This is the only apple pie recipe you will ever need, and I would confidently call this the best apple pie recipe this side of heaven. Crisp-tart apples, brown butter, and the richest smoky, salty, nutty caramel. The “secret ingredients” are in the caramel: miso and lapsang souchong tea. If you don’t have lapsang or can’t find it, you can skip it and you will still have the finest pie. And you could always replace the miso with some salt but you’d be missing out on that wonderful umami. I highly recommend seeking out the tea for its intense smoky flavor, and trying the dollop of miso—they make this a very special pie. It is fall in a pie plate, the star of the holiday table be it Thanksgiving or Christmas, and an heirloom recipe you’ll want to pass down.
The Best Apples for Pie
The stars in this brown butter caramel apple pie: a flaky pie crust that feels like a close cousin to puff pastry, a homemade brown butter caramel drizzled in a veritable heap of Honeycrisp & Granny Smith apples, a touch of nutmeg and cinnamon, and some extra brown butter in the apples because this is pie dammit. Let the salads of the world be healthy and let pie be pie, a complete luxury and joy. I love using a mix of those two apples as you get a lot more “appley” flavor from the Honeycrisps and that firm, tart classic texture from the Granny Smiths. If you can’t find Honeycrisps, all Granny Smith is fine.
Keys to Baking a Perfect Pie
The keys to success are to start with a cold pie, in the freezer for 30 minutes, in a hot oven, and then reduce the heat and bake for about an hour taking care to tent it in foil once the top is a deep, rich golden brown to prevent burning. You can make the crust and apple filling a day or two before you bake it, you’ll just need to gently reheat the caramel to get it nice and drizzly before baking as it will harden in the fridge.
With caramel and crust from scratch, I find the best way to save time making this pie is to make the crust and caramel the day before and then fill and bake it the next day. I highly recommend using a scale to weigh the ingredients for your pie crust, but if you must use measuring cups, spoon the flour into the cup. If you find your dough doesn't come together with 1/4 water, add a little bit more until it just comes together. When making the crust, make sure there are no huge chunks of butter and that the pieces are quite thin like paper. You should have a big mount of apples for a pie shape like pictured here, given the variable sizes of apples you might need an extra one or two.
2 cups (250 g) all purpose flour, divided + extra for dusting
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks / 225 grams) very cold unsalted butter, cut into small dice (½”)
1/4 cup (60 ml) ice cold water
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream
1 teaspoon loose leaf lapsang souchong tea or 1 tea bag (can omit if desired)
1 cup (200 g) white sugar
1 tablespoon of white miso (can sub 1/4 tsp kosher salt)
½ stick (56 g) unsalted butter
juice of a whole lemon
8 large firm, tart apples (I like a mix of Honeycrisp and Granny Smith), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/8th thick half moons
¼ teaspoon flaky salt
1/4 cup (30 g) flour
½ cup (100 g) sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 egg for brushing
course sugar for sprinkling
First, make the crust as it will need to chill. Whisk together the flour and salt. Smoosh the cold cubes of butter with your thumb into the flour and salt mixture until flat. Toss to combine and make sure all the cubes of butter are squished flat, we don’t want any clumps.
Stir in the ice water until a shaggy dough forms.
Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and pat into a 1” thick rectangle and fold like a newsletter, in thirds. Repeat twice more, rolling it out, folding, rolling out, and folding again. On the final fold, form into a disk about 1 ½” thick and wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
While the crust chills, make the caramel. Bring cream almost to a boil, but not fully, remove from heat and add tea, and steep for 10 minutes. Strain into a measuring cup or bowl with a spout from which you can pour slowly. Set aside. If you want to skip this step and just use plain cream, that’s fine! You’ll just lose that smoky tea flavor but it will still be delicious...because it’ll still be caramel!
Meanwhile as the cream steeps, melt the butter over medium heat in a stainless steel skillet or one where you can easily see it change color. Swirl the pan as it starts to brown and when all the white milk solids turn a toasty golden brown color and it smells like hazelnuts, pour it out of the pan into a heat proof bowl to cool. It’s important to get it out of the pan once it’s done so it doesn’t burn.
Melt 1 cup of sugar over low heat, gently stirring occasionally (ever 5-8 min or so) until melted. Do not stir vigorously, just gently push the sugar around occasionally to make sure it’s all melting. Vigorous stirring will cause it to seize up. Once it begins to melt steadily, the sugar will quickly look a dark caramel color. Don’t let this make you nervous. It isn’t burning. Unless it smells like it is!
Note: Use your sense of smell, if it starts to smell like it’s on the verge of burning but there are still a few lumps, go ahead and add the butter. You can strain it later. I have never found this necessary, and I would advise against adding the butter before all the sugar has melted unless it seems absolutely necessary to prevent burning.
Once all the sugar has melted, whisk in the browned butter about a tablespoon at a time, whisking constantly until it’s thoroughly combined.
Once all the butter is fully incorporated remove from heat and slowly, very slowly, pour in the strained tea infused cream, whisking constantly until smooth. This will bubble even more enthusiastically. Stir away. Whisk in the miso or if you prefer a more traditional alternative, ¼ tsp flaky salt (I like smoked alder salt or just plain kosher!)
Return to low heat and whisk like a maniac until smooth. I use a candy thermometer and let it reach about 230 degrees F. If you don’t have one, don’t worry I have done it in the past without one and had no problems. If it’s chunky, strain through fine mesh strainer into a heat proof bowl to cool. Resist urge to stick your finger in. You’ll burn the hell out of yourself. I would know.
Finally, make the filling. Brown the 1/2 stick of butter for the apples like you browned the butter for the caramel. Squeeze the lemon into a large mixing bowl and add the apples to the bowl, tossing to coat as you add them to prevent browning. Pour the brown butter over the apples, and toss to coat.
In another bowl mix the salt, flour, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Sprinkle this mixture over the apples and toss to combine.
Divide your crust dough into two and roll out into two rounds. Place the first round in the pie plate and trim to a one inch over hang. Prick the bottom 5-6 times with the tines of a fork.
Place a layer of apples in and drizzle some caramel over them, then add more apples and caramel in layers until all the apples and caramel are in the pie.
Brush the edges of the bottom crust with water, and top with the other round of crust folding the edges over the bottom edge, pressing to seal, before crimping. Cut three vents in the top of the pie and place the pie in the freezer for 30 minutes. While the pie chills, place a rack in the lowest position in your oven and heat your oven to 425 F.
Place the pie on a baking sheet (trust me you do not want caramel in the bottom of your oven...), and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 and bake another hour, checking around the 30 minute mark to make sure it isn't getting too brown. Once the crust is a deep, golden brown, tent with foil to prevent burning and continue to bake. When it's done the filling should be bubbling out of the vents.
Cool for at least an hour before serving (ideally with a dollop of creme fraiche!)
Can be made a day in advance, cooled, and covered and left out at room temperature.
All photos are edited with the LM Lightroom Presets—you can get them to use on your own photos here!
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