Years and years ago, when I was first married, someone gave me a cast iron skillet as a wedding gift. I’d never used one before. My mother never had one, so I didn’t even know what to do with it. And, with my shiny brand new set of high end stainless steel pots and pans, my new slow cooker, pressure cooker and steamer, I never gave that big, ugly, heavy black skillet a second thought. In fact, when we moved into our first house a few years later, I stuck it in a box out in the garage and promptly forgot about it. Eight years later, we moved; and the box moved with us. As we unpacked, my mother-in-law, who was helping, pulled out the skillet and asked where I wanted her to put it. I told her that I’d never used it and that she could keep it if she wanted. Her eyes got all wide and she asked, incredulously, “You mean you’ve never used it?” “Nope,” I replied. “Not even for frying bacon?” she queried. “No.” was my response. “But, how do you cook eggs?”, she persisted. (Oh boy! She was not going to let this drop!) “Teflon,”, I answered. She shook her head sadly and put the skillet aside.
The next morning, I woke to the smell of bacon sizzling. When I stumbled into the kitchen, I was greeted by my mother-in-law’s beaming face and a large platter of bacon and eggs. On the stove was my cast iron skillet, still glistening with the remnants of freshly rendered bacon grease. At first, I was kind of annoyed. I mean, how many times did I have to tell her that I did not like that skillet? But at the same time, that pile of food looked pretty enticing. I was intrigued.
While we ate, my mother-in-law sang the praises of cooking with cast iron. She shared how her own mother had used her skillet to feed her family almost daily. And how, as a young bride, she continued the tradition when gifted with her own cast iron skillet. She explained that the best things aren’t always the ones that are shiny, pretty and new. I think I already knew that. I just needed to be reminded. She’s a wise woman, that mother-in-law of mine.
After breakfast, she showed me how to clean and care for my skillet. She told me that the more I used it, the better it would become. That was sixteen years ago. Since then, I’ve used that skillet more times than I can count – and I’ve grown to truly love it. I can’t imagine cooking without it. And to think I almost threw it away!
Over the years, I’ve discovered that a cast iron skillet is good for a lot more than frying bacon and eggs. Among other things, it’s also great for frying and roasting chicken, searing meats, making pancakes and baking cornbread and cakes . It even makes a damn fine tarte tatin! So, when I found myself with an abundance of apples just begging to be baked into a pie, I thought, why not try it in the skillet.
One reason that I decided to bake this Skillet Caramel Apple Pie is because it’s Autumn, and Autumn is practically synonymous with apples. It is also Election Day here in the United States. And, nothing is more quintessentially American than apple pie.
The pie is actually assembled and baked right in a cast iron skillet. It might sound a little unorthodox, but it really does work beautifully. The skillet works wonders in creating the lightest, flakiest crust, while baking the filling into a soft, jammy mass of caramel apple goodness. Caramel is used in two ways in this pie. First of all, a thick layer of caramelized brown sugar lines the skillet underneath the bottom crust. While you might think that this would make the crust soggy – it doesn’t. In fact, during baking it hardens up and makes the bottom crust quite crispy. Then, a rich, buttery caramel sauce is mixed in with the apple filling and also poured right over the top crust of the pie. It’s a caramel double whammy! And, in my opinion, the only thing that goes with apples better than caramel - is more caramel.
So, let’s make some pie!
The first thing you need to do is get your apples ready. I’m totally crazy about this new little toy I got. It’s an inexpensive, plastic apple peeler – and it works like a dream. Seriously! You need this, people! It costs less than twenty bucks and it skins an apple in under ten seconds flat. It’s compact and lightweight, and has no parts to assemble. To clean it, just rinse with warm water and you’re done. So peel, baby, peel!
Once you have your apples peeled, cored and sliced, toss them with a little lemon juice, flour and cinnamon. Then, set them aside.
You’re going to make two kinds of caramel sauce for this pie. One gets poured over the apples, and the other stays in the skillet to caramelize the crust. Both start with butter.
The caramel sauce for the apples is made by cooking butter, sugar and brown sugar together until it is bubbly and a nice amber color. For the pie, brown sugar is added to melted butter and cooked a few minutes until it turns thick and gooey.
See? Thick and gooey! Now, here’s the tricky part. That skillet and the caramel inside is hot, hot, hot.. And, you have to lay a pie crust in there! So you’re gonna have to work fast, fast, fast, or else the crust will disintegrate on contact. I recommend doing two things to minimize this problem. First, freeze your pie crust for about 10-15 minutes after you roll it out. The colder it is, the less likely it is to fall apart. Make sure that it’s still malleable though, or it might break. Second, let the skillet cool down for a while before attempting to place the crust in it. I let mine sit for about twenty minutes, and it did help. I think you could even get away with letting it sit longer.
I didn’t dare take any photos of actually assembling the pie. Suffice it to say that I didn’t want to waste a second! By the way, if you get cracks and tears in the crust – and you inevitably will – just patch them with the scraps you get from around the outer edges of the skillet. It should all fuse together in the oven.
After you line the skillet with a layer of crust, fill it with the apples and pour half of the caramel sauce over them. Then, place the second crust over them and pour on the rest of the caramel sauce. Be careful not to let the sauce run down over the edges of the pie.
Here’s the pie – all ready to bake. Now would be a good idea to grab a baking sheet lined with foil to set the skillet on in the oven. You can skip this step if you don’t have a problem with burnt sugar spilling over and forming a hard, black, gunky crust on the bottom of your oven. I, for one, hate having to chip away at that stuff, so I use the baking sheet.
TA DA! PIE!
Just look at that beautiful burnished crust and those juicy, tender apples peeking through. Doesn’t it look glorious? I promise you, it is!
So, make this apple pie. Then, go out and vote. And later, reward yourself with a great, big, crusty, caramel-y, apple-y slice of Skillet Caramel Apple Pie for a job well done.
Skillet Caramel Apple Pie
- 6 large apples (about 4 pounds), peeled, cored and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup plus 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar, divided
- Pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup cool water
- 1 15-ounce package refrigerator pie crust or one batch homemade pie crust for a double crust pie
- Preheat oven to 425 F. Toss apples in a large bowl with lemon juice, flour and cinnamon. Set aside.
- Make the caramel sauce: Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add granulated sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, salt and water and stir until sugars have dissolved. Continue to stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, without stirring for 3 minutes. Remove from heat, stir and set aside.
- Prepare the pie: Melt 1/2 cup of butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add 1 cup of brown sugar, and cook, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and very quickly place 1 piecrust in the skillet over the butter/brown sugar mixture. Trim off any crust that hangs over the side. You can use these to patch any holes or cracks.
- Scoop the apples into the piecrust and pour 1/2 of the caramel sauce over the apples. Cut large slits or make some decorative cutouts in the second pie crust and carefully lay the crust over the apples. Gently pinch the top and bottom crusts together, containing the apples. Pour the rest of the caramel sauce directly over the top crust, being careful not to let it spill over the edge of the skillet.
- Place the pie on a baking sheet lined with foil, and bake for 15 minutes. Then, reduce heat to 350 F. and continue to bake for approximately 50-60 minutes, or until pie is browned and bubbly. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before serving.
Makes one 9-inch pie.