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After my summer break, I came back to the blog and found out that it still thought it was on vacation…and wasn’t accepting any photos at this time. I was proud of myself for finally tackling a recipe that I’ve had on my radar for a while and spent a day baking it, taking pictures, and writing up the post. The recipe was quite a doozy, but with a name like Smoky Caramel Almond Pie, how could I not make it? It was a bit of a project but I persevered (in the name of smoky caramel and almonds…) but when I came to upload the photos, my blog wasn’t having any of it and said non.

A half dozen very good pie books have been released this year, but I’ve been eyeing my copy of The New Pie: Modern Techniques for the Classic American Dessert. My interest had been piqued ever since I read the New York Times article, A Match Made in Baking and Blue Ribbons about Chris Taylor and Paul Arguin, a couple, who both happen to be doctors, with almost a decade of experience entering pie competitions, culminating in their taking the Best of Show award in the 2017 National Pie Championship. With over 500 pie baking awards under their belts, it’s no surprise a book was in their future.

The New Pie is no “apple pie à la mode” book of pies. Even though an apple pie appears on the cover of the book, their version is a more elaborate affair that requires more work than just piling a bowlful of apple slices between two pieces of dough and baking it ’til done. For those of you who’d like the bottom crust of your apple pie to be as crisp as the top, Chris and Paul say their recipe will get you there. You’ll need a sous-vide machine, and for those who appreciate the precision of metric measurements (volume and weight measurements are included in the book), calibrate your scale to prepare 1,361 grams of apple wedges to sous-vide.

Other recipes in the book include a West Indies Wedding pie that speaks to the Caribbean, where Paul grew up, filled with muscovado dark sugar, spices, and dried fruits. The Italian Plum Affogato pie with plums and coffee sounds curious enough to want to try. There’s Malted Chocolate Hazelnut pie, Gingerbread Cashew pie, Bubbling Butterbeer pie (with homemade pop-rocks, the recipe also in the book), Hunky Monkey pie with peanuts, bananas, and chocolate chips, as well as their recipe for the now-famous Peanut Butter Checkerboard pie, the one that won the top prize at the baking competition. Oh, and they came up with a weep-resistant whipped cream for topping some of the pies along with nine variations, everything from caramel whipped cream to cappuccino.

I finally decided after my summer break to get off my backside, stop leafing through the book, and make a pie from it. This one was a bit of a project, but no one wins awards sitting around on their duffs. And when my blog finally realized it was time to get back to business, it let me upload the photos.

The book is extremely detailed and starts with how to make, roll, bake pie crusts with several pages devoted to each task that answers every question, starting off with an essay The Secret for the Perfect Pie Crust. It includes exacting recipes for making every kind of pie crust, from standard, gingerbread, and cocoa-based pie crusts, to Graham cracker, Gluten-free, and Alpha-Bits cereal crusts.

It still smarts that my third-grade teacher told my parents that I wasn’t good at following instructions (which Romain would probably agree with), but if you’re an intrepid pie baker, all the information – and their pro tips – are right there at the beginning of the book. That said, I didn’t use their pie crust recipe, which uses vegetable shortening, so went rogue with my standard (and reliably good) all-butter crust.

Speaking of which, on page 17, there’s an essay called Dreaded Substitutions. The authors talk about the testing they do to get the right results, and the how and why the ingredients and quantities in recipes are there for a reason, which I’m going to address in a future newsletter to add and expand upon my thoughts about that.

They do encourage experimentation and in that spirit, I used sorghum rather than Steen’s cane syrup their original recipe called for, since I had some on hand from when I made sorghum ice cream with sorghum peanut brittle. I did have Islay Scotch, which is smoky and peaty, and used my own pie dough recipe. I get a lot of questions about almond flour, almond paste, and sliced almonds. Much of the energy revolves around blanched versus natural almonds (above.) We don’t get natural sliced almonds in France, or at least I’ve not seen them. But when I can get my hands on them, I prefer to use them as I like the more “natural” look, and I think they have more flavor, but that may be psychological and require some additional probing to answer.

