We Tried Joanna Gaines’ Sweet Twist on Apple Pie

The classic apple pie isn't exactly a fixer-upper, but we were intrigued by a Joanna Gaines twist on the classic. Find out how we liked her dulce de leche apple pie.

Every year, I love to try a few new apple recipes to celebrate fall. Apple crisp, apple bread, applesauce for serving up alongside savory dishes—I can’t get enough! This year, picking out a new apple recipe wasn’t too difficult. After loving Joanna Gaines’ biscuit recipe, I had a pretty good feeling about one of her other recipes from Magnolia Kitchen: dulce de leche apple pie.

This recipe had everything I could want from fall: apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and plenty of butter. It also contained a less common ingredient—dulce de leche. This ingredient is a lot like caramel. It’s made by slowly heating up sweetened condensed milk until it’s thick, sticky and sweet. I figured that combining apples with a caramel-like ingredient had to be a recipe for success. Here’s how it went!

Joanna Gaines’ Dulce de Leche Apple Pie Recipe

The Crust

Makes two nine-inch crusts.

The Filling

  • 5 pounds (about 12 cups) apples, peeled and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¼ cup dulce de leche, plus more for serving
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sugar for topping, optional

A Word to the Wise

This is a dulce de leche apple pie. That ingredient makes all the difference from your standard pie recipe. You can find cans of dulce de leche at many grocery stores in either the baking or international foods aisle, and you can even order it online for less than three dollars. My grocery store didn’t have any in stock when I visited. You might run into the same issue—but don’t worry! Making your own is easy.

How to Make Dulce de Leche

All you need is a can of sweetened condensed milk. Peel the label off the can and submerge it in water in a small pot. Place on the stove, cover and let simmer (making sure the water line never dips below the top of the can) for three hours. Be sure to wait for it to reach room temperature before opening. This is a bit time-consuming, but it’s mostly hands-off. Plus the flavor is great! I stirred a little into my coffee the next morning—heaven!

Onto the Crust

The start of any good pie is the crust, so that’s where I started with this recipe. Joanna writes that you can either make your own pie crust or use premade. As much as I love her cooking shortcuts, I decided I’d make the pie pastry from scratch. To make the process go just a bit faster, I broke out my food processor to mix up the pie pastry.

To make the dough, I blended 1¼ cups of flour with a teaspoon of salt. Then I pulsed in a half cup of cold, cubed butter until the butter was broken down into pea-sized pieces. Last step: Add in a quarter cup of ice cold water until the dough comes together. I love to use my food processor—I use a Cuisinart, our Test Kitchen’s best-loved brand—since it makes quick work of the whole process.

Once the dough came together, I turned it out onto a board, pressed it together, divided the dough in half and wrapped each up in a sheet of beeswrap (trust me, you’ll love it) . I let them chill in the fridge for two hours.

Prepping the Filling

I love a good apple pie (and apple bread, apple tarts, apple muffins...), so every fall I pick tons of apples. This year, my husband and I brought home 22 pounds! I was thrilled to use up some of this harvest on the filling which calls for a whopping 12 cups of sliced apples! I used Cortland apples since I love how sweet and crisp they are, but use any heirloom variety you choose for this recipe.

To make the filling, I started by peeling, coring and slicing my apples. I do this by hand, but you can use one of those apple-peeling gadgets or even a spiralizer to do the work for you. In total, I peeled about 15 medium-sized apples.

What’s different about Joanna’s recipe, compared to the apple pie I made growing up, is that she cooks the apples ahead of time. Like Joanna writes, apple pie used to drive her crazy: “even if I made the pie the same way every time when I’d cut into it sometimes there wasn’t much liquid and other times it was like the apples were swimming in the deep end of a pool.” I feel that. Cooking the apples prior helps release some of that soggy bottom-inducing moisture.

But you don’t cook the apples alone! Her recipe specifies that you should melt four tablespoons of butter along with a half cup of brown sugar, quarter cup white sugar, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a quarter teaspoon each of nutmeg and allspice. Then, once those are melted together, you stir in the apples. Bring the little bit of liquid up to a boil, stir in a quarter cup of flour and let simmer on top of the stove for about ten minutes—until the apples are tender but not cooked through.

Rolling out the Crust

While the apples cooled a bit, I moved onto rolling out my crust. You know how to do this: Turn it out onto a well-floured surface and roll, roll, roll until it’s the size you need to fit in your pie pan—in this instance a nine-inch pan. I turned one crust into the pan, trimming the edges a bit, and kept the other one flat. (Learn our secrets to the perfect apple pie crust!)

Filling up the Pie

Once the crust was all set in my pie plate, it was time to fill the pie. Joanna recommends spooning the apples in using a slotted spoon, just to get rid of any excess moisture—you know, the moisture that gives you a runny, soggy pie. I found that the Cortland apples I used didn’t release too much water, but as Joanna says, you can never know! The only part I was unsure of with this step was that by straining out all the liquid, you’re also not getting the full experience of all the spices that were added to the mix! But I kept going as the recipe instructed.

Then, you top this all off with a quarter cup of dulce de leche. To get it to drizzling consistency, you can pop it in the microwave for 20 to 30 seconds. I’m living a microwave-free life right now, so I just popped the can over the stove in a small pan of water—a few minutes later it was perfectly gooey. Joanna recommends spooning over about a quarter cup of this sticky, caramel topping, but sticky stuff is hard to measure! I might have added a bit extra.

Topping It All off (and Crimping It, Too)

Once the apples and dulce de leche were in place, I popped the top crust on top. I sealed the top crust to the bottom with just a bit of milk then pinched the edges. You can finish off your pie in a fancier way if you choose, but I wanted to let the flavors—not the fancy finish—be the star of this show. Then I cut six slits in the crust to let the steam vent out and then gave it a quick wash with milk (just a tablespoon should do).

Once the pie was ready, I popped it in a 425ºF oven. After 25 minutes, reduce the heat to 325ºF and bake for another 45 minutes.

Pro tip: Put a cookie sheet on the shelf beneath your pie. It might leak dulce de leche and make a mess of your oven. In case you make a mess, here’s how to clean your oven when self-clean just doesn’t cut it.

The Results

Pulling this pie out of the oven, I have to say, it looked pretty darn good! The milk wash helped create a nice, golden crust and you could just see a bit of the dulce de leche bubbling out of the sides. I could hardly wait to slice! I mean it. After only 30 minutes, I cut right into the pie because who doesn’t love warm apple pie?

Everyone knows the first slice is the hardest to prise out of the pan, and it was no different with this Joanna Gaines recipe. That first slice came out steamy and delicious, but slightly watery. I wondered if cooking the apples ahead of time did any good at all. Until I came back for another slice in the morning. Once the pie cooled, it was a much neater affair. The filling had set a bit, meaning the second (and third) slice weren’t nearly as messy. On that extra slice, I took a tip from Joanna and served it up with some extra dulce de leche. That was pretty divine! The effect was almost like a caramel apple—one of my favorite combos.

In the end, I have to say that the dulce de leche put a nice, sweet twist on the classic apple pie. Am I about to replace my favorite apple pie recipe with Joanna’s, though? I’m not so sure. But if I ever get a craving for a caramel apple treat, you bet this will be on the menu.

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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an associate editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.