Some people are gifted with an inherent finesse for crafting perfect pies. I was not. My Uncle Randy, on the other hand, could crank out a perfect pie every time he got in the kitchen.
Once a year, Uncle Randy would bring three of his made-from-scratch pies to our home to complete our Thanksgiving dinner. They were usually cherry, pumpkin and apple. And they were always perfect; a light, flaky crust on the top and bottom plus filling so flawless that each piece stood on the plate like a picture-perfect wedge.
I remember one year when he brought a blueberry pie and interrogating him on how he got the crust so flawless. But instead of some family secret I was convinced he was keeping, he told me it was just a basic pie crust. Something that I think he said he found in the newspaper one year.
Every pie I ever made turned out with a chewy crust or a filling that pours out and makes everything soggy the instant you slice into it. It wasn’t fair.
What was even more unfair was when we lost Uncle Randy to cancer almost two years ago. Our first Thanksgiving without him, we decided it wouldn’t have been right to have pie without him. Since his were always the best, nothing else would have been the same.
When my husband, Jason, requested a pie with all the apples we picked two weeks ago I told him, “You know I can’t do that,” hoping that would be the end of it. But it wasn’t. So I tried to find a work around. I asked him if it could have a crumble topping thinking I could get away with making an apple crisp and he would be none the wiser. “No, I want one with the crust on top. Like your Uncle Randy used to make.” Shoot.
So I started looking up recipes for a basic crust. But I couldn’t remember if Uncle Randy used shortening or butter. I could have sworn he said butter, but my dad thought shortening. I found a recipe that uses both – thanks Ina Garten. That works.
For the filling, I modified the Betty Crocker Scrumptious Apple Pie. Something simple that looked like it had enough flour to keep the inside from turning to soup.
While the crust recipe calls for a food processor, I know Uncle Randy used to mix them by hand. So no fancy equipment here, just a bowl and a fork. A pastry blender would have worked, too.
I kept in mind the one trick he did let me in on, putting ice in the water to keep it extra cold. I also popped the butter and shortening in the freezer for 20 minutes to get both ingredients chilled.
While rolling out the dough and assembling the pie, I thought about my Uncle Randy and how he would make pies like this every year; I had earned a new appreciation for his mastery of this pasty.
The night before the Lord called my uncle home, he joined Jason and I to celebrate at our wedding. He spent the night with close friends and family, enjoying rum and cokes and partying on the dance floor. It’s a memory I am so grateful to have.
So to top off the pie I made a rum caramel sauce. I know the thought of making caramel from scratch is intimidating, but I promise it’s super easy. Just boil sugar and water until it turns a deep amber color. The pan gets removed from the heat and the cream gets poured in. It will seize up and the cream will harden but I swear it’s not completely wrecked. Once it’s placed back on low heat, the mixture gets stirred and incorporated until it’s a thick sauce. A little bit of butter and rum gets added when the pan is removed from the heat and you end up with a rich, decadent caramel that is a perfect topping for any dessert.
The pie ended up being a success. As good as my Uncle Randy’s? No. But getting in the kitchen and trying my hand at baking a pie like he did was a great way to remember the pies he crafted for us every thanksgiving.
Apple Pie with Rum Caramel Sauce
For the Crust:
Recipe adapted from Ina Garten’s Perfect Pie Crust
- 3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
- 1 Tsp Kosher Salt
- 1 Tbsp Sugar
- 12 Tbsp (1 1/2 Sticks) Very Cold Unsalted Butter
- 1/3 Cup Very Cold Vegetable Shortening
- 6 to 8 Tbsp (About 1/2 Cup) Ice Water
For the Filling:
Recipe adapted from the Betty Crocker Scrumptious Apple Pie
- 1/4 Cup White Sugar
- 1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
- 1/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
- 1/2 Tsp Ground Cinnamon
- 1/8 Tsp Salt
- 8 Medium Tart Apples (I had 4 Golden Delicious, 2 Empires, and 2 unidentified red ones leftover from apple picking)
For the Rum Caramel Sauce
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart’s Rum Caramel Sauce
- 3/4 Cup Sugar
- 1/4 Cup Hot Water
- 1 Cup Heavy Cream
- 2 Tbsp Dark Rum
- 2 Tsp Cold Unsalted Butter
Begin with the crust by combining the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the butter and shortening to the bowl. Using a fork or pastry blender, cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture until they are small chunks about the size of peas. Be sure not to over mix. Slowly add the water and use a fork to combine. Add just enough water to bring the dough together. You want it to be a little dry. Place the dough on a floured surface and pat into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to a day.
While the dough is chilling, combine the sugar, flour cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Peel your apples and cut in to small slices and add them to the bowl, stirring to combine everything.
When you’re ready to bake, heat the oven to 375. Remove the dough from the fridge and use a knife or pastry cutter to divide the dough in two. Roll the first hunk of dough in a circle and roll out on a floured surface until it can cover the bottom of your pie pan. Place the rolled out dough in your pan. Add the filling to the pan. Repeat this process with the second hunk of dough and place on top of the filling. Crimp the top layer of the dough with the bottom. It’s ok to cut off extra pieces of dough and fill in any missing pieces around the edge. Create a vent for steam to escape by cutting holes in the top of the pie. Place the pie in the oven and let bake for about 1 hour or until the crust has developed a nice golden crust.
For the rum caramel sauce, in a shallow pan combine the sugar and water and place on high heat. Swirl (don’t stir) the pan occasionally until the mixture turns a deep amber color, about 5-8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully add the cream. Put the pan back on the burner and reduce to medium and cook until the sauce is thick and has a creamy texture. Remove from heat and add the butter and rum.
Let the pie cool a bit before slicing. Serve with the rum caramel and enjoy!