The topping of the pie is a caramelized white chocolate ganache, based on something I learned to make when I went to chocolate school in France. Caramelized white chocolate originally was a mistake made by one of their pastry chefs and honestly, when you mix it up, you may feel like you’ve made a goof. In the author’s method, you end up with a crumbly mess then add hot cream, then do your best to stir it until smooth. Mine took a bit of cajoling to get there.

But eventually it came around and I was able to tame most of the undissolved clumps of white chocolate into submission by zapping the ganache a few times in the microwave. In spite of my best efforts, a few remained, which a strainer took care of, before pouring it over the almost-finished pie.

When I say “almost finished,” I mean it because there are a number of steps, and techniques, to get to the finish line. Much of what’s labeled as “modern cuisine” tends to rely on new techniques and methods to make. The instructions are extremely clear, and thorough, but still, I had to pay attention when putting this pie together.

I’m happy to report that I made it to the finish line and if you’re looking for something rich and don’t mind a bit of a project, this pie is for you. Ingredients include dulce de leche (you can use homemade or store-bought), white chocolate, sliced almonds, cane (or another) syrup, smoked almonds, and a peated Scotch whisky. The smokiness of the whisky didn’t come through as much as I’d hoped so I might sneak another tablespoon into the filling next time. The authors have a rocky relationship with substitutions and advise against them, so if you do want to swap something out, it’s at your own risk. But on the other hand, they say you’re creating your very own, personalized recipe, and there’s nothing wrong with being a creative-type.

This Caramel Almond Pie decidedly falls into the rich category. If you’re the kind of person who likes pecan pie, as I do, you’ll like this one a lot. At first I was a bit overwhelmed by its richesse, but after it sat for a few hours and settled, I found myself slicing off thin slices over and over, and over and over.

Smoky Caramel Almond Pie

Adapted from The New Pie: Modern Techniques for the Classic American Dessert by Paul Arguin and Chris Taylor
Although the authors strongly urge you to follow their recipes and use the same ingredients they do, I didn't have cane syrup so used sorghum syrup, which I had on hand. I bet you could use another liquid sweetener, such as agave nectar, rice syrup, mild honey (although even mild honey can have a strong presence), or Golden syrup, but results and tastes will vary and I think sorghum, or Golden or rice syrup, are best bets.
While the Islay Scotch is to give the pie a slight smoky flavor (which I didn't find came through that much in the finished pie...), you could use another liquor; another whiskey or dark rum would be interesting options. To dial up the smoke, serve it with whipped cream flavored with Islay scotch or a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a splash of whisky poured over it.
It's also recommended in the book to use a food processor to make the pie filling. If you don't have one, you can use a blender and pulse it very briefly just once or twice, stopping to stir the ingredients in the blender so the almonds get chopped evenly. (Everyone's pulse is different so it may take an additional pulse or two.) Note: You don't want to pulverize the almonds to a powder. You want them in large, discernable pieces. So don't overdo it.
The baking and cooking times in the original recipe also differed from mine when I made the pie, which could be attributed to my using an oven that's not well-calibrated at the moment, although I had an oven thermometer in it. So I listed my baking and cooking times, as well as theirs, plus visual clues, which you can use to determine doneness.
Course Dessert
Servings 8 servings

For the pie crust

  • 1 1/4 cups (175g) flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces (115g) unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
  • 3-4 tablespoons ice water

For the pie filling

  • 1 1/4 cups (380g) dulce de leche, (from one 14 ounce can)
  • 1 cup (200g) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (85g) cane syrup, (such as Steen's) or another liquid sweetener, such as sorghum or Golden syrup (see headnote)
  • 1 tablespoon Islay scotch whisky, (see headnote for other suggestions)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons (30g) butter, salted or unsalted, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 1/3 cups (285g) sliced almonds, lightly toasted

