This amazing apple cranberry pie is so, so fantastic. The tart cranberries are the perfect compliment to the tender apples and caramelly, sweet filling. It’s my favorite Thanksgiving pie!
I first made this apple cranberry pie a couple of years ago, and it totally took front and center at our Thanksgiving beating out all other pies for favorite status. So of course I spent last year tweaking it here and there to get it just perfect…and we ate it again at Thanksgiving (and then, Christmas, too).
I had every intention of getting a recipe posted last year. And I don’t have any good excuse for not, except life always has a way of lovingly and chaotically getting in the way of my best blogging intentions. I’m sorry. Because this is THE PIE you need to have at Thanksgiving.
So I’m making up for it this year and getting the recipe to you in plenty of time for you to add this amazing apple cranberry pie to your menu. Just do it. Please, please, please.
Why is apple cranberry pie so special?
I’ve always loved apple pie. It’s one of my all-time favorite pies. But adding cranberries to the anticipated apples is pure brilliance. They add the most glorious pop of tartness that compliments the apples and the sweet, caramelly filling in the best way.
The combination is to-die for good. I tried to track down fresh cranberries earlier this year because I had a serious craving for this apple cranberry magic. Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen; fresh and even frozen cranberries are ridiculously hard to find in May.
The other ingredient that is essential is the almond extract. I’ve historically not been a huge almond extract fan. I usually leave it out of recipes that call for it because I’ve found it so easily takes over.
But just like in this best-ever cherry pie, the almond extract adds a necessary hint of something special without overpowering the pie with almond-y flavor. Don’t leave it out (unless you are terribly allergic), ok?
What kind of apples to use
I almost always Honeycrisp apples in this pie, but you could try out different varieties or combinations. Make sure to choose crisp apples that don’t turn to mush when baking. And if you use Granny Smith, I’d recommend using them along with another sweeter variety (and cut the lemon juice in half).
I slice the apples about 1/8-inch thick and toss them with the lemon juice, almond extract, pinch of salt, and cranberries. You want to get the apples and cranberries prepped and ready in the bowl because once the sauce is done simmering, it needs to immediately be poured on top of the mixture.
Speaking of the sauce
This apple cranberry pie is a bit unusual in that the filling/thickening aspect of the pie is a caramelly sauce (instead of tossing the fruit with flour or tapioca or cornstarch).
It’s an extra step. It’s worth it. I promise.
Plus it’s really, really easy. You melt butter in a saucepan or skillet, stir in flour until thick (yep, you’re making a roux!) and then add the granulated and brown sugar. This mixture simmers for just a couple minutes until bubbly and thick.
The key, like I mentioned before, is to pour the filling over the apples and cranberries right away. It thickens and crystallizes as it cools, so the warm sauce needs to fulfill its purpose in life ASAP.
As it hits the cold apples and cranberries, it’s going to clump up a little bit. Don’t stress. It’s totally ok and expected and normal. Just toss everything together the best you can. As it sits, while the pie crust is being rolled out, the juices of the apples will help thin the sugary sauce out and coat everything evenly.
Let’s talk about pie crust
I almost always use this favorite pie crust for my homemade pies. Whatever you use (favorite recipe or storebought) just make sure you have enough pie crust for a double crust pie because you’re going to use crust on top, too.
Scrape the filling (and all the sauce) into the pie plate. It’s going to be piled high – don’t worry, it’s going to cook down a bit as it bakes.
Now roll out the top crust and place it over the pie. I totally spaced taking a picture of this part; sorry! Trim the top crust evenly with the bottom crust (leaving about 1/2-inch overhang all the way around). Fold the bottom crust up and over evenly with edge of pie plate and press/pinch to seal.
Here’s a visual from the cherry pie if you’re wondering what the heck I’m trying to explain with the top and bottom crust.
Now flute the edges so they are picture perfect. Or not. I’m learning as I get older that perfection is unattainable and exhausting. So we’re just saying right here and now that we are ok with imperfect pies!
Why do you need to cut slits in the top of pie crust?
With a sharp paring knife, you’ll want to cut four slits in the top crust of this pie. The reason? The slits let the steam escape while baking which helps release steam and allows the filling to cook evenly. They are also helpful to judge the doneness of the pie filling as the pie bakes. Just peek (carefully!) into those slits to check on the bubbly filling and tender fruit.
Sometimes I channel my inner pie goddess and cut little shapes out of the extra pie dough. Sometimes they look cute. Other times they look like weird blobs on top of the pie. Weird blobs, it turns out, are still yummy. To get them to stick, use a little bit of the egg wash.
I like to brush the top of the pie crust with egg wash (egg + water). It helps add shine and a beautiful golden color to the crust.
How to avoid cursing when making homemade pie
Place the unbaked pie on a foil-lined baking sheet. You’ll thank me later. This pie (and many other types of homemade pie) tends to bubble over just a bit as that filling cooks.
