This pie is no ordinary pie. It’s birthday pie. It all started a couple of weeks before my friend’s birthday when I had thanked her for her help with something. We were joking that I could pay her back in dessert. I didn’t actually need to pay her back, but it did get me thinking. Since her birthday was coming up, I thought a homemade birthday dessert could be a good present.
She had mentioned something at the time about her dessert preferences. She said chocolate was not her favorite thing. Which is fine, it actually narrows down the list of dessert options. And there are tons of amazing desserts which don’t have any chocolate at all. For instance, one of the best desserts I ever had was a roasted pear dish at this fancy restaurant in the neighborhood. A.MAY.ZING. But I digress.
While she had mentioned her dislikes, she hadn’t really mentioned what she did like. So I tried to glean from her what that was. Innocently, of course. As nonchalantly as possible. (I wanted it to be a surprise, but I still had to find out. And there’s no way to maintain a surprise chalantly.) She mentioned that she didn’t have a particular favorite dessert, but rather there were a few things she enjoys, among them fruit, caramel, pies, and saltiness. Okay, I thought, not as easy as a particular recipe, but it shouldn’t be too bad.
I did some research on different recipes, trying to find one that fit her criteria. I looked up lots of different apple pies (and other fruit pies). I found one ridiculously awesome looking one that had peanut brittle in the crust (nuts were also on her list). I thought that one might be too much for now, but it got me thinking about making peanut brittle. (Which is why I made it.) I then found this recipe, and I thought it fit the bill. (Although I’m not sure how the duck felt about it. ;)) I actually found a couple of slightly different versions of this recipe online. They were all referring to the recipe in the book, so I think I’ll have to get the book at some point to get the definitive one. They were close enough that I wasn’t too worried, but I had to keep flipping back and forth as they each had different information.
The next thing I had to do was get a pie dish. Since I was gifting it, I had to get one that could be given away. I went in search of an aluminum pie dish. It shouldn’t have been too hard to find, but everywhere I went I found 8″ dishes, while I needed a 9″ dish. I can’t tell you how many stores I went to looking for one. (Seriously, I can’t. I don’t remember at this point. But it was a lot.) Finally I found what I was looking for at
Winn Discount, I’m sorry, I mean Winn Home & Beauty. If you’ve never been there, you really don’t know what you’re missing. It’s like an old-school department store, except it’s a little more cramped, and it seems a little more random. They generally have everything you’re looking for (paper goods, dish soap, kitchen gadgets, shampoo, coffee makers, holiday candy, 9″ aluminum pie dishes, and more!), so I don’t know why I didn’t look there first.
Now, about the recipe as I made it. As for ingredients: I only used regular sugar. For apples, I used 5 Granny Smith apples. And I did not use any bitters. (I hope the birthday girl wasn’t bitter about that.) I made the dough by hand, using a pastry blender. I didn’t have a pastry brush or mandoline handy, so I didn’t use them.
There are a lot of steps in this recipe, so I made it in sections. First I made the dough, then I took a break. Then I made the caramel and peeled the apples, then another break. Then I went from cutting the apples all the way through to the end. My wife cleaned up at that point. (Thanks hon!) And while it was baking, we managed to have dinner.
The caramel seemed a little weird, at least in comparison to other caramel I have made. I had it at a low boil for about 15-20 minutes. It got down to almost a sugar like consistency, but it hadn’t changed to the right color yet. It was still very, very light, but most of the liquid was gone. I figured I shouldn’t cook it anymore. I added the cream at that point, and it jumped back to the right consistency. It didn’t bubble that much at that point. And as weird as it seemed while cooking, it turned out great.
I washed and peeled the apples. I used an apple corer/slicer on them. I cut out the bad bits and the remains of the peel. Then I cut them into thin slices. I went back and forth between bowls at each step. Having an extra bowl made it much easier to deal with than having to pile stuff up on the counter or cutting board.
Once I put it all together, the apple mixture itself smelled like apple pie. Exactly how you imagine apple pie should smell. There was too much of it though, as I didn’t want to stuff the pie crust too much. I saved some of the apple mixture and caramel and dough for something else.
I rolled out the dough at the very end, after everything else was made. I preheated the oven while I did so. For the top crust, I didn’t do strips. I did a whole layer with four cuts in it and crimped it, following the instructions from Smitten Kitchen. Thank you, Smitten Kitchen! (These instructions are linked at the bottom.) Since I didn’t have a pastry brush handy for the egg wash, I used the fork that I had beaten the egg with. I eventually put too much on. I had to wipe it off and soak it up with paper towels.
