Caramel apple meets apple pie in winning recipe
Written by KAREN NADLER COTA Sentinel Lifestyles Editor
Tuesday, 23 October 2012 09:41
Bowling Green's Leona Hawker has been waiting decades to win the big prize for her baking.
|Leona Hawker with her crunchy caramel apple pie. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
While growing up on a farm in Illinois, she invariably brought home blue ribbons for her 4-H cooking and baking projects, "but I never got to go to the state fair with any of them."
Earlier this month it finally became Hawker's turn to shine in the spotlight.
She happened to hear about the Apple Stir and Crafts Festival being hosted by MacQueen Orchards in Holland, and went online to discover where MacQueen's is located.
"I noticed they were having an apple pie baking contest" as part of the festival "and I thought, 'What the heck?' I thought I'd at least get a pound of apples for trying."
She got more than that. Hawker's delectable crunchy caramel apple pie ended up winning first place in the Oct. 6 contest, along with a $100 prize.
There were 15 or 20 pies entered in all, so Hawker faced a good bit of competition.
But she knew she had a worthy contender.
"Because my brother-in-law said that pie should go to the fair, and he has discriminating taste," shenoted. "It's a really good apple recipe."
Turns out the apple pie contest is a high point of the MacQueen festival, an annual event since 1982.
"They said they wanted mine to win because they'd never had a recipe like that.
"The holidays are coming up, and I think they may be thinking of selling it in their little shop."
Hawker, who moved to Bowling Green about six years ago, picked up the basic idea for the pie recipe well before that.
"It was on Good Morning America. They had an apple pie contest right after 9-11" with celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse as the judge.
He said this pie "was the best combination - like caramel apples. I thought I'd give it a try.
"I brought it to Thanksgiving and my family really liked it."
Hawker grew up watching her older sister make pies, and was also influenced by an aunt "who had a nice, flaky crust."
She cautioned her niece that pie dough was not to be handled like bread dough.
"No kneading. Treat it delicately," she urged. "You give it tender, loving care."
Hawker started cooking at age 10. "I couldn't wait." Besides her sister and aunt, "I learned pretty much everything from 4-H."
But there was one other person who influenced her style: Hawker's father, a native of Denmark named Vandborg who emigrated to the United States in the 1920s.
"He was very, very particular about everything being well done," especially meat, of course. "This goes back to the way it was done in the 1800s."
But even when it came to a fruit pie, "he wanted the pie filling cooked for two hours."
Hawker's method is to make it with a Cuisinart "and slice the apples really thin." With extra-long cooking, they are especially soft and yummy.
She felt some of the other pies in the MacQueen's contest had too-pale crusts. Golden-brown color is the goal.
"If you want to keep the pie in the oven longer, you might want to cover it entirely with aluminum foil" so the edges don't burn, Hawker does advise.
She says she just goes with a basic pie crust recipe - 1/3 cup Crisco or lard, 1 1/4 cup flour, 1/2 tsp. salt, and four or five tablespoons of icy cold water, added gradually, one at a time as needed. "So you don't have it too moist."
She does sift the flour. "That makes it extra light."
Hawker is debating whether to make the caramel apple crunch pie for Thanksgiving, or whether to opt for another fall favorite, a pumpkin roll.
"It's made with mascarpone cheese, heavy cream and crystallized ginger," which is sold in bulk at supermarkets. The fancy name of the roll is a pumpkin roulade with ginger butter cream, said Hawker, who got the recipe from the Barefoot Contessa.
Crunchy Caramel Apple Pie
1 pastry crust for deep-dish 9½ inch pie
½ cup sugar
3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. salt
6 cups thinly sliced peeled apples (golden delicious and fuji)
1 recipe crumb topping
½ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup caramel topping
Ingredients for crumb topping:
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup quick cooking rolled oats
½ cup softened butter
Directions for crumb topping:
Stir together the sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt. Cut in ½ cup butter until topping is like coarse crumbs. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl stir together the sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt. Add apple slices and gently toss until coated. Transfer apple mixture to the pie shell. Sprinkle crumb topping over apple mixture. Place pie on cookie sheet so the drippings don’t drop into your oven. Cover edges as needed with aluminum foil.
Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for 55 minutes.
I like to let it cook longer in the oven until the apples are as tender as soft butter. Remove from oven and sprinkle with pecans, then drizzle with caramel on the top.
Cool on a rack at room temperature. I also put more chopped pecans and caramel on the finished pie.