For the caramelized white chocolate ganache topping

  • 4 ounces (115g) white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (65g) heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons Islay scotch whisky
  • pinch salt
  • 12 smoked almonds, for garnish

To make the pie crust

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a bowl, using a pastry blender or two knives) mix the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the cubes of cold butter and on low speed, cut in the cubes of butter into the dry ingredients with the paddle attachment until they are the size of large chickpeas. Add the ice water and mix until the dough starts to come together. Even if using a stand mixer, I finish mixing the dough with my hand, until the dough comes together to avoid overmixing. If the dough needs a bit more water, add a spoonful or two.
  • When the dough comes together into an almost smooth ball, shape it into a disk, wrap it in plastic (or your favorite eco-friendly alternative) and chill for at least 30 minutes. The dough can be made up to two days in advance and refrigerated. If you do, you may need to let it rest at room temperature for 5 minutes or so, so it's easier to roll.
  • On a lightly floured countertop roll the dough into a 14-inch (36cm) circle. Lay it into a 9 1/2-inch (24cm) pie pan or dish. Tuck the dough hanging over the edge under itself to create a rim, and crimp with your fingers. Freeze the dough for 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC.) Spray a sheet of aluminum foil that's big enough to lay over the pie dough, including the sides and rim, with nonstick spray. Lay the sheet, greased side down, over the dough. Fill with pie weights and bake until the pie dough is partially baked, about 40 minutes. Remove the pie weights and foil, and let the crust cool on a wire rack. Save the foil for baking the pie.

To make the filling and ganache topping

  • In the bowl of a food processor, place the dulce de leche, brown sugar, cane syrup, whisky, eggs, butter, flour, vanilla, and salt. Process until well-mixed. (If you don't have a food processor, see headnote for notes on using a blender.)
  • Add the toasted almonds evenly over the top and pulse once or twice, until the almonds are partially broken up and incorporated into the filling. You may want to pulse once, then stir, then pulse again so they incorporate evenly into the filling.
  • Pour the filling into the pie shell. Cut or tear the foil into long strips and use them to create a shield around and over the crust of the pie to protect it from getting overbaked in the oven. Scrape the filling into the pre-baked pie shell. (Any excess filling can be baked in the oven in a ramekin or custard cup.)
  • Bake the pie until the sides are puffed up and the center still slightly jiggles when you wiggle the pie. Mine took 22 minutes (the original recipe said 45 minutes) so begin checking it around the 20-minute mark. Remove the pie from the oven and set on a wire rack. Turn the oven down to 250Fº (120ºC.)
  • To make the caramelized white chocolate for the ganache topping, verify that the oven temperature of the oven is 250ºF before you bake the white chocolate. You can leave the oven door open to hasten the cooling.
  • Put the white chocolate in a cake pan or pie tin. Cook the white chocolate for about 12-15 minutes, stirring midway during baking, until the white chocolate is a deep golden brown, but not burnt. (See pictures in the post. Once again, better to rely on visual clues rather than strict times.) It'll be crumbly, which is normal. (The authors said to bake it for 30 minutes, stirring it every ten minutes, but mine baked faster. I used Lindt white chocolate and brands can vary.) While the white chocolate is baking, heat the cream in a small saucepan or microwave oven until it's almost boiling.
  • When the white chocolate is ready, stir in the hot cream and the salt, mashing the crumbled white chocolate with the back of a flexible silicone spatula until all (or most) of the white chocolate is dissolved. If there are large stubborn bits, either transfer the mixture to a microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup and zap it once or twice at 10-second intervals, stirring between each, until it melts. Or warm it in a small saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly.
    In spite of your best effort, a small amount of white chocolate crumbles may remain, which is fine. Strain the ganache through a mesh strainer into a small bowl or measuring cup and stir in the whisky. Pour the ganache evenly over the pie and arrange the smoked almonds evenly spaced over the top of the pie in a circle. Let the pie cool to room temperature before slicing and serving.


Storage: The pie can be stored at room temperature for up to two days. It can also be frozen for up to three months.


