the butter lab's caramel cranberry pie


I’m a purist when it comes to Thanksgiving. I believe in the classics done well. And for dessert, there should only be pie: apple, pumpkin, and pecan. Every year, I experiment with adding an extra pie or two, like Edna Lewis’ lemon chess pie or Four and Twenty Blackbirds’ black-bottom oatmeal pie or other favorites. But no fourth pie has ever made itself indispensable to Thanksgiving. Until now.

I’ve long been interested in adding the right cranberry pie to the mix—and not one cut with chunks of pears or apples, either. Fresh cranberries secretly make excellent pie berries. They cook down into a tart jammy mess, reminiscent of sour cherry pie. Over the years, I’ve tried a handful of cranberry pie recipes, including Deb Perelman’s, which has a thick pecan crumble, and Four and Twenty Blackbirds’, which uses sage and dried cranberries in addition to fresh. Sister Pie, a Detroit-based bakery, recently came out with a cookbook, and I tried their version too.

All of these made tasty pies, but I decided I wanted a version based on my favorite pie-making techniques. And after making and eating more cranberry pies than I care to admit, I’ve hit on a recipe that lets cranberries be cranberries and holds them to the best fruit-pie standards.  

The filling is based on Cook’s Illustrated genius blueberry pie filling, which involves cooking down half of the fruit, using ground tapioca, and adding a grated apple for pectin. I also add caramel to cut the tartness of the cranberries and bring out their flavor. Finally, I top the pie with a brown sugar crumb, a recipe from Holly Ricciardi’s Magpie cookbook, which uses melted butter and ground rolled oats in place of regular ones, and creates an unbeatable flavor and texture.  

The result is a deep magenta pie that’s as delicious as it looks. I didn’t even know it was missing from Thanksgiving. Now I never want to miss it again.


the butter lab’s caramel cranberry pie

One day, I’ll link to my own pie dough recipe, but for now I’ve included a link to one I recommend. Or, of course, use your preferred pie crust. To simplify this recipe, feel free to use store-bought caramel sauce (Trader Joe’s makes a great one). If you do make the caramel sauce by scratch, you’ll have about 1 1/2 cups leftover. For the tapioca, try to use Minute tapioca and grind it in a spice grinder. You can substitute with other tapioca products, but it might not work as well. Here’s why.

(use your favorite recipe, or this one available here)

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream

24 ounces fresh cranberries (from two 12-ounce bags), divided
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon orange juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated on large holes of box grater
2 tablespoons instant tapioca, ground
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup caramel sauce

1/2 cup (40 grams) rolled oats
1/2 cup (62 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (96 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 egg, lightly beaten


  • Whisk sugar and water together in a medium saucepan, and cook over medium-low heat until the sugar is just dissolved. Add the butter and bring to a slow boil. Continue stirring over medium heat until the mixture turns a deep golden brown color, almost copper.

  • Turn off the heat and immediately but slowly add the heavy cream (the mixture will bubble up quickly). Whisk until well combined, set aside to cool while you prepare the pie filling.

  • (Makes about 2 cups. Can be made several days in advance. Cool, then store in the refrigerator in an airtight container; bring to room temperature before using.)


  • Place half of the cranberries (12 ounces / 1 bag) into a medium saucepan. Add the light brown sugar, orange zest, and orange juice. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries begin to burst and the mixture turns into a compote, about 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool 5-10 minutes while you prepare the rest of the filling.

  • In a large bowl, add the granulated sugar, grated apple (along with any of its juices), ground tapioca, and salt. Add the raw cranberries and cranberry compote and mix. Fold in the caramel sauce.


  • Grind the oats in a food processor until the texture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt and pulse the machine 5 times to combine.

  • Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl. Add the melted butter and blend with your fingers or a fork until the butter is incorporated and the mixture forms small clumps. Transfer the bowl to the refrigerator and chill the crumb for 5-10 minutes before topping the pie.


  • Preheat oven to 400°F. Brush the crimped pie edge with the beaten egg. Pour the filling into the pie crust and cover evenly with the brown sugar crumb. Place on a parchment-lined or foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Continue to bake until juices bubble (they should be thick and syrupy) and crust is a deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes longer. Transfer pie to a wire rack. Cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. The pie will be best the day it is made, but will keep at room temperature for up to 2 days.

November 16, 2018