TIP: It is not necessary to ignite the liquid. That step of the recipe is optional. Boiling for 5 minutes will cook out the alcohol. Smell the sauce carefully before adding the cream and spices. You’re checking to make sure all of the raw alcohol smell cooks off before adding the rest of the ingredients.
Pair the filling with your favorite homemade pie dough recipe, or use a store-bought crust. You will need enough pie dough for a top and bottom. Roll out both doughs, placing one into a pie pan and reserving the second for the top of the pie. Everything will bake together, so you do not pre-bake the crust.
1 lemon, halved
6 pounds tart apples
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups brandy
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 pod star anise
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 rounds of pie dough, store-bought or homemade (see Cook’s Note)
Fill a large bowl with water, halfway to the top. Squeeze the juice from both lemon halves into the water, and add the lemon halves in after squeezing.
Peel all of the apples and quarter them, removing the cores. Slice apples into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices, no smaller. Place the slices into the lemon water.
Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large, non-reactive pot over medium-low heat. Once melted, add in 3/4 cup of the sugar, stirring until the sugar begins to dissolve into the butter. Add half of the apple slices and cook for about 10 minutes, or until juices release and the apples are no longer crunchy but still hold their shape. Once tender, strain the cooked apples into a colander over a bowl. This removes the hot cooking liquid, so the apples do not continue to cook. Reserve the liquid. Lay the cooked and strained apples out on a baking tray to cool. Add the liquid back into the pan and repeat with the remaining 4 tablespoons butter, 3/4 cup sugar, and apples, again reserving the liquid when draining the apples.
Reduce the liquid from cooking the apples for 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring often. If the liquid begins to caramelize, immediately move on to the next step. Remove the reduced sauce from the heat and add all of the brandy. If using a gas stove, use a high-sided pot and make sure to have a pot lid handy as the brandy may ignite (see Cook’s Note). Bring the mixture to a boil. Cook until liquid smells sweet and no longer boozey, about 8 minutes, covering the pot with the lid as needed to stop any flames. Add the cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, and heavy cream. Cook the liquid down until it reduces and thickens. When it coats the back of a spoon, it is done.
Remove the star anise pod and move the mixture to the fridge to come down to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the cooked apples into a large bowl and toss with flour. Pour the sauce over the apples, but only use enough to coat them liberally. They shouldn’t be floating in sauce. Reserve excess sauce to use as an ice cream topping.
Pour the apple mixture into the pie pan fitted with bottom pie dough, mounding the apples in the center. Cover the top with the other dough round. Pinch the edges together and slice a few slits in the crust near the center to help steam release as the pie bakes. If using a store-bought crust, bake the pie as the crust packaging recommends, or bake for 45 to 75 minutes on a rack in the middle of the oven until the crust is deep golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Let pie cool at least 20 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.