t tried ’em!)

As I said, the caramel is pretty subtle — no more, I would guess from smell, than in a pecan pie or something? But technically, it’s there. WE HAVE THE SCIENCE!

Now you are talking my language! Pie!

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