    • Cheryl Grant-Gamble

    Looks and sounds divine and I’d kill for a slice but darned if I could get it together make this sucker!!!! Good on ya David!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      There are a few steps but they’re all broken down into components. If you wanted to “go rogue” you could just bake the filling in a buttered pan and slice it into squares (you might want to line the pan with foil first to help lift them out) and top them with ice cream…if you don’t want to go the full Monty! ; )

        • Lynn Loring

        I’m afraid to make this as it has everything I love, SWEET AND SALTY AND CARAMEL AND NUTS and would sit down in front of the TV and eat the entire bowl of filling.

    • Marcia

    I have an induction cooktop. Would it work to put the white chocolate in a pan on the cooktop on a very low setting and let it cook (and presumably melt), stirring occasionally, until it’s the right color? I’m confident that it wouldn’t burn, but would it be a problem that I’m stirring the cream into melted chocolate rather than solid?

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I’ve never done it on a stovetop so don’t know since I haven’t tried it. I’m thinking the direct heat would cause it to burn. Since the oven is already on, not sure there is an advantage to doing it on the stovetop but if you do try it, let us know how it works out.

    • Jasmine

    Hello David, please how big is the pan and how thick should be rolled out?

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Mine is about 9 1/2-inches (24cm) which is a standard size but I added it to the recipe. I didn’t measure the thickness but if you roll it to the size I mentioned, it’ll be at the thickness intended.

    • Barbara Ridley

    Hi David, We are in Provence for this month. I’m madly taking photos of the wonderful food we are buying and eating. Today we went to the huge market in Apt. Tomorrow the real farmers ‘ market in Coustellet. It’s fabulous here for a foodie. I especially enjoy your videos about your market experiences.

    • Martha

    You’re an evil man. I bought the book as soon as I saw the photo.
    Now one question about the pie recipe. Could you melt the chocolate in the microwave?

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      You could melt it but don’t think you could caramelize it in a microwave. If you give it a try let us know how it turns out.

    • Margaret K Bradley

    I think I’ll come over for some, since even me, who likes challenges, thinks this is a bit much – but oh so tempting. Thank you

    • Sharyn Dimmick

    I’d be really tempted to use some chopped smoked almonds in the filling and not just as a garnish, perhaps removing salt somewhere else. Did you consider this? I love your suggestion for spiking the whipped cream.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I didn’t but the smoked almonds are on the salty side so if you give it a go, I’d try to wipe as much salt as possible before using them, and omit the salt in the filling part of the recipe.

    • Judith

    Love almonds, love pie, meet my husband of 51 years over his bottle of Laphroaig, but reading this makes my teeth hurt.

    • Janet

    I’ve caramelized white chocolate before, and this looks incredibly good. I don’t like whiskey though…would it ruin it to leave it out?

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      You could leave it out if you want.

    • Carole Bloom

    David, this sounds fabulous! I’m going to make it for Thanksgiving. XO

    • Monica

    This looks and sounds so good. Do you think you could use Valhrona Caramelia chocolate, instead of caramelising white chocolate which I find to be incredibly sweet?

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      The authors don’t really recommend swapping out ingredients and I don’t know Caramelia chocolate, which seems to be a milk chocolate with caramel. But if you wanted to go rogue, you perhaps could pour a dark chocolate ganache over it.

        • Gerlinde de Broekert

        This is a project alright. I know I would love every bit of it.

    • Cindy Wang

    I was gifted a huge bag of gorgeous Oregon hazelnuts. Do you think I could easily sub them for the almonds?

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I haven’t tried them but I’m sure they would work. Report back if you do use them!

      • sasha

      Gonna be a hundred dollar pie between the whiskey and the hazelnuts…lucky lucky! Enjoy : )

    • EastBayGeorgia

    I am usually up for a challenge, and this certainly fits that category. But. With all the deliciousness out there without this rather demanding example (and I use your recipes all the time), was it worth it? That may be an unfair question since your diplomatic skills must be in top shape, but really….will you make it again?

