In an alternative universe, I’m a proprietress.

Actually, a pro-PIE-etress. I own a pie shop that serves all manner of crusty confections. I open at breakfast, dish pie during mid-morning and offer a variety of slices and teas in the afternoon. Pie and pie only, with maybe a few crustless options for the gluten-intolerant.

I know what my shop would look like: A ’50s diner throwback with lots of polished chrome. A long bar for lingering (perhaps some liqueurs to complement my pastries?); tufted banquettes for lounging. Very small; very personal.

In my dreams, I’ve owned this place for awhile. Yet “in my dreams” is where the husband declares all of this will stay.

Imagine my delight, then, when he bought me “The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book,” the all-types-of-pie cookbook from Emily and Melissa Elsen, proprietresses of the Brooklyn pie shop Four & Twenty Blackbirds. I browsed its pages, living vicariously as the sisters recounted their life in pie.

In honor of Thanksgiving, I finally stopped looking at the book and actually made one of its offerings: The Elsens’ salted caramel apple pie.

It was time consuming. It was expensive, too. The Elsens like to use aromatic bitters in their pie concoctions, and a small bottle — at least in the DC area — runs upwards of $10.

But the effort and outlay were worth it. The pie was slightly tart (thank you, Granny Smiths) and slightly sweet (thank you, caramel), with just a hint of underlying saltiness. Four of us polished it off in less than two days.

It would definitely find a place on my pie shop menu. Outside my alternative universe, it will happily sit on my kitchen table.

Salted Caramel Apple Pie

(“The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book”)

Block out plenty of time to make this pie. It is not a recipe to rush. I had a bit of trouble with my caramel seizing (I whisked it as it cooked, which I shouldn’t have done), but a quick strain through a fine-mesh sieve removed pesky sugar lumps. I also used a sprinkling of kosher salt in lieu of the sea salt, which had disappeared from my pantry. You can make the pie crust a couple of days ahead of time and refrigerate it. Just be sure to remove it from the fridge about 15 minutes before you need it so it’s pliable enough to roll.

For Crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 sticks cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup ice

Whisk the flour, salt and sugar together.

Using a pastry blender or your hands, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until only pea-sized pieces of butter remain.

In a large measuring cup, combine the water, cider vinegar and ice. Using a tablespoon, add the liquid (leave behind the ice!) a bit at a time, tossing the flour/butter mixture until it comes together in a ball.

Divide the dough into two equal portions. Flatten each into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

For Pie:

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 lemons
  • 2 1/2 pounds baking apples (I used Granny Smiths)
  • 2 to 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1/3 cup raw sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 grind black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Up to 1/4 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
  • Egg wash (1 egg, whisked with 1 teaspoon water)

Place your oven racks at the lowest position and the middle position. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Whisk together 1 cup of granulated sugar and the water in a medium sauce pan or saute pan. Cook over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the butter and bring to a boil. Cook until the mixture turns golden, then remove from the heat and add the cream. Place back over low heat and whisk to dissolve any lumps. Set aside.

Juice the lemons in a large mixing bowl. (Remove any seeds that fall into the bowl.)

Peel the apples, core them, then slice them thinly (I had 16 slices per apple). Toss the apples in the lemon juice, being sure to coat them thoroughly. Sprinkle on 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar and toss again. Set aside.

Place the raw sugar in another large bowl. Sprinkle the bitters over it, and toss gently. Add the cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, pepper, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and flour, and whisk well. Transfer the apples to this mixture, leaving behind any excess liquid. Toss well to coat the apples.

Roll out one disk of pie dough and fit it into a 9-inch pie plate. Roll out the other and cut 1-inch thick strips to use later for lattice. Refrigerate both for 30 minutes.

Once the dough has refrigerated, combine about a half tablespoon each of flour and sugar, then sprinkle it over the bottom of the pie plate. Stack the apples tightly in the plate, again leaving behind excess liquid. Pour 3/4 cup of the caramel over the apples, then sprinkle the entire pie with sea or kosher salt. (Use only up to 1/4 teaspoon.)

Place the strips over the apples, forming a lattice top. Crimp the dough edges. Brush the dough with the egg wash, then sprinkle with a bit of raw sugar.

Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet and put it on the lowest oven rack. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is beginning to set and color.

Lower the oven’s temperature to 375 degrees and move the pie to the center position. Bake an additional 35 minutes, or until the apples are tender, the crust is golden and the juices are bubbling thickly.

Remove the pie from the oven and cool for 2 to 3 hours before slicing. Store at room temperature for up to 2 days, or refrigerate for up to 3 days.

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