I baked it for the initial 20 minutes that they said to. Then as directed I reduced the temperature. I baked it another 25 minutes, but it wasn’t quite ready. I baked it for another 4 on top of that, and that was about right. I’m glad I put the pie on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil, because the caramel spilled out everywhere.
Making this pie was a little bit of a challenge. It took longer than I thought. (Pay no attention to the time listed in the first version of the recipe. It’s not accurate. The time listed in the second one is a more reasonable estimate.) But I think it was worth it. I made apple pie, and now I know I can make apple pie. Plus, I like making stuff for people. And as my wife said, it was probably one of the best presents she got for that birthday.
It looked great and smelled great. I remember mentioning at the time that I wish you could record how things smell as easily as you can record how they look and sound. (Someone work on that please. Thanks!) But I didn’t know how it tasted. (Because it was a gift for her.) I assumed it was good, but I didn’t know for sure.
The day I made the pie was quite the busy day. The aforementioned peanut brittle was made in the early afternoon. The pie crust for this pie was made later the same afternoon. And after running some errands, I made the pie that same night. I finished up around 10:30pm.
So with the pie done, I now had to get it to the birthday girl. At this point, I mentioned to her that I had a “time sensitive present” and asked when I could see her to deliver it. She said the next night was good. At that point, I didn’t know if she realized what it was or why I had asked her about dessert.
Now, let’s fast forward to the next day. I wanted to make sure the pie got into her hands (figuratively at least, or literally if it was that good) while it was still fresh. She was having an unofficial birthday get-together before her actual birthday celebration. It was late on a Monday night, but it was either that or wait all week. I would have had no problem waiting, but I don’t think the pie would have been as patient. So I brought her the pie that evening. It was heavier than I had imagined, and I had to be careful carrying it.
She was very happy to receive the pie. (Surprising, I know.) I asked her if she knew it was coming. And she said she kinda had an idea. She’s a smart cookie. (Ooh! There’s an idea, smart cookies. I wonder what they would do? Bake themselves? Jump into your mouth when they sense you’re hungry?) I had asked her about dessert, and while I wasn’t explicit about it, she kinda knew. She didn’t know exactly what though, because she had given me a long list of options, rather than just one specific choice. So it was at least partially a surprise.
She was nice enough to share the pie. (Birthday girl’s prerogative.) And it was a lot of fun. It ended up being just the two of us hanging out over pie. At a bar on a Monday night. At like 11pm. You know, the regular hanging-out-over-pie situation.
She knew the bartender and asked him for a knife. We didn’t have plates (hello napkins!), so it was a little messy. They also don’t really serve food there, so they didn’t have forks. The bartender did manage to scrounge up one fork for us though, which meant we had to take turns eating. (In retrospect, I could have been better prepared with the whole plates and utensils aspect of the operation.)
She’s someone I know fairly well. (I don’t normally make pie for strangers.) But she’s more of my wife’s friend than mine. However, I feel like we got to know each other better that night. We had a great chat about pie, desserts, her birthday, family, work, relationships, religion, children, bad movie casting, rugby, Scandinavia, bad advertising, and what might happen if our two fathers got in a room together, among other things. I forget sometimes how much we have in common. I totally lost track of time and didn’t leave until about 2:45am. I’m often up late, but even for me that’s a little late to be out on a school night. I guess time flies when you’re having fun and/or eating pie.
And lest you think I forgot, now for the important question. How was the pie? The pie was big and goopy and messy. (Goopy is a technical term.) It was delicious, of course. The caramel wasn’t overpowering, but you could definitely tell it was there. Same with the saltiness. I actually think it could have used more caramel. Since not all of the apples fit into the pie, I didn’t put all of the caramel into the pie either. Maybe I left a little bit too much out? Perhaps I’ll have to try again.
So to recap: making desserts for people’s birthdays is a good idea. I highly recommend it. Having friends worth making desserts for is also highly recommended. I’m sorry we didn’t get to take her up on her offer to help finish the pie, but I’m sure it didn’t go to waste.
Have you ever made special desserts as birthday presents? Do you have a go-to recipe or do you specialize based on the person’s interests? I’d love to hear your birthday dessert stories in the comments below.
Recipe courtesy of Four and Twenty Blackbirds.
Notes: I mainly used this version of the recipe. I used this version to help fill in some details. (In retrospect, I probably should have just used the second one.) I also got some help from Smitten Kitchen. I used this info for rolling and crimping the pie crust. And I followed instructions here for dealing with a straight top, instead of a lattice top.