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      It’s a very delicious pie. It actually seems like more work than it is because I took the time to explain things in detail for readers, plus I added my own notes and baking times, which differed than the ones in the book. I would make it again but I might add more whisky to the filling, perhaps reduce the brown sugar to 3/4 cup, and use Valrhona white chocolate which has more cocoa butter (I think) than regular brands, and melts better. The pie may seem like a lot of work but basically it’s making a pie crust (which you have to do for any pie), make the filling (which you just blitz together in a food processor), then make the white chocolate ganache topping.

    • Marianne P

    Hi David, I have an addiction to Valrhona Dulcey and have lots of it in my house. Any thought about saving some time and using that instead of browning the white chocolate? Thanks for the lovely recipe!

      • Marianne P

      Sorry, just saw someone else asked a similar question. No need to respond!

    • James in NZ

    I’m confused by the butter measurements–I usually see one Tbs of butter equate to around 14g, but you have four Tbs=115g and two Tbs=55g. Is the tablespoon measure correct, or the metric weight?

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Was toggling between 3 systems of measurements (if only we could all decide, once and for all on one…) – fixed!

    • angiesrecipes

    My my my…this looks decadent and absolutely irresistible with golden brown crust and sweet caramel filling and nuts.

    • Sarahb1313

    This will absolutely make my to do list this fall!!
    One thing that has always vexed me is slumping crust in prebaking my crust. I use an all butter recipe, pretty much like yours above. I have cooked immediately, chilled, frozen, etc. while the finished product is buttery, and drop dead flakey crisp, it always and I mean always skimps down the sides, glass pyrex, tart tin, ceramic dishes.
    I use beans, multiple layers of foil, have tried almost every technique.
    If you have any tips, I would be grateful. It’s so frustrating. At least over the years it has become beautifully flakey…

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Sounds like you’re doing (or have done) everything right. So the only issue I could think might be the butter. Since butter contains water (about 20%) perhaps the brand you are using is high in water, so try switching to a “European-style” butter, if you live in the US, which has less water. Or maybe try a recipe that uses shortening or lard since both of those are more stable and solid fats. If you get a chance to look at their book in The New Pie there’s a very detailed description of how to make and bake pie dough that you might find interesting as well.

      • MichaelCDC

      I’ve had the same problem for years with slumping blind-baked pie crust. I recently tried the suggestion of Michelle at brownneyedbake to freeze the rolled-out pie crust in the pie pan, line it with heavy duty foil, and fill it right to the brim with sugar before par-baking. I’ve done it three times, in both fluted tart pans and pyrex glass pie plates, with excellent results. The butter I use is either Trader Joe’s French butter from Brittany or American Plugras, for a higher fat content. After blind baking the crust, the sugar can go right back in the canister – maybe a little lumpy, but otherwise unharmed.

      • jane3

      I’ve seen people prebake the crust untrimmed for this reason but I’ve never tried it. Even if you don’t pre-bake it seems worth trying that then trimming it when it comes out of the oven. Lot’s of utube tutorial for visuals if that helps.

    • Judy in CA

    Very interesting re European and US butter water content. Have been wondering if European butter’s stability also aids results in cookie baking?

    • S

    Love it. Wonderful recipe! Thank you for sharing.

    • Sean

    David… with almost every newsletter (promoting some Lebovitz adaptation of something probably already near perfect), I take a kitchen inventory of baking needs. Flours, sugars, baking powder and soda, extracts, yada, yada. I needed dulche de leche and scotch for this one (instead used bourbon and ONLY for the ganache). Paid careful attention not to over pulse the toasted almonds. The bake times were much closer to those of the original recipe (about 45 to 50 minutes for the pie, 30 minutes for white chocolate (used a ceramic dish vice the cake tin). Baking the white chocolate (I used Girardelli chips), interestingly, fooled me a little. I stirred after about 8 minutes, baked to 20 minutes and didn’t see any browning. Another 10 minutes, still white as snow. I thought I must be doing something wrong… tried stirring it again to find that the white skin of the chocolate hid beneath it a well-browned chocolate. Which worked fine. Also used corn syrup instead of golden syrup.

