Turkey, stuffing, gravy, and a few good sides…there’s no doubt what I’ll be serving for a Thanksgiving entree. But choosing the dessert is more difficult. It has to look good, taste even better, capture the flavors of the season, appeal to kids and adults alike, look classy and indulgent, be light enough to follow a hearty meal, and for many of us it has to travel well and be prepared before the day of the feast. It’s a lot to ask, but this pie delivers. A buttery crust, accented with pecans and cinnamon, holds a lush caramel filling topped with soft, sweet apples and crunchy pecans. It’s visually appealing, delicious, and adds more flavor than bulk to the meal’s finale. The simple recipe can be prepared over two days and served the day after it is made.
Apple and pecan pie
Make in an 8-inch shiny metal springform pan
The recipe works at any altitude
Makes 8-10 servings
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, spoon and level
- 1/4 cup pecan flour or ground pecans
- 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
- 12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar without lumps
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract or paste
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1/4 cup homemade or commercial caramel sauce or dulce de leche
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1-2 tablespoons bourbon, rum or apple juice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cup chopped candy apple, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
- 1/3 cup chopped pecans
- 2-3 tablespoons caramel sauce or dulce de leche
Be ready: Grease pan with cooking spray containing flour. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the middle position.
Make the crust: Place the flour, pecan flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to combine. Cut the butter into 6 pieces, add them and mix until large moist pieces of dough form. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and press the bottom of the pan until smooth and level. Prick it all over with a fork so air can escape while it cooks and bake until set and lightly browned, 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
Do the filling: Cut the cream cheese into 24 pieces, add them to a bowl with the brown sugar, vanilla and salt. Use an electric mixer, starting at low speed and gradually increasing to medium speed, to mix until the mixture is very smooth. Scrape the bowl often and check frequently to make sure there are no bits of brown sugar. One at a time, add eggs until completely blended. Finally, mix the caramel sauce and the cream.
Bake the filling: Bring 3 to 4 cups of water to a boil, pour into a metal pot and place the pot of boiling water on the bottom rack of the oven. This will add moisture to the oven and help keep the filling from cracking while baking. Scrape the filling from the baked crust (it’s fine if it’s still warm), place it in the oven, on the rack above the pot of water, and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake for 15 minutes more, until edges of filling are set and have risen a bit, center will still look undercooked. Turn off the oven, open the door 2-4 inches, and leave the pie in for another hour. Remove the pie from the oven. Carefully run a spatula or offset knife between the edges of the pie and the pan, pressing toward the pan. Let it cool an additional hour at room temperature, then place it in the refrigerator, lightly covered, in the pan, for 6 hours or overnight. Don’t worry if it develops a crack or two, they will be hidden by the trim.
Make the filling: Melt the butter over low heat in a large skillet. When almost melted, add 1 tablespoon of bourbon, then stir in the cinnamon and brown sugar. Keep stirring until the sugar dissolves completely. Add the chopped apples, increase the heat to medium-low, and stir until they are coated in the mixture, release juices, soften, and the liquid becomes syrupy. Do a taste test, add more flavorings and/or bourbon to your liking. Add pecans until coated and mixture is moist and shiny. Remove skillet from heat and set aside.
Garnish the pie: Take the pie out of the fridge and carefully remove the sides of the pan. It’s easier to cut and serve if you leave it at the bottom of the pan. Spread a thin layer of caramel sauce on top of the pie, then pour the filling over it. Serve or refrigerate up to a day before serving
Vera Dawson’s “High Country Baking” column appears bi-weekly in the Summit Daily News. Dawson is a high altitude pastry instructor and author of three high altitude cookbooks. Her recipes were tested in her kitchen in Frisco, where she has lived since 1991, and tweaked until they worked high. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.