Cleaning sticky, caramelized fruit filling off the bottom of your oven (or an unlined sheet pan) is not fun. I repeat: it is not fun.
So line the pan with foil and you’ll be a happy little non-cursing camper.
This pie bakes for about 75 minutes in my oven (you may need more or less time based on how your oven cooks, how thick the pie crust is, etc). Just keep an eye on the crust – if it is browning too much but the filling still needs some time, tent the top crust with foil and keep baking.
If you are using a glass pie plate, the bottom crust should be nicely golden as well.
How to tell if a pie is done?
The bubbling filling and golden crust are telltale signs…but sometimes it’s hard to know if the fruit is tender, especially apples.
Those slits come in handy. Pulling the pie out of the oven for a second and peering closely into the slits can give you an indication if the fruit looks cooked enough. But sometimes I’m still not sure, so I’ll use a paring knife or fork to poke gently inside of the slits and pierce the fruit to see if the pie needs more time or not.
One more thing: if I have a choice, I prefer to overbake pie just a bit vs underbaking. As long as the crust isn’t burned to a crisp, don’t worry about leaving the pie in for a few minutes longer if you are unsure.
And there you have it
The best little apple pie I’ve ever had.
I’m so excited for Thanksgiving because of this apple cranberry pie. My life has meaning because of this apple cranberry pie. I am a better mom because of this apple cranberry pie. (My kids are severely disagreeing at that last statement; it takes dark chocolate and naps to really amp up motherhood around here.)
If you are wanting just a slight changeup to the regular apple pie that graces the Thanksgiving dessert table, consider this your one chance to look like a total rock star.
The apple + cranberry combo is sure to win over taste buds and traditions.
How to make pie ahead of time
One quick note since I get asked this question a lot: can pie be made ahead of time? And if so, how?
Yes, yes, yes! I always make our holiday pies the day or two before. Once they are baked and cooled, I cover with foil and keep cool (in a refrigerator or cool garage if the fridge is at capacity). I’ve also left fruit pies (not cream or dairy) at room temperature for 24 hours with no ill effects.
About 30 minutes before we are ready to serve up the pie, I pop the pie in a 250 degree oven for 20-30 minutes to warm back up. Or, you can just warm up individual slices in the microwave.
I have not successfully frozen an unbaked pie with good results, but I have frozen a completely baked and cooled fruit or pecan pie. I wrap it completely in a double layer of saran wrap, freeze, and then pull it out to thaw completely overnight in the refrigerator or at room temperature. I reheat the same way I described above.
4-5 medium apples (about 1.75 pounds; I use Honeycrisp), peeled, cored and sliced 1/8-inch thick (about 5-6 cups total)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 to 2 cups (6 to 8 ounces) fresh cranberries
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons, 4 ounces) butter
1/2 cup (2.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons water
3/4 cup (5.5 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (3.75 ounces) light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place an oven rack in the middle or lower middle position of the oven. Line a large baking sheet with foil and set aside.
In a large bowl, toss the sliced apples with the lemon juice, almond extract and salt. Add the cranberries and toss to combine.
In a 10- or 12-inch skillet or small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour and whisk constantly until smooth and well-combined. Add the water, granulated sugar and brown sugar and cook at a simmer, whisking or stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes.
Immediately pour the mixture over the apples and cranberries. Toss to combine. The sauce mixture may clump up a bit but it will thin out the more it is stirred together (or the longer it sits). It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Roll out bottom crust and place evenly in pie plate (don’t stretch or pull it, just lift and tuck into the pie plate). Leave a 1- to 2-inch border all the way around.
Scrape the apple/cranberry filling evenly into the pie plate (get all of the caramel mixture!) – try to get the apples in even layers instead of piled in at wonky angles. It will be piled pretty high; that’s ok as it will cook down in the oven.
Roll out the top crust and place it over the filling. Trim the top crust evenly with the bottom crust (leaving about 1/2-inch overhang all the way around). Fold the bottom crust up and over evenly with edge of pie plate and press/pinch to seal. Flute the edges of the pie crust.
Cut four slits with a sharp paring knife in the top crust.
For the egg wash, whisk together the egg and water and brush a thin layer over the top and edges of the crust.
Place the pie on the foil-lined baking sheet (important! the filling may bubble over a bit) and bake for 65-75 minutes until the crust is golden and filling is bubbling (tent the top of the pie with foil if it is browning too much partway through baking). If you are using a glass pie plate, the bottom crust should be lightly browned.
Remove the pie from the oven and let cool completely, 4-5 hours (even longer is better). This is important so the pie isn’t soupy. If you like warm pie, individual pieces can be warmed in the microwave or the pie can be served warm, the filling just might be a little less set.
Apples: I almost always Honeycrisp apples in this pie, but you could use a different variety or a combination. Make sure to choose crisp apples that don’t turn to mush when baking.
Cranberries: if you want more cranberry in every bite, you could pulse the cranberries in a food processor until coarsely chopped.