    Holy moly! I can’t say that it’ll reach the heights in requests I get for your almond cake (I now make my own paste which, I’m told, makes that one even better). But so far, this one’s a hit.

    So… thank you! We ALL thank you.

    • jane3

    I love creative baking projects like this. And even before making it I am feeling inspired to do a pecan version for Thanksgiving: caramelized white chocolate ganache sounds deliciously complementary! Using whiskey to balance the additional sweetness of pecans might work. PS: almond skins are bitter which imo balance the sweet meat so I think you’re intuition is correct re: skin-on sliced almonds. Though I am sadly and weirdly allergic to raw almond skin. Cooked seem to be fine.

    Also, I love the thought of two doctors who enter, and win, pie baking contests in their down time. So wholesome! And yet, after watching the virtually perfect, “Only Murders in the Building”, it still also sounds like a great premise for a murder mystery, haha.

    • MichaelCDC

    Thanks so much for this article, David. I bought the book, too, and am anxiously awaiting its arrival. I’ve been swamped with fruit pies this summer, and am looking forward to shaking up my winter pie game.
    I’m especially glad you mentioned the issue of substitutions. Truth is, nothing infuriates me more than reading the comments on a recipe, along the lines of, “My pie crust didn’t hold together. It was impossible to roll out, and baked into a layer of loose crumbs. I was out of regular flour, so I used cake flour.” “Can I substitute pasteurized egg whites for yolks in a Crème Anglaise?” For my money, the food blogger has the right to ignore questions like that, or take the line of Drs Taylor & Arguin: The recipe is written the way we think it will turn out best. Feel free to improvise and experiment to your heart’s content, but don’t expect the same results we got. It’s the exact opposite of “doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results,” but it still defines insanity.

    • Barbara Ridley

    Exactly. Michael. Although I must say cake and pastry flour makes a much better pie crust than all purpose.

    • Smiley from Scottsdale

    David, love your newsletter and your books. Thank you for presenting tasty and intriguing recipes. When the Caramel Almond tart email appeared my sister immediately forwarded it and said “Yum!”, so I made it for her birthday. Using 3/4 of the recipe, I was able to use a 5”x14” tart pan and fill it to the rim. Couldn’t find scotch so used spiced rum! Delicious. Thank you for encouraging substitutions. My sister decided lightly sweetened chantilly cream would be best accompaniment, however I wanted to make rum ice cream! Did you serve it with anything? Have a beautiful day and thank you again for encouraging us to shop, cook, bake, eat, and drink with gusto!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Personally I am not so sure I’d serve it with anything. I like it just as it is, but if I was going to serve anything with it, I think a small scoop of cool ice cream would be better than whipped cream – although to each their own! : )

    • Anne

    I went rogue with changes, all still delicious. Used farm store smoked maple syrup for the cane, used your suggestion—2T, of Islay, and the biggest was skipping the fussy white chocolate and subbing in simple dark chocolate ganache (add 1/4 c hot cream to 4oz chopped chocolate, stir, add 2 tsp Islay, pour, done.) Also sprinkled with smoked salt on top. Next time I’ll toast the almonds a little more for more crunch. The smoky scotch flavor still not very strong in the baked pie—cooking off the alcohol must make that difference? Any suggestions to amp that up even more? Thanks for the detailed post. Yum.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks for your report back! The chocolate ganache seems like a good idea. I would say you could add more Islay whisky to your dark chocolate ganache, and perhaps reduce the cream by the same quantity. I don’t know how to get more Scotch flavor in the filling but you could ask the authors who are on Instagram.

        • Anne

        Good idea. Also may try whiskey whipped cream.

    • Becky

    A sturdy crimp on the rim of the pie plate helps minimize slumping. And why not do the white chocolate ganache in the food processor?


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